Picking the blue pill: part 2

So last week, we looked at a lot about escapism. We looked at why we like to take the proverbial blue pill instead of dealing with reality. We also discussed some of the reasons why escapism is bad, and we talked about why escapism can also be good.

The last thought I left you with was that escapism can create a very vicious, self-perpetuating cycle where you avoid problems, they get worse, and then you avoid even more. This week we’ll be looking at how you tackle this negative spiral and more specifically, some of the key factors that encourage us to keep avoiding issues and how to tackle them.

Unknown cause

When you are escaping, often times the last thing you want to think about is what it is you are escaping from. Unfortunately, this is one of the bigger problems with overcoming escapism. It can be very hard to stop running from something when you don’t even know what that something is.

To overcome this issue, you need to look your demons in the eye, or at least glance back and catch a glimpse of a foot or something. Take a moment, breathe, and ask yourself why are you avoiding life.

If you find part of yourself fighting to keep your demons buried, maybe try approaching the situation backwards. If you can’t look at the problem, look at your solution. Why is escaping so attractive to you, what do you enjoy about immersing yourself, what are you getting out of it? Sometimes when you do this, the answer comes out on its own.

No Agency

For those unfamiliar with the term. Agency is the feeling that you have the ability to make decisions in your life and through those decisions have some say in what happens. A common cause of escapism is the feeling of having no agency. If you think about it, would you rather spend your time in your own life feeling powerless, or in a virtual world where you feel every choice is yours to make?

Regaining agency can be challenging, but it can be done. In most cases, people who escape have tons of choices they can make, but are too victimized to see them. The way to resolve this is to create agency in small ways. This can be done by making small actions that feel proactive. Some basic examples are choosing to get dressed as soon you get out of bed, putting a single object away in your messy room, or even just choosing to brush your teeth a little more often.

Performing small actions is helpful in two ways. The first is that it has a low bar. This means no matter how bad your escapism is, you hypothetically should be able to do it if the task is small enough (you have guaranteed success). The second part is that each time you do a small action like this, you are showing yourself that you in fact have agency. You prove to yourself that you can make choices and that you do have power to change your environment. Eventually, you start realizing that if you can choose to dress yourself as soon as you wake up, you can also choose to do other small things. In time, you’ll find yourself gradually doing bigger things and eventually you can start tackling the bigger problems.

Bad Habit

Last year, my girlfriend, Tia, was struggling with a bit of a technology addiction. She spent hours upon hours on her iPad. When she realized it was becoming an issue, she decided to start watching her behavior to see why she was spending so much time on it. The results were surprising.

Tia found that most of the time she was on her iPad she was actually pretty miserable. She didn’t like the activities she was doing, and she found the only reason she was doing them was because it was a default reaction to boredom. Tia actually knew a lot of ways to positively engage herself, but it was just so easy and habitual to open her iPad that she did it without thinking.

Since, habits are default reactions, the best way to overwrite them is to create structure. Essentially, you want some form of external force prompting you to take an alternative action. In Tia’s case, she told me to enforce a no iPad time with her. Whenever she came over, I was to at some point take away her iPad for an hour or two so that she could spend time directly with me. Since Tia could not pursue her normal habit, she started developing new ones, and her addiction to technology was heavily reduced.

Reality is overwhelming

Going back to the Matrix analogy I made in part 1, taking the red pill and waking up in some sort of creepy alien pod, with tubes attached to you is rather unpleasant. In fact, realizing the whole human race has been turned into a bunch of batteries is outright terrifying. The Matrix really shows us why we tend to choose the blue pill. Reality can be terrifying, it can be overwhelming, and it can be very natural to want to hide in our own imaginary bubble.

So, how do we deal with reality being so jarring and overwhelming? Well, unlike the Matrix, we don’t have to dive into it all at once. Most people get overwhelmed by reality, because they are looking at everything all at once. They see everything they find unpleasant about their life and it makes them want to hide. Try to only focus on a small part of your life at a time.

Recognize, that because escapism creates such a strong negative spiral, it has a sort of momentum to it. It’s like a train that keeps picking up more and more speed. You can’t instantly stop a speeding train. Initially, your goal is just to stop the train from gaining speed, and that by itself can take some time. Once you stop the acceleration then you can methodically slow it down to a stop, but even then, if you ever saw a train break, you know that this is not an immediate process.

What this means is that you shouldn’t be looking at everything that’s wrong in your life and you certainly shouldn’t be trying to fix it all. In fact, don’t even try to fix anything yet. Your first goal should really just be trying to address the escapism itself. Start by just finding something small you can do to be proactive in your life, and respect that this is all a process. Define your success based on where you are currently, not where you think you should be.

So, for example you might think that you should be on top of all your schoolwork, studying, getting good grades, keeping your room clean, doing all your chores, exercising, watching your health, and be dating some hot boy/girl, but compare it to where you are now. If your current ideal self is light-years away from where you are right now, all you are going to do is give yourself confidence problems. Create a goal of a person you want to be that’s within your reach and start with that. Like with agency, start with something like getting dressed early. In time, you will likely reach that ideal self, and then you can expand to something bigger.

A lot of escapism happens because we set unreasonable standards and don’t meet ourselves where we’re at. Always try to slow down the train, you’re not the Hulk and you shouldn’t be thinking you can bring it to an instant stop. Even if you were the Hulk, have you ever thought about what happens to the people in the train when you stop it?

Procrastination

A big cause of escapism is procrastination, but procrastination is a whole beast on its own. I’ll be creating an article solely on how to tackle procrastination, and you should hopefully see it soon. The brief answer I’ll give you is to try and create as much structure and accountability as you can. Things like schedules, people checking on your work, and reward systems are very useful.

So, that’s escapism. Escapism is actually a very challenging life dynamic to change. To handle escapism effectively, you often need a lot of support, willpower, patience, and planning. In extreme cases of escapism I even recommend looking into therapists or at least a motivational coach. This is because it is such a difficult condition to overcome, and you might need somebody stubborn to really keep you accountable. Chances are though, if you are reading this, your escapism isn’t at that level. By reading this, you are looking at your own problems in the face, and you are on some proactively tackling them.

Images provided by Maria Morri, Intel Free Press, Simon Greening, and Colin Smith.

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