Sat Jun 17 2023

Avoiding Avoidance

by e(Liz)abeth (Mars)ton

All human readers will recognize the common experience of avoiding something important: doing taxes; washing dishes; starting a movement; etc. Shakespeare worked it up into a whole play. You may have heard of it, once or twice.

Yet recent psychological research suggests that avoidance is worse for us than it might first seem. Avoidance presents as an innocuous preference, but it can rob us of experience, opportunity, relationships, and income.

Thus the only thing worth avoiding is avoidance itself.

There are lots of ways one might go about trying to avoid avoidance, but the one that works best for me is to make a list of literally everything that I can think of that I’m avoiding, and situate it somehow so I have to encounter it at some point in the near future (for example, by putting it on your calendar a couple of days out.)

Algorithm is as follows:

  1. Line up some treats for after this. If you like chocolate, get chocolate. If you’re into chips, or fries, or even a hot bath, go get that. Have it ready so you can dive into it as a reward for completing the following task.
  2. Sit down. If you’re a pen-and-paper human like myself, get out your favourite pen and notebook. This is going to be a little bit uncomfortable, so you might as well pamper yourself. If you’re keyboard-bound, open your favourite text editor (say, neovim or Obsidian. Get comfy. Wiggle your butt in your chair. sit up straight.
  3. Set a timer. Give yourself three minutes. You can survive three minutes of thinking about scary stuff, right? You got this.
  4. Start the timer! Now, as quick as you can, write out as many things that you can think of that you’re avoiding. If you’re like me, you’ll probably find that they’re actually right on top of your mind; it won’t take long to spit them out.
  5. When the timer goes off, stop. It doesn’t matter if you’re not finished. You can do this exercise again tomorrow. The important thing is to build trust with yourself that it really is only going to be three minutes. So, stop.
  6. Put the list you’ve created somewhere you’re bound to see it. If you use a tickler file, this is a perfect time to break it out. If you use a calendaring app, make a note attached to a day, or, if you feel so inclined, even a specific hour, no more than a couple of days out, containing your list.
  7. Now, go enjoy your treat.

Image: “Hamlet, Horatio, Marcellus and the Ghost” Gertrude and Thomas Jefferson Mumford Collection, Wikipedia Commons, via Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Calligraphic embellishment of the name 'Liz'