Habits & Distractions: Why Our Brain Tricks Us to Avoid Discomfort

Sigmund Freud proposed that everything we do is in pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. However, not every habit we find ourselves in is necessarily pleasurable, and pain is a strong word for the kind of feelings we avoid. Neurologically speaking, we all do things to avoid discomfort.

Physiologically, this is true. In fact, that is how our body is run instinctively. When the weather becomes too cold, we at least hold ourselves in to keep ourselves warm. When it’s warmer, we fan ourselves. When we are hungry for too long, it gives us discomfort so we find something to eat. If we eat too much, it makes us uncomfortable so we stop eating. This is a homeostatic mechanism.

The same concept applies to our psychological sensations. When you feel bored, you look for instant gratification, – how many have viewed my snap, my status, my tweet? How many likes? – when you aren’t sure of something, you Google it, when you’re learning and you feel “someway”, you pick up your phone. All these cater for uncomfortable sensations.

All instinctive human behaviours is spurred to escape discomfort

Daniel Good

That’s why people avoid the difficult stuff. That’s why we lose enthusiasm to pursue our resolutions. That’s why we keep postponing the hard part. It’s uncomfortable, even though we know it brings about good results. It will shock you to know what you yourself are willing to do to avoid uncomfortable situations in your own life. Eg. poverty – marrying a rich guy you don’t even like, swearing to never repeat the mistakes of your predecessors, going for black magic, working harder than ever to reach where you thought was impossible.

The root reason why we become distracted is because we feel internal triggers. Most distraction don’t start outside of us. It starts from within. When we become distracted, it’s simply because we are trying to escape an uncomfortable sensation. Know this and you will forever know how to create new habits and stay consistent. Most times, this uncomfortable sensation is boredom. You’ve been doing the same thing for a long time so your brain is asking you to switch it up.

A study was done by Timothy Wilson where he put some people in a totally empty room one by one for hours with nothing but a button connected to a band on each individual’s arm. Each one was told beforehand that when one presses the button, it gives a painful electric shock. Guess what? 67% of men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than just sit there quietly and think. We are so uncomfortable doing nothing that we just want to feel something. This is by design! We periodically have an instinct to feel bored or uncomfortable, to prod us to go do something.

This is called the desire for more. It pushes human limitations and drives human ambitions. It is so much better to feel sad than to feel nothing. It is better to be part of something bigger than ourselves than to lack purpose. It has been wired into our physiology. Therefore, to create better habits is NOT to not want, to not crave, to not desire. Attacking these sensations is attacking our fundamental instincts. The answer is to rather channel these internal triggers towards traction, rather than distraction.

This is so good it explains several things at the same time: boredom, distractions, habits, purpose, discomfort, zeal, procrastination, instincts. Let’s take our time on this one. It could go in diverse directions. Hope you’ve enjoyed this first part. Please do leave a comment about your experience of this.

To be continued….

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