THE BLOG

Are You Living According to What You Want or Don't Want?

03/04/2015 12:53 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2015
Joerg Steffens via Getty Images

It may seem like a pretty silly question, but let me explain.

Let's assume that the primary goals in life are to be loved, happy, and financially secure -- whatever those may look like to you. Surprisingly, many of us go through our lives making decisions trying to get these prizes by dodging their opposites. I can't help but think of my son's electronic games with the main guy frantically zigzagging to avoid an explosion every couple of feet and a zombie around every corner.

People stay in relationships in which they're miserable because they don't want to be alone. Many continue at jobs where they aren't happy because it pays the bills and it's easier than finding something else. All too often, a person sticks to the safe path, inside their comfort zone, avoiding discomfort, but stuck in a numb existence sleep walking their way through life.

I know. I did it.

When living like this, life becomes a marathon obstacle course of trying to avoid instead of trying to achieve. Trying to avoid pain. Trying to avoid loneliness. Trying to avoid failure. A person can focus on and put so much energy into avoiding what they don't want that what they do want gets lost in the shuffle with pitiful little progress made in that direction.

Although I'm not a strict believer in every word of the law of attraction, I do agree with the basic principle that a person draws the undesirable into their reality by putting energy into (avoiding) it. What you don't want becomes the focus, instead of what you do want.

I was the world's best at this. Staying in a marriage for far too long, I was unhappy and stunted, but it was my comfort zone, even if it was uncomfortable as hell. After I did get the guts to leave, I jumped right into a relationship that also wasn't healthy because I was terrified of losing my looks as I aged which would leave me undesirable and single. Oh yeah. I was quite the expert.

Unconsciously, avoidance can be the motivating factor behind much of our lives. Instead of making decisions, which may involve some risk, that reflect who we want to be and how we want our lives to go, we make fear-based decisions limiting us and our happiness. These fearful choices may guide our actions and behavior in a direction which allows us to avoid those uncomfortable feelings, but also don't get us any closer to our goals. So, we stay safe. Stagnant.

Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, in her book, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears, likens this to living in a cocoon. She writes:

We stay in our cocoon because we are afraid -- we're afraid of the feelings and reactions that life is going to trigger in us. We're afraid of what might come at us. But if this avoidance strategy worked, then Buddha wouldn't have needed to teach us anything, because our attempts to escape pain, which all living beings instinctively resort to, would result in security, happiness and comfort, and there would be no problem.

Chodron advises us to view uncomfortable, fearful situations as opportunities rather than obstacles and encourages us to "get comfortable with, begin to relax with, lean into whatever the experience may be." She urges us to drop the knee jerk reactions and story lines, pause, breathe and be present. Stay awake and aware, be conscious and brutally honest with yourself about your intentions, reasons, and actions.

Feelings of fear and dread are actually the amygdala in your brain acting up and telling you to steer clear of danger. But is there really any danger? Or are you just having an instinctual reaction to the unfamiliar and unknown? In his book Nerve: Poise Under Pressure, Serenity Under Stress, and the Brave New Science of Fear and Cool, Taylor Clark writes:

In a sense, then, being afraid of something doesn't necessarily constitute proof that the thing is inherently bad; it just means that you haven't spent enough time hanging around it ... to get over a fear, you have to expose yourself to it, and you have to feel afraid ... [M]oving through fear is the only way out of it.

Now, I know this to be true from my own experience and make a conscious effort to push my limits and do things on a regular basis which scare the heck out of me. And you know what? The fear disappears. Maybe, not totally, but it lessens each time. I refuse to live a life guided by and limited by fear anymore. Been there. Done that. It didn't work.

In order to feel joy and love, I have to allow myself to feel everything, pain and fear included -- and everything in between. That's what being fully alive is all about. By avoiding any part of it, I'm denying myself the total experience.