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APPROACH-AVOIDANCE - Change your focus

So has this ever happened to you, where there is something that you have wanted or desired and for some reason, you just aren’t getting yourself to take action on this goal and you’re procrastinating? Well, this is usually the result of Approach-Avoidance. Approach-Avoidance, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is a psychological conflict that results when a goal is both desirable and undesirable. Essentially is the output of effort worth the reward. So why does this happen, why do we have goals that we desire and at the same time don’t desire?


Most often this is because we have two different sets of conflicting beliefs within us. We have specific beliefs that we are focusing on which either tells us by doing this thing I am going to gain something or by doing this I’m going to lose something. One example of such a conflicting situation is when we are in school and want to get good grades but at the same time doing the work to get those good grades will take an effort we are uncomfortable with. Another type of Approach-Avoidance situation is when you have a big project to complete for work and you know if you complete this you will receive recognition but you also know how much work will be involved and perhaps at the same time you also question if you will actually get what you desire most, which is the recognition. Yet another type of situation is in relationships. We may want to ask that special someone out on a date but what if they reject us? This is a situation where the outcome is unknown but is still perceived as positive and pleasurable but the uncertainty of the outcome creates Approach-Avoidance. These type of situations lead, most often than not, to procrastination because we believe that these situations will be painful to accomplish or we aren’t sure of the outcome. Even though we believe the reward will give us pleasure we will begin to avoid this dilemma altogether.


Approach-Avoidance, when it comes down to it, has to do with the pain and pleasure we will experience when tackling any situation. We know logically that completing a task or handling a challenge will ultimately give us the pleasure we desire out of that situation. While another part of us realizes that we will have to put out a certain amount of time and energy to complete this desired goal and that to us is painful. When we start to procrastinate our brains are too focused on the pain because to us that is what feels most real at the time. The pleasure we will derive from completing the goal just isn’t as real at the moment because it’s something we have to go through pain first to attain. In all situations where we have a desires goal we have to go through some pain to attain the pleasure we seek but sometimes that pain feels greater then the pleasure we perceive we will get.

So how do we get ourselves to get over the pain and just do it? Well, there are options and the first is to stop focusing on the pain and focus on the pleasure. What we focus on becomes our reality and we are hard-wired to focus on things that are negative and painful. “Change your focus, change your life,” I’m sure you have heard this quote before and it couldn’t be truer. Your focus has to be intentional otherwise your brain will go back to focusing on pain.


To focus intentionally is to have a purpose in what you are paying attention to for the desired outcome. In cases of Approach-Avoidance, your intention must be on thinking about the positive intentions of feeling pleasure when you have accomplished your goal. You can even go a step further and have an intentional focus on the journey to accomplishing your desired goal. What this means is realizing that you don’t need to only focus on the outcome but also enjoying the journey. The journey is what we usually associate the pain too and if we can change what we associate to the journey by using intentional focus we can use the journey and the outcome as motivating factors in ending Approach-Avoidance.

The best way to intentionally focus is to ask yourself the following empowering questions:

- What pleasure will I gain by completing this goal?
- What pain will I experience by not accomplishing this goal?
- What will I lose out on if I don’t accomplish or complete this goal?
- What will I gain if I do accomplish or complete this goal?

Many of us avoid being in pain even when what we most desire is right in front of us and at worst attainable. We must remember that no situation is perfect in that we can’t have situations which don’t require effort to accomplish an outcome. Of course, we all would love success without effort but it ends up being that effort which defines us. If we can bring ourselves to intentionally change our focus to a more positive outlook on what we will pleasurably gain, we can make real strides in combating Approach-Avoidance and thus procrastination. In pushing past the fear of being in pain and realizing that the pleasure is never as sweet without the pain then we can live a life without avoiding what we most want.



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