A Simple Way to Overcome Avoidance Behaviors that Sabotage You
Let’s say you have a fear of elephants and someone (most likely a parent) taught you that if you clap your hands, you will scare away the elephants. So every time you fear an elephant is about to trample you, you clap your hands to scare them away, and it works every time. Over time, this pattern of clapping your hands to avoid elephants is reinforced because it never fails. And the older you get, the more intense this dysfunctional cycle gets, and the harder it is to break.
This is an example of avoidance behavior, and it is a pattern that 90% of the population primarily uses to create the outcomes they want. Avoidance behaviors are developed in many different ways, and oftentimes it is a learned pattern that you have developed over time.
Avoidance is about pain and pleasure, and for 90% of people it’s about choosing more pain or less pain. When faced with a decision where one option gives you more pain and another gives you less pain, everyone will choose the less painful option. In this pattern, on your very best day you will get less pain and on your very worst day you will get more pleasure.
Traditional therapy will teach you stress management or anger management techniques to combat the avoidance behaviors. The fallacy with that approach is that on your best day, you only get managed stress and anger. Additionally, you will only get managed avoidance by learning avoidance management techniques.
An effective way to reverse and avoidance pattern is to change the equation from more pain vs less pain to more pleasure vs less pleasure. It is moving from an “away pattern” of choosing less pain to a toward pattern of choosing more pleasure. In a toward pattern, you will only get less pleasure on your very worst day!
Here is another way to think about how this works…
Let’s say every time you are in a stressful situation, you tend to get really tired. Your body has been conditioned to make you feel tired because it is less painful than dealing with the stressful situation. There is more pain associated to dealing with the situation at hand.
First, you have to re-frame how you currently think about stress. There are two forms of stress, distress and eustress. Distress is bad for you and eustress is good for you. An example of eustress is when you are working out, you are destroying muscle cells to grow new ones. So we know that stress can actually be good for you and help you grow. The same principle applies with stress in relationships, jobs, family, etc.
The stressful situation is an opportunity to grow, so you need to attach powerful thoughts and emotions to your personal growth. You have to be clear on what you want to accomplish from dealing with that situation and how you want to grow from it. Going through stressful situations, or growing pains, must be energizing for you and getting you closer to your dream vision of who you want to be. And you must realize that on your worst day in that pattern, you will only get less pleasure because you are focused on your growth.