Avoiding greatness out of fear
“Tim and again, we let the fear of loss overpower rational decision-making and often make ourselves worse off just to avoid a potential loss. Psychologists call this loss aversion, and it means we often tend to prefer avoiding losses at the expense of acquiring gains” – L. Jon Wetherein
You may be familiar with the saying, “Better the devil you know.” This mindset of keeping ourselves small prevents us from moving on to becoming better versions of ourselves. We rather keep ourselves in a job, relationship or other situation that makes us miserable than cut our losses and seek our happiness.
On the more extreme side of the spectrum we have the situations where someone is challenged with long-term mental or physical illness. In these cases it is common that the limitations of the illness or condition becomes part of their identity and ingrained patterns. Anyone on the outside of this experience will find it hard to understand the challenges people suffering from pathological loss aversion. They might cling to their secondary or tertiary “benefits”, which will appear as if they are clinging to their condition. They can also suffer from grief if they recover from their condition. On the surface, all these manifestations are mostly incomprehensible to anyone not suffering from this type of loss aversion.
The bottom line is, moving on from what you know to the unknown is scary and it takes great courage and self-awareness to do it. If the environment we have operated within hasn’t killed us, it appears safe, which is more than we an say about the future that we know nothing about. Essentially, loss aversion is a safety mechanism meant to keep us safe from death. We also tend to be stuck in our mindset and when we lack the ability to assess our own situation and experiences, we cannot break out of the pattern. Patterns do get ingrained in our psyche and become part of who we are and how we respond to the environments and experiences around us. For example, our brains don’t know the difference between fear and excitement, it is our perception of it that determines the neuropathways that the brain will fire through, so if we continuously assign it to fear, we build up that pattern and our subconscious will then run that programme for us. Changing that programming will take for us to; a) wake up to the fact that we are running the programme, b) commit to change, and c) do the work to change, all while there are no guarantees that it will be better than where we were.
If we have done the work and continuously heal our core wounding, and follow our intuition and guidance from our higher selves, we will always end up in a better situation. Making the tough choices often times are for the best in the long-term. That is not to say that making rash, spur of the moment decisions are necessarily going to make life less challenging. However, we tend to analyse our future based on our past experiences and not listen to our guidance and view it from the perspective where we want to be. Some key concepts and tools to help us with loss aversion are:
- Developing a perspective of our own mortality. Trying to see that whenever that time comes that it is going to be ok and it is nothing we control, accept that it is going to be what it is going to be.
- View how change has been in our previous experiences when we’ve made the tough choices.
- Gain perspective on our experiences that they are there to teach us about ourselves and anything else relating to the experience is impermanent.
- Use visioning and future pacing to experience the future in our present moment. How does it feel to step into the shoes of the experience that we desire?
- Establish a mindfulness practice and practices to develop our intuition and higher guidance.
- Accept our choices and hold ourselves accountable without judgement or blame.
Often times it is beyond our own resourcing to move past loss aversion, so working with professional therapist can help us identify our patterns and reveal what we hide in our blind spots. In any case, the first step is to recognise that we need changes in our lives and start working towards becoming an optimal version of ourselves.
Also published on Medium.