I have a friend who doesn’t realize how much he dislikes so many things—much of his life is spent avoiding things he doesn’t like, or trying to rush through things like exercise, or being annoyed by people who do things he doesn’t like.
We all have aversions to things, more than we probably realize. It’s not a problem to have aversions, but if we’re driven by the aversions, we’re locking ourselves into a limited life.
- if you hate vegetables, it’s hard to eat a healthy diet;
- if you hate exercise, it’s hard to be strong and healthy;
- if you dislike when people do certain things (smoke, drink, eat junk food), you’ll be annoyed by people often;
- and if you dislike traffic, politics, reality TV stars, or bureaucrats, you’ll be frustrated by many life situations.
Note that aversions aren’t always “bad”—actually, I don’t think they’re bad at all. Some aversions can be helpful: not liking being abused, for example, or being averse to eating unhealthy food.
However, they can restrict us in many cases and make us unhappy if our lives aren’t free of the things we’re averse to. So in that sense, working to not be controlled by our aversions is freeing and better for our happiness.
I’m not saying I’m free of all these aversions—I definitely have my share, and I’m working with them. I’d like to share how I work with them.
Becoming Aware of Aversions
The first step, of course, is becoming aware of your aversions. Take a minute to make a list of the things you hate, that you avoid, that annoy you, or that you can’t stand.
For example, do any of these bother you?
- Certain kinds of foods
- Types of exercise or activities
- Kinds of TV shows
- Certain behaviors of people you know
- The way some people behave on the internet
- Some websites or apps
- Deal-breakers of potential dating partners
- Situations that commonly frustrate you
- Specific social situations
There are lots of other examples, but start a list. Every time you get frustrated, see yourself avoiding something, or get annoyed, add it to the list.
Notice your desire to avoid certain things. When you notice, try working with that feeling of aversion, using the ideas in the section below.
Working With Aversions
When you notice your aversion, just sit and face it.
Notice how it feels in you—not your story about it, but how it feels in your body. Where is it located and what is the quality of its energy? Is it a changing sensation, and is it intense, throbbing, pulsing, stabbing, dull, tight, or aching?
Open yourself up to this feeling. Don’t run from it. Don’t instantly reject it. Accept that it’s there and be curious about it. See it as something to study. Most people want to ignore it, but you’re willing to find out more.
Be friendly with the feeling. Relax, be open, be curious, be gentle. See that it’s not so bad. See that you can survive, even if you sit with the feeling.
See that it changes. For me, it can be strong, but then it crests and then fades. It’s momentary and temporary—just a passing feeling like any other.
Notice that you don’t have to be controlled by this one feeling. In fact, every feeling or thought is just something that arises, not something that you have to get lost in or controlled by.
You have the freedom to eat vegetables or converse with annoying people without falling apart, and in fact, if you stay present in the middle of the situations, you can appreciate the beauty of it.
And in the end, you can embrace these aversions instead of running from them. They are a part of the human experience, come from a loving part of our hearts, and are not anything to panic about.
We can be free from having a fixed mind, and we can develop flexibility.
We can move through the world of desires and aversions with love and joy and an appreciation for everything around us.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of ZenHabits.net, a blog with over 2 million subscribers.