Today’s stren considers the third of the eight choices available to our will power to transform information into action. I have labeled it the Avoidance response because it has its origin in the primitive flight part of our fight or flight instinct.
The Avoidance mental action pathway is so powerful because it has been hardwired into our biology throughout our history. This primitive automatic innate “flight” pathway is our emergency action to run or hide from life threatening danger. In animals, it is a favored means of survival! For example, it has been shown that some species instinctively distinguish the distant shape of a predator bird from that of a safe silhouette, automatically releasing “red alert” chemicals that signal the need to run. In our (relatively) civilized society, physically running away is seldom effective. First, modern technology makes it easy to find people. Second, physical life-threatening stress is uncommon. Most people constantly face symbolic danger and “pink alert” chronic psychological stress. Thus, we learn to substitute mental means of avoidance for physical ways to “run away.” (Running away to escape a mugger is actually a problem-solving response, rather than avoidance!)
Our intelligent mind creates ingenious alternative ways to avoid discomfort. Most preserve short-term pleasure at the cost of a longer-term harmful outcome. Present feelings are often innately more powerful than objective reason. Reason lacks the force of emotion unless we teach ourselves the endorsement skills that link emotion to the intelligent action choice. The avoidance mental response pattern is discouraged because the longer-term (and sometimes the shorter-term) outcome no longer works and often is dangerous.
Here are some readily observed avoidance patterns our mind substitutes for physically running:
procrastination: finding another activity to escape an unpleasant task
“socially running”: changing jobs, spouses, friends, residences, and so on
substance abuse: inappropriate use of alcohol, drugs, and food
telling lies: “It was my brother who did it.”
withdrawal: isolating oneself physically and/or emotionally
self-deception: the mind is so effective, deception is accepted as truth. For example:
denial – “I can stop drinking whenever I choose.”
rationalization – Excuses believed by the individual but no one else. “The
traffic makes me late.” “It’s because my biorhythms are off.”
paranoia – projecting our uncomfortable ideas/feelings on another.
“They don’t like me because I have pimples.”
substitution/displacement – Angry with his boss, he kicks the dog.
regression – We revert to an inappropriate pattern that previously worked.
A four year old wets himself when a new sibling gets more attention.
physical and/or psychological “illness” – Feigned or exaggerated physical and/or
mental illness may excuse one from facing a stressful reality. Becoming
Napoleon or some other powerful person is more satisfying than being “a nobody.”
Most common expressions of the avoidance response, such as substance abuse and procrastination, are easily spotted. Patterns involving mental self-deception are among the most difficult to manage because individuals believe their distorted thinking. I would like to consider in greater detail the various means of self-deception our mind uses to replace the hard-wired instinct to physically run or hide. However, my priority is to first provide you with the most crucial ANWOT wisdoms that popularize Mental Wealth and establish a substantial grass roots movement of Peace leaders. I hope to revisit the more difficult to recognize self-deception means of avoidance at some point, but in the meantime there are many books available that address these mechanisms our mind creates to avoid discomfort.
Negative action patterns are our major source of unhappiness and danger. The most effective ways to control avoidance behavior and the other five negative patterns is to learn and practice the common sense newer way of thinking. Focusing on the two universal positive mental responses, problem-solving and self-endorsement, often brings about the desired change without even having to directly challenge the avoidance mental response pattern. The negative responses tend to atrophy or “melt away” as the problem-solving and self-endorsement action pathways are more regularly practiced. In addition, developing the positive responses often motivate the individual to directly attack their negative patterns.
Many additional methods, such as love, education, counseling, religious healing, relaxation training, yoga, meditation, medications, and a supportive environment, are effective. Individuals who rely on the mental self-deception avoidance behaviors often lack motivation and resist giving up their “defense” against discomfort. They are more difficult to persuade to engage in the self-education that inspires better alternatives. In addition to the various interventions here indicated, social pressure and strict limit setting may be required to control anti-social and harmful behavior. I have learned not to “give up” on resistive individuals because of my prior work with lifestyle drug addicts and anti-social individuals. There are many ways to encourage, sometimes “bribe” even the most resistive individuals to come around.
Please don’t miss the next stren, the universally powerful common sense Problem-solving mental action pathway. Here’s wishing you tons of Mental Wealth.