The stupid reasons why we avoid reality

Sometimes, when I lose something, I deliberately choose to not go about looking for it at first. Say, if I suddenly realise that my wallet’s not in my pocket or in its usual place, I’ll choose to delay doing anything about it and instead I’ll think to myself “don’t worry, it’s probably just in the car or fallen down between the cushions on the couch”.

Why? Surely, if you start to worry that something’s lost, you should actively start looking for it right?

Well, I think my reason for not wanting to look is both simple and slightly strange and I write this both curiosity and fear… am I the only person who does stupid things like this or are there others like me? You see, I’m scared to start looking for it in case I discover that it is in fact permanently lost or stolen. I’d rather assume that it’s just temporarily misplaced, waiting to be found, rather than face the real possibility that it’s gone.

Sometimes I’ll even go days before actively looking for something that I’ve lost.

I find small examples of reality-avoidance like this interesting. Times when, instead of conducting an investigation into facts, we chose to indulge a fantasy even though a simple act (like looking for a wallet) can give us an immediate answer to the question at hand.

I do the same with my online banking. Sometimes, I deliberately cover up my balance when logging in because I’m too afraid of what’s there (or not there). Instead, I prefer to assume that I have enough finances for the week and I avoid the reality of online banking and ATM receipts like the plague!

Maybe it’s genetic because I’ve noticed the same behaviour in my family. My grandfather plays the lottery every week. What’s interesting about this are the rituals he goes through when checking the ticket. First of all, he doesn’t check the ticket when the numbers are first drawn in the evening. Instead, he prefers to check them the following day because it allows him the fantasy of going to bed that night thinking that he may be a millionaire. Although the odds are slim, he’d rather avoid the reality of “I’ve lost again” and instead hold onto a chance that he may have the winning ticket. Even when he does come down to checking the ticket, he covers it with a piece of paper to only reveal one line of numbers at a time. This way, each reveal of a new line is another chance of a win or rather, further delays the reality of a loss.

Just like I avoid the reality that I may have permanently lost something valuable, he too delays finding out that he hasn’t won lotto again for another week. But, both of us are delaying our reality checks for the same reason. We’re both choosing a much more pleasing ignorance, rather than facing the potentially hard facts of reality.

While these examples seem trivial, I do wonder if this sort of behaviour can become a habit and how it might affect our lives on a greater level. We all indulge in a bit of what I call healthy escapism and that’s fine. What I’m talking about here is holding onto a belief that may be false. A belief that could be easily verified by action but instead of choosing action, we chose to do nothing in fear that reality may tear down our values and beliefs. Instead, we choose to be ignorant rather than face the possibility of failure. We chose inactivity and apathy over an investigation into reality… into the real nature of things.

For example, I’ve always wanted to be a writer and photographer. For years, I yearned to start a blog and publish my work and try to make a go at it full-time. I thought that my work was good enough and I longed to turn my hobby into an income and career. But instead, I focused only on uncreative jobs and never published anything for years. Looking back, I realise that choosing to not follow my dream was also an act of reality avoidance.

You see, I preferred to believe that I was talented and that I could be a successful writer if I put time and effort into it rather than actually putting the time and effort in. It was more convenient to believe that I could be successful if I was to try, rather than actually try and then fail. I was too scared that reality would disagree with my own self-assessment that I could be a successful writer. I didn’t want any evidence to disprove my hypothesis of “I could be a successful creative person”. To take action was a direct threat to the identity that I’d created. The identity of a talented, creative writer that was yet to pursue his dream. In my mind, I’d rather be a potential creative writer that no one ever heard of rather than a failed writer.

This fear of failure and avoidance of reality is dangerous and limiting. It’s as if, we create identities that are interwoven with our values, beliefs and hopes and we then protect these identities at all costs. If we feel anything might threaten these identities we go into avoidance mode. We find ways to avoid the truth, lie to ourselves and find excuses to never test our hypotheses in the harsh laboratory of reality.

Why do we go to such an effort to protect our identities or our ego? It seems that we take any threats to our identity as serious as we would take a physical threat to our bodies. A potential cause of this may be because our society has evolved rapidly and we’re now far beyond the rudimental stage of physical survival. We have now evolved into a socially connected society where our ability to survive and succeed is now very much about our social identities. So, it could be said that our identities are crucial to our survival in a modern social world and therefore it makes sense that we take threats to our identity so seriously.

I wonder then, how many people are afraid to follow their dreams, afraid to expose themselves and take a risk for fear that reality will destroy their identities? People who are afraid to discover if their own measures of self-worth and success are calibrated with the world we live in.

I think what I’ve learnt now is that ignorance is anything but bliss. Not only should we never avoid action for fear of failure but we need to understand that failure is a necessary part of learning and a crucial prerequisite to anything worthwhile. There’s nothing wrong with going to bed once a week hoping you might be a millionaire but when you begin to avoid reality to protect part of your self-constructed identity it can lead to a dangerous place where you become too afraid to pursue your dreams and choose fantasy and ignorance over trial and error which is a necessary component to a successful life.