Merry-go-round of Misery PART II
STEPS TO TAKE TO BREAK YOUR BAD HABIT
In the first post with this name we talked about bad habits. The type of ones that you go back to again and again even when you know they are not serving you well. And you want to quit them but just keep letting yourself down. Today’s post will outline some steps you can take to start breaking free…
1) Set OBJECTIVE and PRACTICAL Goals for you and your life.
Revising again…; The Emotional brain does not know how to measure ‘enough’ with anything other than a short-term state/feeling. It’s our reptilian and most primitive brain part- it lives in the present. It doesn’t know how to assess the long-term impact of a behaviour and make decisions accordingly. Short term we can produce massive emotional shifts by taking part in bad habits be it procrastination, gambling, bingeing or something else. This feeling may well feel genuinely positive – but it will not last long. Think a mouse that is drooling for some nice cheese it spotted – it will think ‘Yum I’m going in’ – it will however NOT think ‘I so wonder how I will feel if that thing slams shut and I can’t return to my mouse-kids again’ As humans we do have the advantage of a more intelligent, long term thinking brain part (the pre-frontal cortex). Yet, in a moment of heightened emotion we may as well be that mouse. And we opt to go in the trap again and again to achieve short term gratification. The more agony we pile up, the more use for a good relief. This pattern will go on until we get conscious of what we are doing, and even then, it can persist for long periods of time. It’s hardly tough to figure out that those spending decades on the merry-go-round typically don’t have the highest opinions of themselves. And to trust in their ability to put the foot on the ground and stop turning can be VERY tough! The emotional brain will run its scripts based on our previous and repeated actions and thinking patterns ‘if I only try this way it might just work…’ ‘tomorrow I’ll start- just one more day of sitting idle might help motivate me’ The more habitual these thinking patterns have become – the easier it is for the brain to resort back to it with ease. In fact, it will believe it is what it’s meant to be doing! And even if we – by any measurable standard have had enough- that part of the brain will still keep feeding lies and illusions reinforcing further mess. To combat this you need to set some alternative and inspirational goals for yourself. These should not only be ‘to quit x (insert unhelpful habit)’ (even if that certainly should be part of it). The typical scenario for addicted persons I’ve treated is to declare full-time war on their addiction by saying ‘I am here to stop using x/y/z’ And of course I get it. That is indeed the primary hurdle preventing them from improving life, and it seems logical to think that the goal of therapy should be just that as a standalone goal. The question is – what does this do to our motivation to actually quit? And what about the most important part of all – the ability to sustain our efforts in the longer term? Think about it for a second... What do you do for a living? ‘Well- these days I don’t gamble/drink/procrastinate actually’ Good stuff – but hardly inspirational for anyone- even the person having done so well quitting. This is also evident when you look at their track record of ‘attempted quitting’…. Often marked by fits and spurts of doing great. With little consistency and a steep decline overtime in motivation to continue to maintain their changes. Here is something to consider; Goals should be based on desire and passion. That thing you WANT to do that makes the less desirable habits worth overcoming. They are personal to you and are derived on basis of your individual value system – hence they can trigger you to want to take proper action towards them.
2) Start to measure your progress against your actual goals
– instead of using your short-term feelings as a litmus test for successful progress. Instead of ‘Don’t stop to you had enough…’ swap your inner tune for Skunk Anansie and her amazing song ‘Just because you feel good..’ That’s more like it for now. Then you can go back to jazz along to Jackson all you like! Because he meant well writing that song I think. In fact, he was probably referring to some habit that was serving him WELL and not one of perpetual self-sabotage. He was thinking of those goals, passions and desires that we can all tap into if we only try hard enough. Please mind that I am not telling you to start ignoring your feelings. I am suggesting that you start looking at your life and the feelings that you are experiencing in wide-angle perspective . Is the overall feeling that this habit is providing me with a good one? Your habits, if good ones dominate, will make you feel very happy, satisfied and wholeheartedly accomplished in yourself. Bad ones will do the opposite – they provide a false artificial high (or in many circumstances a reduced or numbed out low) but the longer you engage with them – the worse the consequences. And the more misery they cause. Check in with those goals you set- Am I actively pursuing that hobby? Am I moving towards widening my circle of friends? Have I started decluttering that wardrobe? These goals tangible, measurable and allows you to give yourself a fair read on if progress if being made.
3) Keep that growth going and keep your attention to how you feel most of the time – not how you feel during microscopic periods of the time!
As many people I met with over the years with bad habits, afflictions, addictions – call them what you want; This is a very common pitfall. So you’ve set some great goals, indeed you started ticking some of them off. It feels really nice- and wholesome. You are digging the feeling and suddenly your thoughts are saying ‘hey you are doing great here- you are probably strong enough to try some of that x (insert bad habit of choice) now.’ This trick of the mind is one NOT to fall for. Those of you who have struggled with an addiction would know that not meeting any goals, and not doing good for yourself is highly likely to lead to the well familiar ‘so what’s the point anyway …may as well….’ Most people find this rather logical. Because it is logical. You feel bad = you relapse. The one I am focusing on here is the sneakier kind. Here the starting condition is often a good one – you are meeting some healthy goals, you feel fantastic – almost high in fact- and your progress is smooth and flawless. The trouble is; what is a good goal one week/month/year will not provide the same assuring qualities if it starts going on repeat– even the most perfect conditions if left completely unchanged can lead to, what in clinical terms is called, habituation. The tendency for humans to get used to, if not bored, with any condition. Irrespective of how great those same conditions may have felt when still novel to us. Remember the quote ‘The idle mind is the devil’s workshop’. Very truthful words. An idle mind invites those nasty addictive thoughts in like VIP guests at a party. The anti-dote? Keep those goals coming. Progress them, advance them, develop them into different or bigger plans. The key ingredient here is shake things up a bit – create a sense of continued growth and development and recognise that sameness in goals lead to stagnation and a gradual drop in motivation – and often even worse; a return to bad habits and addictions. This is not about being greedy and being on a perpetual validation-chase from external sources. It is about doing the work internally and recognise what you need for your own growth and happiness and put your goals and direction in accordingly.
This is difficult stuff! You are challenging yourself to override the part of our brain that has been reinforced many times over by your very own behaviour, your thinking and your avoidance of doing the thing that serves you better in the long term. The brain will enjoy a little flare up whenever it can get it. Its will scan your life for little voids and feed off of them like a scavenger looking for its next bait.
Do you keep your eyes on the long term? If your inner camera lens is set on digital zoom enjoying the minute of accomplishing goals so much so that you feel you can ‘afford’ a small return to bad-habit-land then you need to zoom right back out. Look at the full picture. In fact opt for the panorama setting! Is your perspective making sense? Is doing something you’ve already tried 20000 times going to pay off suddenly when you try if the 20001st … Are you convincing yourself your problem is going to be your solution?
Your job now is to keep making efforts in a direction that supports growth and wellbeing. And generate confidence and self-love that you will be proud to possess.
It may all sound so straight forward. Who would opt to sit on that carousel when the rest of the world is turning bigger circles around it? But this stuff is harder than it sounds. Looking at the many thousands of amazing, courageous and dedicated people I’ve had the pleasure of following in therapy over the years – there is no doubt in my mind that it is worth the effort many times over.