Avoiding avoidance

There is a time to walk out and engage with life. Photo by Basil Samuel Lade on Unsplash

All humans work on the basis of a balance between adventure and security. Half of us wants to reach out and do things a new way, and half of us wants to hold back and do things the old way. This is why we have arguments in politics, between progressives and conservatives; the polarisation feeds into a great dilemma inside all of us.

Individually, we each have to manage an organism with the same dichotomy. Half of me wants to do something new and different today. But the other half of me is scared of that, and wants to build on the usual structures and habits I have created around me.


Generally speaking, humans are avoidant because we are cautious. We do not like to walk into danger, and so we steer ourselves away from anything that could disturb the peace.

We also like to hide the fact that we are avoidant. So we will wear t-shirts that proclaim engagement and involvement; we follow exciting social media causes (from the softness of our sofas); we complain about other people’s lack of action. All this makes us think we are participating in life.

There is a lot of wisdom in avoidance. If we didn’t avoid danger, we would fall down mountains, get into fights, commit crimes, crash our cars. But this habit can infect our behaviour when we actually want to engage.


Typical areas where an avoidant habit shoots us in the foot are:

  • Living situations – we tend to accumulate dust where we are, rather than seeking new or improved accommodation. Ultimately, this can lead to the hoarder mentality.
  • Love situations – we tend to find reasons not to engage with partners, in order to avoid the risk of vulnerability. This can lead to loneliness.
  • Work situations – we tend to stick to what we know, rather than seeking progression. This can lead to stagnation and boredom.
  • Financial situations – we tend to go the easy route, borrowing rather than cutting costs or earning more. This can lead to terrible debt.
  • Health situations – we tend to seek comfort in easy calories. This can lead to obesity, malnutrition and poor mental health.

If we are too avoidant, therefore, we can end up alone and in debt, in a house full of unwanted junk, in the same job (or lack of job), eating fast food.


Avoidant habits are the hardest to combat. This is because they are there, in theory, there to make us safe. In the jungle, the animal that learns to hide, and to stay still, survives.

We have to employ some clever strategies to persuade ourselves out of our avoidant habits. The strategies are similar to those we would use with a small, shy child. In fact, that’s the best way to see ourselves – as a small child who needs coaxing into the world of risk and adventure.


Here are five techniques for encouraging ourselves to engage with life.

  1. Seek out kind people and groups. If we are socially avoidant, then we need to encourage ourselves to reach out. This is much easier with welcoming people. Many individuals and organisations have a professional incentive to be welcoming. These include counsellors and therapists, mental health organisations and religious organisations.
  2. Learn to begin activities. If we are behaviourally avoidant, then we need to make first steps. For everything we dream of doing, we can make one small step, and diarise the next.
  3. Make time for the following behaviours: decorating; dating; applying for new customers, roles and jobs; saving money; eating healthily. These five activities are great antidotes to avoidance, and give us direction.
  4. Seek out inspiration. Find songs, pictures, people, holidays, books and other activities that help you feel more alive. Not ones that you think will. Ones that actually do wake you up.
  5. Learn to spot your own excuses. Observe your own speech patterns, and watch yourself arguing yourself into inaction. Once you spot the arguments you use to tie yourself up, you won’t be able to take them so seriously.

These exercises can bring us into social activity, give us a feeling of forward momentum, and bring us aliveness and a sense of humour.

It’s not easy to escape our avoidant behaviour. But the rewards are considerable. We can have more company, save more resources, create nicer homes, have more interesting jobs, and have healthier bodies.