One of the most common coping mechanisms for a serious life/money/career/personal problem is to dive into escapism. We look for something to distract ourselves from the difficulty, whether it be through playing games, working in the garden, alcohol, or any number of other things.
I’m no stranger to this. When I’m facing a major struggle, I usually retreat into very solitary activities – solo video games, long books, and the like. When we hit our financial bottom, I was coming off a period of quite a lot of intense reading. Recently, when I was struggling to finish my book, I kept finding games to distract me from the work.
On one level, this type of distraction makes sense. In our stressful moments, it feels helpful to be distracted from it – to de-stress, if only for a while. Many people do this in the hour or two after work – they just go home and vegetate for a bit, letting themselves de-stress and unwind, for example.
Yet many of the things that stress us most can be resolved if we simply skip out on a bit of that distraction.
Instead of going home after work to de-stress, then just finding yourself back in the same old spot the next day, use that time to focus on getting a better education. Work on getting a better certification or a second degree.
Instead of playing a game because you don’t feel like working, turn off the game and just buckle down for a while. The game will be much sweeter when you’re done with the work – or you may find that the game was nothing more than a way to distract yourself and you’ll find yourself free to tackle the things you really want to do.
Instead of going shopping when you already have a big pile of debt, stay at home and come up with a debt repayment plan.
All of these solutions have a few things in common.
First, they don’t seem fun. At first, anyway. We often don’t want to face up to the hard things we have to do in life.
Second, facing the problems head on usually resolves them. You can’t untie a knot by turning your back on it. You only achieve victory over the things that are bothering you and bringing you down by dealing with them head on.
Third, the solution often takes much less time than the time we pour into distracting ourselves. I can get lost in a pile of books when avoiding a problem, but simply facing that problem and dealing with the consequences only takes a few hours. Even doing something as audacious as going for a higher degree is trivial compared to two hours of distracting yourself from a miserable job every single day.
The best part is that solving the problem leaves you with a much higher level of enjoyment of the things that you were using to distract yourself. For example, if I play a game before working, I’m usually not enjoying the game as much because I recognize the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, if I do the work first, the game is substantially more enjoyable because of the lack of worries hanging over my head.
What’s the lesson here? If you find yourself spending time unwinding, distracting yourself, or avoiding problems, face them head on, whether they be financial, career, or personal issues. The worst thing you can do is let them sit while you distract yourself – you’ll just find yourself back where you started (and perhaps in a worse position).