There used to be a pothole at the end of my block that every single driver who passed by the road often knew to avoid instinctively. It could be the middle of the night, I’d be driving home and I would automatically avoid the pothole no matter how tired or distracted I was. Then one day a few weeks ago, the pothole finally got covered, yet somehow I (and a lot of drivers familiar with the street) kept avoiding the spot without even thinking. It was already ingrained in us, we had been trained to avoid something unpleasant, which was great for as long as the unpleasant situation was there to avoid, but completely useless once it was gone.
It made me wonder of all the other unpleasant situations we avoid even though they are no longer there. When I was living in NY, I had a friend who would completely avoid the Upper West Side because his ex-girlfriend lived and worked there. He would actually say no to invitations and events that were near the area just because he didn’t want to bump into her. This went one for months and months until at some point he randomly found out that his girlfriend had moved away from NY. He was avoiding the part of the city where she lived and worked, yet she was no longer living in the city.
While it’s great to train ourselves to automatically avoid things that hurt us, to avoid making the same mistake over and over again (like hitting the same pothole over and over again), it’s important to be aware enough that we notice when there’s nothing left there that needs avoiding.