Attention to Avoidance

I've recently come to realize the immense value of being mindful of what we subconsciously avoid.

Take my case. I used to relish watching entrepreneurship-related educational webinars and talks from quality sources during my meals. In fact, that used to be my only source of entertainment – the only content I consumed the entire day that was not books or blogs. However, they suddenly started bothering me, and I quickly started scrolling past them, not even realizing when I was doing so.

Once I became aware that I was doing that, I initially attributed it to the fact that I might be working very hard and needed some real entertainment during my meals. And I was anyway watching those talks on demand. When I needed a talk on Product design, I went and watched it. But it didn't count as entertaining anymore.

It took me a while to realize that the real reason I was avoiding the talks that I used to love listening to was something else. The real reason was that I was no longer following the advice mentioned in the talks properly. Listening to the advice I was failing to follow and knowing it was coming from the best entrepreneurial minds would've bothered me. And thus, my brain chose to steer me away from that content, shielding me from the discomfort it caused.

That's what the brain is a master at. Our brains excel at protecting us from pain and disapproval, especially during challenging times. Especially in times of crisis, it doesn't want one more thing to worry about. It deploys a variety of tools to protect us. Some of those include procrastination, mindless scrolling, addiction, indecision, distraction, and excuse-making. The brain is still not good at focusing on long-term things. Most things that cave people pursued were short-term. It was evolutionarily more beneficial to think about the wild beast about to eat you than ponder about how things would be 2 years from now.

We gravitate toward what feeds into our existing beliefs and values, and we also gravitate toward what makes us feel better in the short run. Stumbling upon health-related content becomes uncomfortable when living unhealthily. The sight of a gym becomes sore instead of bringing a rush of adrenaline. And all this can be fleeting. Eat healthy for a few days, and both will become pleasant again.

For me, such avoidance also happens when a new technology not directly relevant to my startup comes up. I love new technologies, and yet an inertia kicks in. Ironically, the reason behind it is that I like knowing how technologies work, so I would have to read about the new ones in depth. And that would make my schedule busier. This makes me avoid them altogether. It gets extreme. I subconsciously procrastinate merely using them for the first time or even watching their reviews. I have learned to limit this procrastination by setting a hard deadline to read and learn more about that technology. That strikes a good balance because while focusing on my startup in the short term is good, staying up-to-date with technologies as a tech entrepreneur is also essential. In this case, the reason for the avoidance is not that sinister, but it can still harm my startup if I were to neglect it.

Similar dynamics apply when it comes to avoiding interactions with people, and this is even more prevalent. People often steer clear of someone or dodge certain topics with specific people because they anticipate receiving advice or opinions they'd rather not confront. This advice or opinion is often correct, helpful, and much-needed. The person offering it might be well-meaning and the one who cares for you the most. But it is just uncomfortable. Everyone is guilty of doing it at some point in their life. Entire social circles are often changed to be with people where one fits in or feels better about oneself in the short run instead. The brain doesn't want disapproval. It doesn't want to feel bad. It wants to fit in, even if it comes at the expense of future goals.

I do not mean that avoiding what or who we dislike is wrong. All of us have a right to avoid whatever or whoever we want to. The point I am making is that we need to be actively aware of and recognize the things or people we are avoiding and why. The decision should not be subconscious. And we need to be aware of the actual reasons, not the simplest reasons or the first reasons that come to our minds. Arriving at those reasons sometimes requires answering some hard questions. Once we know the reasons, we can try to conclude honestly, without any biases, whether the avoidance is justified. And sometimes, in this process, we uncover something about ourselves that we didn't know before. That helps us reflect and think more deeply about whether self-protection in the particular case is actually warranted or is causing more harm than good. The awareness and reflection alone can guide us to the correct answer, saving us from future damage.

Soon, this awareness becomes a habit. We become more mindful of our patterns. And then it becomes easy to counter the avoidance. I slowly transitioned to watching startup content with my meals again. Not only do I enjoy it once again, but it has also helped my startup. Once I started consuming that content again, I could ramp up to following the advice properly. The self-protection offered by subconscious avoidance is often not worth it because we possess greater strength and emotional resilience than we give ourselves credit for and can definitely strive to be more emotionally evolved than cave people.