The IHHP research team, headed up by our very own Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry, has been working on several studies over the past number of years that explore how individuals (specifically leaders) approach and/or avoid difficult tasks, relationships or change and the effect this has on the individual, as well as the people and teams around them.

The results of these studies, thanks to many of you who participated and/or cheered us on throughout the years, is the basis for several workshops that we are launching this year, along with future books and resources.

One of the most interesting pieces of data our research uncovered is that 83% of the time, most of us can handle the tasks, relationships and change we encounter in our daily lives. However, we don’t handle these challenging tasks, relationships or change situations so well the remaining 17% of the time – in fact, most of us choose to avoid the ’17 percent situations’ when faced with them.

But what if we told you that that those ‘ 17 percent situations’ are killing you? Or at the very least, shrinking the pathways in your brain.

Let us explain. When you choose to avoid those difficult tasks, relationships or change situations 17% of the time, your avoidance can feel good – in the moment. This is an escape mechanism your brain selects in order to survive the initial situation. However, because you didn’t approach, or deal with, the situation, no satisfactory conclusion or resolution was reached. Instead, the circumstance lingers like the dregs of a bad dream, playing on your guilt or anxiety because it hasn’t really gone anywhere. When you succumb to this escape pattern, the number of possible circuits in your brain (some that would help you approach similar situations in the future), actually shrink from lack of use. This ultimately reduces the number of potential option pathways for your brain, hemming you in to a world of stress and anxiety.

Now, if you choose to approach the difficult tasks, relationships and/or change situations that comprise your ’17 percent situations,’ your initial feelings about doing so may be negative ones. Your heart may beat faster or your palms might become sweaty as you consider how to tackle the situation. And your mind may default to awfulizing the outcome. It’s very likely you will experience an amygdala hijack; if so, don’t expect your Neocortex to be available right away to deal with the problem as your brain’s resources will be in play elsewhere.

But if you persevere, become aware of your escape patterns, manage your emotions and follow through on approaching and tackling the ’17 percent situations,’ you will get better at it … and feel healthier for the experience.

And your brain will grow.

Grow? Well, at the very least it will create new pathways to use the next time you face a similar situation. The result is you will experience less of an amygdala reaction to a similar situation in the future, thereby moving that task, relationship or change situation back over to the easier-to-handle 83% of your life.

We all understand the importance of growth in every part of our lives, and conversely, the harmful effects of choosing not to stretch or expand our bodies, spirits or minds. So when it comes to your brain, what are you avoiding that might be harming … or even killing you?