Life can be full of hardships, so it's nice to take a step back from reality and get lost in the fantasies of our own minds. That's why we read books about faraway lands and explore virtual worlds with powerful avatars. Too much of it, however, can be detrimental to your productivity and personal growth.
Escapism, in its most basic form, is intentional detachment and distraction from the real world. It allows a momentary reprieve from your circumstances, giving you a chance to recharge your batteries before you jump back into the fray. If you like to watch television or movies, listen to music, read books, play games, and daydream, you've partaken in escapism. It's completely normal. Playing sports, telling stories, and even eating food all can be used to escape.
All things considered, watching a movie or reading a book aren't inherently bad for you, and daydreaming can actually be good for your brain. Without escapism, the stresses of everyday life could burn you out a lot faster. Escapism allows you to step away from your emotions when you're feeling overwhelmed, and come back to a problem with a fresh mind. When you're going through a rough patch, disappearing into a good book or lengthy video game can help you deal with the harshness of reality in small, easier-to-handle doses.
Of course, escapism, like anything else, can go too far. Think of escapism like sugar or salt. You can sprinkle it on top of your life to make it better, but too much will ruin the whole thing. It can cause problems at work, damage personal relationships, and maybe even cut yourself off from normal social circles. Your productivity can plummet as well. Escapism doesn't make you lazy, per se, but too much can turn into avoidance and make you stagnate instead of actively pursuing your goals.
That being said, don't think of escapism as good or bad -- instead, it's a tool in your possession that can be used the right way just as easily as it can be used the wrong way. When your escapism begins to overpower the experiences in your real life, it might be time to poke your head out of the clouds. You don't want to spend your whole life running away from it.
How to Wean Yourself Off of Escapism
Learning how to put your hands back on the controls and stop escaping from life is easy. Like stopping a bad habit, however, it takes time. You probably won't stop cold turkey, and you don't necessarily want to. You just want to balance it with the rest of your life at a healthy level.
Enforce the "Real Life-Right Now" Rule
The more fun you make real life seem, the less you may feel the need to escape it. Choosing fun real life experiences over your escapism can help that, and it starts with setting yourself some basic ground rules. Like the "real life-right now" rule:
No (insert type of escapism here) if I know there's something I'd enjoy happening in real life, right now.
Meeting up with your friends instead of blowing them off to play a video game, for example, is essentially substituting one positive experience for another. You're still doing something fun and enjoying a moment away from the downsides of life, but you're not alienating yourself from your social circle or damaging your personal relationships. Whatever your poison is, it will be there when you get back. Just make sure the real life thing is something you at least think you will enjoy; otherwise it could send you crawling back to escapism even more. This rule won't instantly solve your abuse of escapism, but it's a good stepping stone in the right direction.
Redefine What It Means to Escape
For starters, it might help you to stop calling it "escapism." According to Psychotherapist Dr. Michael J. Hurd, "escapism" can have negative implications because implies that you're escaping important things like work, family, friends, pets, and the rest of the real world. You don't usually escape from good things, so right off the bat you're deciding that the real world and its subjects are bad and that you need to get away. Instead, Dr. Hurd suggests you call it "refuelling," or something similar:
...there is something else that I call "refuelling." Refuelling refers to things of secondary importance that we do in order to mentally or psychologically recharge our spirits (or bodies) so that we can better handle the primary commitments to career, marriage/relationships, family/kids etc. There's nothing wrong with refuelling via fantasy and entertainment.
Whatever you decide to call it (refuelling, recharging, "me time", etc.), that adjustment in language might help you look at your situation in a different light. Instead of escaping from the "mean ol' world," you're getting your energy back after spending it being productive. This reinforces the idea of having a goal. You're not aimlessly avoiding the real world, but seeking momentary relief with the intention to get back out there. Perspective can be a powerful thing, so don't underestimate it.
Identify What You're Trying to Avoid (and Why)
Weaning yourself off escapism can also be an opportunity to make your real life better in the process. If you use escapism as a way to hide from things, now is the time to ask yourself why. Celestine Chua, life coach and founder of the Personal Excellence, explains that escapism can be a defence mechanism, a means of protecting yourself from something negative in your life. Unfortunately, there is no escape from your circumstances. Your movie marathon won't protect you from the bills you have to pay, and your re-reading of the Harry Potter series won't make things better for you at work. You need to pick things apart and recognise what's causing your "escape mode." Ask yourself this question and answer it honestly:
What am I avoiding by doing this?
It could be debt, a bad roommate, a death in the family, anything. Pinpoint the issue (or issues) and confront it for a moment. Maybe you didn't know what it was until now, maybe you did. Now ask yourself this:
Why do I want to avoid it?
Are there any benefits to avoiding it right now? There certainly could be some, but likely the cons outweigh the pros. Maybe you don't even have an answer, and there's no actual reason for avoiding your problem. When you get caught up in a loop of avoiding things, forcing yourself to look things in the face and define them can help you feel a little more comfortable dealing with your "real world" problems. The more comfortable you feel in the real world, the less you'll feel the need to escape.
Aim for Smaller Doses of Escapism
If you were trying to quit smoking, you would probably consider using nicotine patches or gum to help ease yourself off of your addiction. In similar fashion, Reddit user Unwright, in trying to wean himself off drug use, suggested replacing extreme cases of escapism with something less damaging:
The only decent way, in my experience, is to replace your escapism with progressively less dangerous escapisms and then wean yourself off entirely. My weak-escapism was video games. They saved my life.
You may not be a drug user, but the same principles can be applied to any other types of extreme escapism. Video games could even be the thing you're trying to wean yourself off of: If you're obsessed with a video game, for example, and you're tired of it eating up all of your time, you could wean yourself off with short sessions of a game much smaller in scope.
Or if the social aspect is what drew you there, you could instead spend some time in forums, on chat clients, or even move some of your interactions into the real world. Make plans with friends that share the same hobbies as you, go to conventions to surround yourself with likeminded individuals, and use web sites like Meetup.com to get in touch with people you haven't had the pleasure to meet yet. There are tons of ways to make new friends, and a lot of places you can meet them when you're out and about, so don't be afraid to start looking. Or if you find yourself avoiding social or family events because you just want to read, you could set rules for yourself, like only reading before bed, or when you're using the restroom. Prescribe yourself smaller chunks of what you like to escape to and spend the rest of your time taking care of the important things.
"Escape" to the World You're Already In
When you feel the urge to escape, think about all the things you've always wanted to learn about. Instead of knocking out an entire season of Breaking Bad, start an online course in programming or web design. Instead of going on an adventure in a video game fantasy world, explore the city you live in and see what real adventure feels like. Shift your escapism from fantasy to reality. Who knows? You might pick up a new skill that helps out your life situation. Or maybe you'll find a person, place, or thing that makes you want to escape less.
Make a separate to-do list from your chores of all the things you'd like to do, but haven't because you were doing something else. Each time you want to escape, at least take a moment to look at that list. Keep yourself busy with things in the real world, both by confronting your issues and doing the fun stuff. Additionally, take some time to figure out your aim in life if you haven't already. Sometimes escapism is where people end up because they have no idea what they want to do with their life. Remember, you can change your world to a certain extent. Reality may not always be as fun as movies, books, and video games, but it is still adjustable; and it can be just as exciting! Escapism can be a good thing, and you owe it to yourself to keep it that way.
Image by blambca (Shutterstock).