A confused or concerned man in an office looking upward illustrates the types of denial that hamstring people

What are the two types of denial? What are ways you may delay reaching your goals?

One certain thing is that, no matter what your goals are in life, something will get in your way. Though unforeseeable circumstances are, by definition, unpredictable, you can predict that something will go wrong and prepare yourself so you won’t get stopped indefinitely.

Keep reading to learn about two types of denial that make it hard to move forward in life.

2 Types of Denial

Adam Alter cites the work of Bruce Feiler, who studies the crises that occur in our lives, from minor jolts to catastrophes. Feiler has found that there’s no schedule or pattern to the chaotic events that interfere with our plans, but he’s determined that most of them are sudden and that about 10% of them are life-changing—such as the death of a loved one or the loss of a job. It’s important to recognize that unplanned turmoil will enter your life, and you have to stay mentally flexible to deal with whatever comes your way. The hard part is judging how much energy to devote to dealing with life’s stressors so that your long-term goals don’t get lost amid the chaos.

(Shortform note: Beyond the statistical insights Alter mentions, Feiler’s book, Life Is in the Transitions, makes the point that we’re vulnerable to unplanned, life-changing events because we assume that life’s benchmarks occur in linear stages, such as childhood, adulthood, and old age. This belief is dangerous because it colors our expectations; we expect to move smoothly from one stage to another, leaving us unprepared for life’s roadblocks. When you run into an unexpected change—such as being fired or learning that you’re pregnant—Feiler writes that you’re faced with reassessing the underlying sources of meaning in your life.)

The wrong way to deal with life’s messiness is through denial. Alter points to two types of denial that make things worse—believing that a problem is too small to matter and mistakenly judging that a problem is so far away it’s not an issue.

Denial Tactic #1: Trivializing a Problem

The first way we deny something, says Alter, is by trivializing a problem that we don’t want to deal with. This can be as simple as ignoring your car’s “check engine” warnings. You tell yourself that the car’s running fine—that you’ll wait and have it checked when it’s more convenient. Weeks go by, maybe even months, then suddenly you’re stranded on the side of the road with smoke billowing out from your engine. Assuming an issue is trivial when there’s a possibility that it’s not is a good way to turn preventable problems into major disruptions.

(Shortform note: We practice this type of denial to shield ourselves from the anxiety and irritation that we’ve learned to associate with life’s difficulties. However, in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson argues that you can counter this by adopting the viewpoint that problems are good for you, specifically those problems in life that you can solve. Rather than trivializing life’s issues, as Alter says we’re often wont to do, you can give yourself an emotional boost by tackling these problems head-on. Solving them always improves your life in some way, plus you get to pat yourself on the back and improve your self-esteem while checking them off your list.)

Denial Tactic #2: Delaying Action

The other insidious form denial takes is when we recognize that a problem exists, but we act like it’s so far in the future that we can afford to procrastinate. Millions of Americans do this every year when they put off filing their income tax returns because it’s a stressful, confusing ordeal. Alter writes that when you know a major problem is on the horizon, procrastination multiplies how much it interferes with your life. The alternative is to deal with it sooner—it’ll still be a speed bump, but less so than the emotional stress of putting everything aside to meet the urgent deadline you create for yourself when the problem finally can’t be ignored any longer.

(Shortform note: Alter portrays procrastination in a negative light, but not every author on the subject agrees. Entrepreneur Saul Griffith devised his technique of productive procrastination when he found traditional anti-procrastination tips didn’t work. Griffith stopped trying to force himself to focus on what he was supposed to be doing, as long as he was doing something that benefited his overall self-improvement, such as learning a fun new skill. If you take this approach, that skill would ideally serve you well in other contexts, so the time spent “procrastinating” on it will pay dividends later on.)

The 2 Types of Denial That Prevent You From Being Successful

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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