Avoiding What Makes You Afraid Makes It More Fear-inducing13 min read

There’s a certain quality that will destroy whatever self-esteem that you have.

I’ve had it myself. I still have it in some areas. I’ve seen other people having their lives destroyed because of it (seriously, no exaggeration).

The more you have it, the less self-esteem you’ll have. The more you have it, the more your life will suffer.

Let’s see what it is and break it down.

It doesn’t feel good, so I won’t do it

Sounds familiar?

Unfortunately, it’s the hard and the uncomfortable things that will help you grow and have a high self-esteem.

You know the things that make you squirm and make your heart beat fast? Or the things that you tend to put off because you don’t feel like doing them? Or worse, the things that you know are right but you are too afraid to dare to do them?

Exactly! Those are the character builders. The self-esteem boosters. The confidence inducers.

But doing them, however, is not that easy. We tend to avoid them because they are hard or painful or uncomfortable.

And we use a various range of avoidance strategies.

What stands between you and a high self-esteem is these avoidance strategies.

I’ve put off writing and taking care of important tasks because I was scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t do a good job.

At times, I’ve put off working on my social skills because, you know, who wants to feel uncomfortable talking to strangers or getting hurt while getting close to people?

And I also have a few occasions when I stepped up to the challenge and did the uncomfortable things I was running away from.

From finishing and publishing my first book, to putting myself out there and communicating with other people.

Though they weren’t always comfortable, they somehow felt good as they helped me become a better person. And while the avoidance strategies felt good at the moment, eventually they sucked because they stunted my personal growth.

Subtle avoidance strategies that we sometimes use

1) I don’t feel like it; I’m not in the right mood:

This one is very common.

We sometimes legitimately feel like we don’t want to do anything. Sometimes we feel like not doing anything because we are afraid.

Either case, we put off doing whatever we need to do because our emotions are telling us to not do this thing.

What I’ve learned is that you should do the important things regardless of how you feel like, for you’ll never always be motivated.

Realize that they are important and let that realization guide you to do them.

And if it happened and you were afraid to do them and that’s why you’d told yourself, “I don’t feel like doing anything!”, then you need to also get yourself to do them.

You need to be aware of the fact that you are afraid, why you are afraid, and then face this fear and push through it. Uncomfortable, but necessary.

Otherwise, this fear will stop you from developing a healthy self-esteem and will keep you a prisoner.

2) I don’t have time:

This is my favorite because I use it all the time! And then I wonder why I don’t have enough time!

In this avoidance strategy, the person shamelessly claims that he can’t do X or Y because he doesn’t have time. And to make this excuse valid, this person usually does his best to keep himself so damn busy –busy doing other less important things.

So, he gets to avoid doing the hard and important things while telling himself that he is busy. And he actually has the schedule to back up his claim. Only that his schedule is filled with less important things.

We can see this when someone claims that he doesn’t have time to social life and making friends because he works all the time. He may actually be working all the time. But not because of that he doesn’t have friends or an interesting social life. Working all the time is just an avoidance strategy to get him avoid the seemingly painful human’s interactions while feeling less guilty.

I used to claim that I don’t have time to write articles regularly or to exercise because of my new job as a full-time teacher. But it was just an excuse and a lie and an avoidance strategy.

Yes, I’m not free as I used to and I have more responsibilities. But I realized that I’ve been just lying to myself.

Working out and writing are important to me, and so is teaching. But because writing and working out are a bit scary to me – I’ve faced some challenges and failures with them – I subtly try to avoid them. (And avoiding them has affected me bad enough that I don’t want to live this way anymore.)

Now, I write articles (mostly) on my iPhone. After that, I edit them and publish them using the laptop. I decided to join a gym near the place in which I work, so that I finish work and go immediately to pump some iron.

Recognize the lie behind, “I don’t have time.” Trust me, there’s always a lie. And when you recognize it, stop this avoidance strategy and do what it takes.

3) They are (insert your favorite insult):

This one is interesting.

It is usually used in social situations.

“It’s not me, they are just stupid

Well, even if they are stupid, it’s not a valid excuse to not develop your communication skills. And, indeed, it’s not an excuse to be alone.

It’s a way of avoiding responsibility. The responsibility for developing your communication skills and the responsibility for connecting with other humans.

I used to use it when I find myself in difficult social situations. Then I learned that it’s just an excuse and an avoidance strategy.

Sometimes the people around me are actually stupid. Sometimes they are not and I’m just labeling them to feel good about myself.

But in either case, I must face myself and do something to develop my communication skills and to develop some intimacy between me and other humans.

If they are actually stupid, to me, I need to first define exactly what I mean by “stupid” then find people who don’t fit that definition.

And if they are not actually stupid, then I need to swallow my pride and realize that I’ve been an arrogant person.

In brief, if the people around you are not the type of people you want to be around, it’s neither their fault nor responsibility.

You need to get up and develop yourself, and your communication skills, and find another group of people. Or you need to stop overgeneralizing and accusing people of being the reason why you can’t enjoy the social life.

In many situations, more than we would like to admit, it’s the latter case.

4) I’m not ready:

So, I’ll get ready! And until then, I won’t do it.

The problem is not with, “I’m not ready'”. What’s problematic is, “I’ll get ready.”

I’ll read books to get ready. I’ll take some rest to be ready. I’ll gain more experience and knowledge to be ready.

Yes, I understand, sometimes we need to do those things. But other times, they are nothing but avoidance strategies that keep us in our comfort zone.

This is especially true when it comes to the self-help industry. Book after book. Article after article. Video after video. However, no actions are taken and the excuse is, “I’m not ready.”

The desire to feel ready is a fruitless pursuit. It’s just like perfection. You want to be ready in order not to screw up or make mistakes.

But you will never be 100% ready. You’ll make some mistakes and fail and act clumsily at times. I know that you want to be ready in order to avoid these awkward and embarrassing moments. But unfortunately, they are essential learning steps that you need to go through.

Thinking that you should be “ready” can hold you back. Again, to me, it’s just like perfection. You’ll remain in the inaction mode for a long time, thinking that you must figure out “something” first. But you’ll never be able to get or figure out this “something” –you can only figure it out when you are in the arena erring and doing something.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

― Theodore Roosevelt

So, step up to the challenge and do something. Do something and learn from your mistakes as you go. It’s better than waiting to be ready, way better!

5) distractions:

They are a lot in today’s world.

Technology is the worst distraction. Smartphones made it easy to escape the real world.

But it’s not only about technology. Here’s how it goes:

At the core of procrastination lies fear. The task seems too difficult or too painful. So, we avoid doing it.

How do we do that?

Using whatever that can distract us. Anything from social media to watching stupid videos on YouTube. Or even by staying busy doing other less important and less fulfilling things. Heck, even by spending most of the time socializing or partying.

It’s very damn easy to distract ourselves. Procrastination is as easy as swiping a screen.

But when it gets to the point where we distract ourselves from doing the important things, that’s a serious problem.

When you get distracted, it’s pretty difficult to do something productive. Neither will you have the time nor the energy to get the important things done. You’ll just live with instant gratification. And after a while, you’ll wake up to the fact that you’ve been wasting your time and flushing it, your most valuable asset, down the toilet.

How to overcome those strategies?

1) recognize them for what they are:

This requires some courage.

It’s not pleasant to tell yourself that you’ve been avoiding some important, tough battles in your life. Who wants to feel like a coward?

So, you need to swallow your pride. For the sake of improving, you need to admit the wrong first. And the wrong, here, is avoidance and running.

Second, it doesn’t feel good to admit you’ve been avoiding doing hard (but important) things because you will actually have to do them!

Get over those 2 obstacles. Admit that you’ve been using some damn smart and subtle avoidance strategies (because your mind is very creative) and decide that you’re going to stop those avoidance strategies…

…. But after you understand them…

2) know exactly what are you trying to avoid and why:

You: what am I trying to avoid? What am I running from?

The “aware” you: certain situations.

You: like what?

The “aware” you: you know, uncomfortable situations.

You: such as?

The “aware” you: confronting people about what I feel about their behavior. Or even trying to get closer to people I care about. 

You: I know you have good intentions behind those avoidance strategies and just want to be safe. What, by avoiding these situations, are you protecting us from? 

The “aware” you: Hmm, let me think. I don’t want to get rejected. I don’t want to feel unwanted. If I confront them, they may walk away. If I expressed myself, they might reject me. I don’t want to get rejected or hurt or abandoned by people in general, and especially by those I care about.

The person in the above example understood what he’d been running away from.

He first noticed that he’d been running away from something and avoiding it. It turned out that he’d been avoiding specific situations.

Why was he afraid of these situations? Fear of rejection and getting hurt.

And probably if he’d questioned further, he would’ve figured out the reasons why he’s afraid of what he’s afraid of. Deep-rooted beliefs and life experiences could’ve caused this (but this is not to be discussed here; this is kind of therapy).

Recognize what you are trying to avoid. Is it the failure? Rejection? Being seen vulnerable? Being judged? Or what is it exactly?

From here, we can understand the root causes of those avoidance strategies. Then, we can defuse the situation and prevent it from turning into a life-screwing-event.

Here’s how…

3) recognize what they are costing you:

Avoidance will cost you not only your self-esteem but also it will affect various areas of your life negatively.

And you need to become fully aware of that negative effect.

By avoiding getting hurt, how are you actually hurting yourself?

By not taking actions because you are afraid of failure or rejection, how are you damaging your chances of success in life?

How your life will be 5 years from now, given the fact that you’ve not changed anything?

I know that I’d suffer a lot at one point in my life if I kept putting off writing. I know that I’d suffer a lot if I don’t start exercising.

Those things are important to me. And avoiding them will affect my mood negatively in the short-term. And my life quality will suffer in the long term because of avoiding them.

Be honest with yourself. See how this avoidance shit will damage you in the long run.

Failure is about not trying. Real courage is about stepping up and doing something, regardless of the results.

4) what’s the most important thing to you?

What is it that you do care about?

Your health, your social life, your financial situation, your love life, and the overall quality of your life? Or staying comfortable and never shaking the boat?

Avoidance strategies already cost you something, as discussed above. This “something” is usually important to you.

Reminding yourself of the importance of this thing can help a lot.

5) move:

Do something.

Now you know what the avoidance strategies are costing you. And you’ve decided what is truly important to you.

It’s time you moved toward that thing which is important to you.

Moving toward that important thing means quitting the avoidance habits. Not just by forcing yourself to quit but also by understanding why must you quit.

I, for one, now understand that writing and exercising are important to me. I’m not fine without them.

And I understand the avoidance strategies that I’ve been using. I also understand why I’ve been using them (fear of failure and disappointment).

I choose to stick to what is of utmost importance to me. Regardless of the possibility of pain and hurt.

It feels better. Avoidance will give you temporary relief but you will watch your life crashing in front of your eyes every day.

Choosing to stick to what is actually important and fulfilling even if you might get hurt is, counter-intuitively, fulfilling in the long run even if it feels bad at the moment.

And actually, it never feels as bad as procrastination and ignoring the major problems in your life.

So, what are you going to do?

Choose now. Choose wisely.

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