Decoy Gymnasist

decoy gym

Ever notice an emotion showing up and avoid it by employing a decoy?

A what?  

What the heck is a decoy?

Decoy = conscious or unconscious way of being or doing to avoid feeling emotion.

There are two primary types of decoys: physical & mental.


I find myself distracting with many types of physical decoys (napping, texting, shopping….), but my all time favorite is laundry.  Yep, laundry.  Anything that stirs up uncomfortable emotions propels me toward the washer and dryer.  I literally chose ironing, folding or putting up clothes to journaling, watching newscasters debate or talking to my brother.  Those things unsettle me.  I feel restless, fidgety, my stomach clenches and the next thing I know I’m carrying a laundry basket.  To watch me you’d think I LOVE ‘doing’ laundry.  I DON’T, it’s just the prospect of being with certain emotions feels ….. unpredictable ….. and besides there’s laundry to do.

Other physical decoys include activities like excessive spending, mindless computer surfing, obsessive reading, shopping, watching lots of TV; texting, sleeping too much, over-working, over-eating, over-drinking, over-exercising.  Ironing anyone?

Oh My!

Mental Pressuring!

I have a client that is out of this world with her mental decoying.  When her pain ramps up she forecasts a series of dreadful events sure to unfold so FAR out into the future that I swear we’ll be residing in space by then.  Intellectually, she knows that ‘borrowing from tomorrow’ doesn’t serve or support her, but being present to her thoughts and feelings in the here and now terrifies her and POOF! she’s starring into space future projecting.

A comprehensive list of mental decoys include catastrophic thinking, focusing on pain, perfectionism, obsessing, ruminating, pouring over ‘must-do’ lists, ‘figuring it out’, incessantly planning, analyzing, worrying, future projecting, and regretting.  If you’re regularly contemplating buying a space outfit you may be employing a mental decoy;-)


How do you know when you’re employing a decoy?

Good question!

It’ll have confusing energy to it as you’re partaking in the activity.  It may feel a bit frenzied too — like you HAVE to do it.  Often times folks say when they’re decoy-ing there’s a sense of ease and dis-ease simultaneously.  Uncomfortably comfortable.


When am I not?

Stay with me here.

Ways of being and doing that aren’t decoys typically feel okay, neutral, normal and comfortable. Comfortable?  I know what I said…but when it’s not a decoy you can take the activity or leave it and feel content to pick it up later, when you feel inspired.


I reckon our decoys are a bit like physical and mental gymnastics: leaping forward, bending backwards, and rolling around twisting from side to side.

Which begs the question:

‘Why would any of us choose to extend past what’s comfortable, hold a headstand, jump up and down, spring forward, walk on tippy toes, flip cartwheels, turn and bounce and “go for” the really impressive dismounts instead of feeling our emotions!?!?!?’

Why Indeed?

My research supports it’s because we’ve been socialized from an early age to view our seemingly negative emotions (sadness, anger, fear) as bad, dark, unpredictable and super scary. And don’t forget we’re scientifically designed as emotional creatures to do just about anything to avoid discomfort (queue the decoys).   Second only perhaps to avoid being viewed as weak.

Perhaps this means on some deeper level we don’t trust our emotions.  If we’re fearful and uncertain of our emotions there’s a part of us that doesn’t believe they’ll flow.  And if they don’t flow they may NEVER leave.


Follow me now, if they don’t leave others may judge us as different, unacceptable, damaged, broken, unlovable, weak, unworthy …… and reject us.


This would be very painful and scary because as social souls we seek out community and connection to survive and thrive.


What we DO know is humans will mightily grasp or employ an activity to stop, distract, disengage or numb emotions that we believe may cause us distress; consequently, we’ll embrace (and employ) that which we trust will render us comfort. (And they’re back. Hello decoys!)

“When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us.” ~ Brene Brown, ‘Rising Strong

I’m guessing you’ve probably identified a few of your personal ‘go-to’s’ distractions and are looking for ways to stop being a ‘decoy gymnast’.

I do have a few suggestions to get you off the uneven bars and onto the balance beam stepping into your emotions.

Give these a twirl:

  • Be present and mindful of the activities you’re choosing to put your energy into.
  • Close your eyes, breathe, shift your awareness to your inner world and ask: ‘Does this activity bring comfort or discomfort into my life?’ Notice how you feel in your body when you answer this question.
  • Resist judging, berating or beating yourself up when you discover yourself ‘decoy-ing’.
  • Let go of self-pressure.  You don’t have to quit using a decoy.  At least not initially. Gentle awareness is key.
  • Offer yourself kindness, encouragement and patience like you’d give a young child learning a new skill.
  • Allow time to integrate this new patterns of being.
  • Snap or clap when you’re ‘on’ yourself. Make this discovery and play. (Combining audible sounds with gestures ‘wakes up’ the brain.)
  • Most importantly: Celebrate doing a new thing to see your distractions and then flip your focus to the body by frequently asking:  ‘What am I feeling emotionally?’

WAHOO! Here’s to still being human!

(Imagine doing front handsprings.)

Now with both eyes closed, balancing on one foot repeat ……


(Good Catch! No more gymnastics.)

Open your eyes stand firmly in your truth and state:

‘I welcome every opportunity to know, accept and love myself more.’

(Ta Da! Victory Pose.)

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