[This post is part of a series on Cold Showers. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view that series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
What is creative avoidance?
You know the feeling, or rather the mental chatter.
The scene: Some time ago you told yourself you would do something challenging. Maybe going to the gym, talking to your boss about a raise, asking someone out on a date, one of those things you have to will yourself to do. At the time you knew you would do it. Now it’s time to do it. Suddenly your mind fills with excuses and various reasons not to do it:
- You’re tired.
- It doesn’t matter that much.
- You can do it better later.
- You want to do something else first.
- You’re not ready yet.
- You can’t afford it.
- You’ll do it, you really will, tomorrow.
- You didn’t really want to do it in the first place.
- Other people didn’t do it and still succeeded.
You know the routine. Someone came up with a name for that thought pattern: “creative avoidance.” If you read my posts on mental chatter and empathy gaps, you know about it.
The problem with creative avoidance
The problem with creative avoidance is that after all those excuses seduce you into complacency, you look back later and realize none of them meant anything and you feel bad for succumbing to them. You teach yourself not to challenge yourself as much the next time. You miss out on great things in life and make yourself helpless.
The opposite of creative avoidance
The opposite of creative avoidance happens when you do something challenging. Here is that overall pattern.
- Long before your activity you think “No problem, however hard it may seem, I’ll will myself to do it and my willpower will make it easy. Nothing can stop me.”
- Just before you do it your mind goes crazy with excuses not to do it, to do it tomorrow, that not doing it is no big deal, and so on.
- Doing it is uncomfortable.
- At first you think “Holy shit, am I actually doing this?!? This is crazy!!”. When you’re almost done you think “That wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought. The anticipation was worse than the experience.”
- Then after you do it, the discomfort disappears immediately and you feel great for doing it.
How many great parts of life do we lose in step 2?
Every time I see a hard problem I think of my repeatedly proven way to solve hard problems:
The best way to solve a hard problem is to solve a related easier problem, build experience, and apply what you learned to the harder problem.
What are easier problems? SIDCHAs! Burpees, exercise, cold showers, meditation, and things like that develop the skill to overcome that creative avoidance. Because they’re healthy they improve your life. Because they’re challenging, they develop your ability to recognize and overcome creative avoidance.
Many people ask me why I continue with the cold showers or twice-daily burpees. All they think about is the physical sensation, or how they’d rather sit on the couch and not do them. For some reason they don’t realize it’s training to live the life I want by enabling myself to choose deliberately what I want to do, not just to follow paths others lay out for me, which I call the rat race, or surrender to whatever shiny thing appears in my vision, which I call blowing in the breeze.
I think people who just give in to whatever pleasure or chocolate cake tempts them consider this lifestyle austere and spartan and theirs more pleasurable. I suspect the opposite—that living this way brings more pleasure, happiness, and emotional reward, and that people who live this lifestyle appreciate their pleasure more. But that’s just my feeling.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees