Awareness: notices our reality without making harsh judgements
Avoidance: distracts us from reality when we feel uncomfortable.
What Does An Avoidance Mindset Look Like?
We can recognize an Avoidance mindset because it distracts us from reality when we feel uncomfortable. There are many ways we distract ourselves when we feel uncomfortable – eating, drinking, internet, phones, porn, sports, humor, entertainment, cleaning, projects, obsessing, comparison, criticism, isolation, irritability, etc. Perhaps we are avoiding a hard conversation, a sobering look at our habits, listening to our bodies’ aches and pains, taking responsibility for our choices, or coming to terms with the fact that we are out of control in one (or several) ways that are hurting ourselves and others.
Recently, my personal go-to distractions have been my phone or food. When in an Avoidance mindset, I might endlessly cycle through sports news on my phone. And if my phone isn’t around I will cycle in and out of the kitchen, continually checking the same cabinet, hoping this next time a tasty treat will magically appear – honestly, I don’t know what I’m expecting. In an Avoidance mindset, I enter a numb autopilot. This does provide relief in a way. The intensity of whatever discomfort I’m feeling decreases momentarily. But on the flipside, I’m not making any healthy progress, because I’m not allowing enough space to notice what is going on in my inner world. If I am unaware, then I am stuck. Positive change is not likely to happen spontaneously.
Awareness – Knowing To Look For It
I didn’t realize how often I defaulted to an Avoidance mindset until I knew to look for it. Ironically, “knowing to look for it” is basically the foundation of a healthy Awareness mindset. Whatever we are avoiding, the only way to find health is to turn and face the discomfort directly. But not with aggression or violence as we are so prone to do. Discomfort and pain is not our enemy. It can be an ally, a teacher. Therefore, if we adopt an open, curious, kind, and non-violent stance toward ourselves (especially toward the parts of ourselves we don’t like), we begin to foster an Awareness mindset, which notices our reality without making harsh judgements.
A key practice for growing in an Awareness mindset is Mindfulness. Yes, “mindfulness” is all the rage these days, but for good reason. Western culture sorely lacks practices that untangle our sense of self from what we experience. This entanglement of identity and experience, I believe, is a cause for much of our distress. Mindfulness practices teach us how to notice our reality and just let it be. It also helps us see that we are more than what we experience.
When our sense of identity is equal to what we experience in our thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations, and urges, it is easy to fall into a victim mentality and hopelessness. In this place we will strive to do anything to get those uncomfortable experiences to go away. But as we see that we are more than our experiences, then we can stay with our experiences longer, notice them, and learn from them. As we become aware of what we think and feel, we become more free to act in line with our values regardless of what we experience internally.
5 Tips for growth in Awareness:
–Stillness. Daily, set a 2-minute timer, sit in a comfortable position, and just be still. Don’t strain to achieve any state of mind, just be. If your thoughts race, let them race, if you feel calm, then enjoy them calm. This helps us detox from our addiction to distraction.
–Meditation. Download an app on your phone like Calm or Headspace (or another like it). Follow along with the guided meditation. These are great for relaxation and teaching attunement to our body, mind, and emotions.
–Creativity. Pick something to do that allows you to express yourself creatively. This will help you access your right brain and not solely rely on your left brain. The left brain involves things like language, data, and logic. The right brain involves things like intuition, feeling, and imagination. We need to be able to access both aspects of ourselves to be balanced people.
–Grow your emotional vocabulary. Get a list of emotion words, like a feeling wheel (Google Feelings Wheel), and check in daily with yourself using your emotion words list as a guide. Being able to name what you are feeling is important to distinguish it from you.
–Community. Healing happens in safe relationships. Our current way of being has been influenced by others, so establishing a new way of being must also be influenced by others. Don’t have meaningful relationships? Be gracious to yourself, this may take time to grow. Often, I hear people (or my own inner dialogue) say, “But I don’t know how!” That’s OK. You don’t have to know how, you just have to be willing to try something new. Learn a hobby with others, take a class, reconnect with family or a faith community, or start meeting with a counselor.
Here’s to growing into an Awareness mindset. Let’s give it a go!
Written by Tom Page, LPC