Meet Mark: he is sociable, comfortable with women, playful, and dominant. However…
With all the experience he has and the dominance he exerts, he still feels incredibly self-conscious. Most of the times when we go out he feels anxious is afraid to talk to girls, so he mostly spends his time making excuses.
Generally, that is an understandable and relatable feeling for most guys, but since some of the things Mark experienced would fall under the category of someone’s “wildest dreams”, it seems absurd that he is still as anxious as any ordinary Joe.
Or is it?
On the surface, most of us would say: “Yes, it is.” But as we know too well, things are rarely as they initially seem. And the reason Mark still feels the anxiety in certain social situations can be explained by the model of the micro-avoidance theory.
THE SURPRISING INFLUENCE OF MICRO-AVOIDANCE
Micro-avoidance Theory: Avoiding small, insignificant challenges in life will train your brain to avoid bigger challenges.
In short, all of those little things you ignore throughout the day, which by themselves don’t affect your life much, eventually add up and prevent you from choosing to act when we actually do care about something. It’s the reverse principle of how habits are built.
Micro-avoidance is one of the simplest, but most powerful methods you can use to overcome fear and build confidence in your life. Even though I’ve seen it passed around on the web, nobody really went into much detail or explained the psychology behind why it works so marvelously.
That is, until now.
How Fear Builds Up During The Day
Let’s take our example from the beginning: Mark is scared of approaching girls, despite being superbly awesome at it.
To the outside observer, the situation seems pretty straightforward; Mark sees a girl he likes, wants to talk to her but decides not to. Most people would just say that Mark needs to grow some balls.
But let’s see what happens when we apply the micro-avoidance theory to this situation.
- Friday morning, Mark’s alarm rang; he knows he should get up, but decides to hit the snooze button anyway (-1).
- Once he does wake up, he gets ready in a hurry and rushes to the bus stop where the bus is just pulling in. He knows he can make it if he runs for it, but believes people will make fun of him for it. He does nothing as the bus leaves and spends 20 minutes waiting for another one to arrive (-2).
- Once aboard the bus, he notices an empty seat next to a cute girl he’s been noticing for a while. He wants to ask if the seat is taken, but doesn’t want to bother her. She has her headphones on and will probably think he’s a loser just for asking. He doesn’t want to be ridiculed in front of other people on the bus, so he decides to say nothing and stand instead (-3).
- At work, he is swamped. A coworker comes by and asks if he can help her out with something. The truth is, he literally does not have the time, but doesn’t want to offend his colleague and helps her anyway. As a result, the coworker finishes her tasks in time and leaves home, while Mark is forced to stay overtime to finish his own work (-4).
- It’s finally night time and Mark is about to hit the club with his friends. He’s super excited and wants to leave as early as possible, but his friends want to go straight to the club and skip socializing beforehand. Mark contemplates leaving on his own and meeting up with them later but thinks it will be weird and that people will think he’s a lonely loser. He decides to stay at home and pass time watching TV, waiting for his friends (-5).
- Once inside the club, he realizes that those three shots of tequila he recently consumed aren’t sitting well. He wants to order a glass of water at the bar but is convinced that people will think he’s a pussy. Besides, he doesn’t want to hold up the line for people behind him actually paying for real drinks. He does nothing (-6).
- Soon after, Mark sees an empty chair next to a table; he thinks about sitting down, but imagines a scenario where some people come back and give him shit for taking their seats and embarrass him. He concludes it’s best to continue standing (-7).
Finally, Mark sees the girl he wants to talk to; it would be so easy, just walk over and say hi. But Mark’s mindset is at a -7, so instead he starts making excuses that “she looks like a bitch” and “she’s probably waiting for her boyfriend” and “she doesn’t want to talk to anyone” and “what would I even say”.
CONCLUSION: Since Mark has been avoiding the little, “micro” choices the entire day, he built a negative association in his mind; when he wants to do something, he’ll just think of an excuse not to do it.
HOW DOES MICRO-AVOIDANCE WORK ANYWAY?
Let’s get psychological for a second.
Micro-avoidance is based on something called approach-avoidance conflict, a psychological principle we use when dealing with stress. When we have to decide to do something that can have a positive or a negative outcome, we experience stress.
In most daily situations, we will decide that the stress of choosing to act is not worth it.
This is called negativity bias, another psychological principle which states that, when dealing with two outcomes of equal intensity (“this may be awesome” or “this may be embarrassing”), we tend to put greater emphasis on the possible negative outcome.
In other words: Even though the negative outcome is usually blown out of proportion and unlikely to occur, we will think “oh no, this will definitely happen” and decide to do nothing. You know, to prevent the negative outcome which will probably not even happen.
In reality, this way of thinking is bullshit.
The more you say “fuck it” and do the things you want to do, the less anxious and more confident you will feel. The more you uphold those decisions, the easier they become. The same way, the more you avoid them, the easier it becomes to avoid them in the future.
If you’ve stopped smoking ten years ago, you still have to make a conscious decision not to light up whenever someone offers you a smoke. If you said you’ll never drink more than two drinks on a night out, you still have to make a decision not to have “just one more” when your friends are pressuring you.
So even though Mark has approached hundreds of girls in his lifetime, he still has to make a conscious decision to do it again, every time he goes out.
If you keep training your mind to avoid doing little uncomfortable things, it becomes natural to avoid doing bigger uncomfortable things, no matter how rewarding they may be. I mean shit, if you can’t get yourself to do that little thing of no significance, like ordering a glass of water or asking someone if the seat is taken, what makes you think you will somehow have the balls to just walk up and say hi to a stranger?
The good news is that you can use this to your advantage.
When people see me doing bold moves, they think I have somehow harnessed rare mystical powers which enable me to be indifferent to fear and anxiety in certain situations. In reality, I just make it my personal philosophy not to avoid doing things I want to do, no matter what my inner voice says.
Unless I have a real, legitimate reason not to do something, I go for it.
So while I won’t run into highway traffic because my drunk self thinks it’s something fun to do, I will walk over to that girl in the middle of a cafe and ask for her number out of the blue. While I won’t jump off a balcony because “I might make it, but I also might break my legs”, I will go out on my own if I don’t want to wait around for my friends.
Imagine if Mark applied the same reasoning.
If he didn’t hit the snooze button (+1), caught the first bus (+2), sat next to the cute girl (+3), politely declined his coworker (+4), went out by himself when he wanted to (+5), gotten the water at the bar (+6), and sat down at the empty seat (+7), his mindset would be on a positive roll.
So when he noticed the girl he wanted to talk to, he would have been in a state of mind that doesn’t even contemplate doing or avoiding something; the action would be automatic. He would just do it.
He would’ve walked over and talked to her, maybe hitting it off or maybe getting rejected. The point is, now, he will never know and he will beat himself up for it, further diminishing his willpower.
Micro-avoidance is a powerful tool that can increase your confidence and make you a happier person. The best part is that it doesn’t require a lot of effort or making any drastic changes to your lifestyle. You are already making choices every minute of every day; what to eat, what to say, whether to go or do something.
Remember: If you do something or avoid it — you are making a choice either way. Choose carefully.