At work, I felt a lack of control over my experience. I didn’t prioritize my tasks or schedule my time. I allowed interruptions, and would just do what came my way. I spent time on the detailed processes of my job or used my hours to design a process for getting something done — calendar, color-coding, lists — instead of doing the thing itself.
And at home, I felt exhausted. I would come home tired, grateful that the long day was done. All I wanted to do was unplug and not have to think too much. I wanted to watch reruns of Law & Order, eat pasta and drink wine.
This story illustrates two examples of buffering — engaging in activities that feel comfortable in an effort to avoid discomfort, with a net negative consequence or effect on our lives.
Lemme break it down.
We buffer — or unplug from our emotions — when we want to avoid them. Buffering feels good in the moment, but there is always a serious cost to our long-term goals or overall well being.
Buffering can look like:
- Spending a lot of time on design (a presentation or spreadsheet, the calendaring system that you’d like to start using) before working on actual content or follow-through.
- Not deciding, staying in indecision; losing yourself in analysis rather than taking action on the information you have.
- Not wanting to let go of tasks you’ve done for a long time.
- Allowing low-priority tasks to get in the way of higher priorities (like not doing your taxes on the day you said you would because your office wasn’t clean and you just had to take care of that so you could concentrate).
- Any activity where you go unconscious emotionally + tune out of your experience — snacking constantly without realizing how much you’ve eaten, spending hours in front of the TV or scrolling social media, over-drinking.
Buffering looks different for every person, but always:
- Feels numb or checked out.
- Has a negative impact on our goals, or overall mental or physical health.
Buffering is not the same thing as planned rest or planned leisure time. And it feels different. Like plugging back into the Matrix — where you don’t have to face the real world.
And let me be clear that there’s nothing objectively wrong with buffering. If that choice is made consciously, have at.
But in order to choose whether or not we want something, we have to know it’s a choice. Is unplugging preventing you from meeting goals or being the person you want to be in your life?
I think that recognizing when we’re buffering is powerful for many reasons, but the most important is it shows us what we’re afraid to feel. Look at why your buffering and you’ll very quickly figure out what’s holding you back.
We buffer against having to feel new at something, out of our depth, incompetent.
We buffer against boredom, negative self-talk, anxiety, anger.
When we look at this, actually examine it, here’s what we find:
- We’re in control of whether or not we feel those things because those feelings come from our thoughts. So we can, if we want to, think differently about them.
- When given the choice between the temporary negative feeling and the long-term consequences of buffering, most of us, most if not all of the time, would pick the former.
Let’s look at an example:
- When I was overweight and out of shape, I buffered with food. Buffering wasn’t what I wanted, and decided to figure it out.
- When I took a look, I realized that I was buffering against restlessness or boredom. I was using food as entertainment.
- As soon as I really saw what I was doing, it became clear as day to me that:
- restlessness was up to me;
- there were a million “solutions” other than food; and
- I’d rather feel restlessness forever and be healthy than avoid restlessness and be unhealthy.
It is quite literally part of our wiring to avoid things that might be uncomfortable. But if we’re going to be uncomfortable either way — from not following through or from following through — I say let’s pick the discomfort that serves our lives and that we’re proud of experiencing.
Here’s how to investigate your own buffering (each step is followed by an example):
- Where/how are you buffering?
- Eating too much in the evening — at dinner + snacking.
- Why do you think you’re buffering? What discomfort are you avoiding?
- I think I’m avoiding thinking about my workday, and also giving myself an activity, something to do to not feel bored or restless.
- Crucial step: can you see why this has felt useful or protective to you? Do you have compassion and understanding about why you’ve been (perhaps unconsciously) making this choice?
- Yes, I see how I feel overwhelmed by work and like I can’t figure out how to solve that. Coming home and unplugging feels like comfort, like I’ve got something to look forward to at the end of my day.
- Now that you’ve identified your thinking, articulate the choice: what discomforts are you choosing between?
- I’m choosing between the discomfort of taking control over my experience at work and figuring out why I feel so overwhelmed and continuing to feel like I’m not taking care of myself and not engaging in my downtime.
- What’s your choice? Do you want to keep things the way they are or change them?
- Change. 100%
- If you want to change them:
- What is your compelling reason for making this change?
- It’s more painful not to. I feel so much shame about not being able to follow through, about not taking care of myself. It also hurts physically. I know how driven, competent, fun and playful I am and I want to live that way.
- What new way of thinking will help you?
- Focusing on the activities I’m engaging in and people I’m with — like when I chose a movie to watch, that’s the entertainment. Or when I go to dinner, it’s about the people, not the food.
- I want to be good at feeling restless — or I want to understand it better. The way I’ll get there is by paying attention to how it feels.
- What are your obstacles?
- Habit — it will feel automatic and easy to just come home and do the same thing I always do.
- Having the urge to snack after dinner, or eat the way I always have.
- Beating myself up if I don’t follow through.
- How will you overcome them?
- Make a dinner plan for a full week, prep on Sunday.
- Talk to my husband about my plan, ask for his support.
- Look at results with curiosity rather than judging myself: if I slip up, examine why and then make a plan for that obstacle.
- What is your compelling reason for making this change?
To create different results, to achieve different goals, we have to do things differently. There is no same-ing our way to something different. If you’re ready to create something and want the skills to make different decisions and form habits that will move you toward your goals more quickly, schedule a consultation call. It’s an absolutely free 45-minute session with a coach — we’ll talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how to get there. Spaces are limited. Schedule today.