Most people have a hard time changing. They don’t realize how easy it is to feel better. The only reason change is difficult is because they listen to their mind. Their mind tells them all kinds of reasons why they shouldn’t take the necessary steps to feel better. All those thoughts are based on fear. ‘It’s too hard.’ ‘I won’t like myself anymore.’ ‘I’ll lose something I enjoy.’ ‘I don’t feel like doing the work.’ Then when they do take positive steps, their mind says, ‘I don’t like this.’ And they return to the old behavior, paying the price of failure and lowered self-esteem. All these thoughts are resistance. And resistance is what makes change so difficult.
Here’s how it works. You decide you want to quit smoking. You set a date. The date comes, and it’s not a good day because of some distraction, so you postpone the stop. The next day you forget to quit, and weeks later, you’re still smoking. Eventually, maybe months, maybe years, you set another date. Let’s say this time you quit. You put the cigarettes down. Within a couple of hours, your mind starts beating like a drum, ‘I want a cigarette, I want a cigarette, I miss my cigarettes.’ You might make it a few days or even a month or two, but then another unexpected event occurs, and before you know it, you’re asking someone for a cigarette. After all, it’s just one. The nicotine hits your brain, and pow, your best friend is back. You wonder why you ever quit in the first place—no point in borrowing or paying by the pack when you can get a whole carton. Guess what. You have allowed your thoughts to rule you without ever realizing what’s happened.
However, you can take back your mind at any point in time.
Step 1 – Thought Replacement – Your mind is like a muscle; you must train it to your advantage. When you decide to change a behavior, you don’t allow your thoughts to sabotage you, and you fire that dysfunctional thought system. You don’t fight the thoughts; you simply ignore them as if they were leaves blowing past you. For example, if your mind tells you, ‘I don’t like this,’ you immediately replace that thought with, ‘I do like this. I’m in control of giving up something that isn’t good for me,’ and you simply delete all other thoughts that are inconsistent with your new thought system. Imagine you are pressing the delete button on a computer keyboard of your mind.
If your mind tells you, ‘You can’t do this,’ you say, ‘Of course I can, I do it all the time. There are periods that I don’t have a cigarette, so now I’m just extending those periods of time.’ I recently had a conversation with a smoker who didn’t believe he could quit. I reminded him he stopped all the time. Shocked, he asked me what I meant. “Well, do you smoke every twenty minutes throughout the night?” “Do you smoke in the movie theatre?” “In a restaurant?” “When you’re playing tennis? A light shone in his eyes when he replied, “I get what you’re saying. I never thought about it like that before. If I don’t think about it some of the time, I guess I can forget it all of the time.” To which I replied, “Especially if you’re doing something you enjoy.”
Step 2 – Feel the Loss – Once you stop the old behavior, you allow yourself to feel your feelings of loss, but you ignore all thoughts of returning to the old behavior. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. It’s only natural to grieve a loss, and if you don’t allow yourself to feel the goodbye, you haven’t let go. If you don’t let go, your mind will continue to torture you. For every addiction I ever quit, I wrote a goodbye letter. Then I sat with the feelings until they subsided, and I felt relieved. One patient wrote this, “Goodbye sugar, it’s been sweet, but the fifty pounds of sluggishness you’ve given me are not worth the moments of short-lived pleasure.”
Step 3 – Do Something Good for You – Of course, unwanted thoughts will persist even if you replace them with other ideas. So, now, you add another thought, ‘Instead of thinking about this, I’m going to do something else I enjoy.’ Write down a menu of options so that they are at your fingertips when you need them.
Your menu might include a walk in the park, a cup of the best tea, calling and checking on a friend, going to a Smoker’s Anonymous meeting, getting a pet, preparing a new recipe, going to the gym, planting some flowers, buy a big puzzle, read a new book or any other number of behaviors that your habit has prevented you from doing. Now, if your mind says, ‘I don’t feel like doing any of those things,’ You simply say, ‘That’s ok, I’m going to do them without you,’ and you proceed as planned. Once your mind is redirected, you will be engaging in alternative behaviors that make you feel good about yourself.
If your mind tells you, ‘This is too hard,’ you say, ‘I like the challenge. I’m already succeeding, and it feels good.’ The more you say you like something rather than you don’t like it, the more success you’ll experience.
Even after long periods of success, you’re prepared for those tricky relapse thoughts. So, no matter what’s happening, you are well armed with the 3-Step process, and you quickly take charge and apply the three steps. For example, if you hear your mind say, ‘I really need __________ right now,’ push the delete button and rapidly get into the replacement thought and action. For example, ‘The only thing I need is something healthy, I’m doing to ___________ instead.’ On the other hand, if the thought persists, ‘I want, I want,’ say, ‘Maybe later, but not right now, let’s try something else on the menu of choices and then see how we feel.’ Remember, the replacement behavior must be something you enjoy.
Rather than being addicted to a bad habit, you now become conditioned to feeling good about yourself. You are in the process of reverse osmosis, and rather than toxifying yourself with unwanted behaviors, you are detoxifying with self-love.
Nothing feels better than learning how to master our demons and replace them with love. And no one has more control over that than you.
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Donna Marks believes that the models for diagnosis, treatment, and addiction have failed. Her mission is to help save at least one million lives by 2030, through education and prevention. She has been an author, consultant, educator, public speaker, licensed psychotherapist, and addictions counselor in private practice in Palm Beach, Florida for more than thirty years. In 1989, Dr. Marks developed a chemical dependency treatment program at Palm Beach Community College, that has since grown into a four-year degree program, and for which she was granted an Award of Appreciation. She became licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in 1987. In 1989, she earned a Doctorate Degree in Adult Education, then became a Certified Addictions Professional, Certified Gestalt Therapist, Certified Psychoanalyst, Hypnotherapist, and Certified Sex Therapist.
Dr. Marks is the author of the 22-award winning book, Exit the Maze: One Addiction, One Cause, One Cure.
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