When I was in my addiction, I felt like I was going crazy. More than anything, I wanted to quit using. I had so many reasons, but no matter how much sense it made logically, no matter how much I understood the consequences of my habit, I continued to use. There seemed to be one part of me that wanted to quit, and one part that didn’t or wouldn’t or couldn’t.
Two brains in one body. I found out that the logical, rational part of me that wanted to quit was my conscious. The irrational part of me that continued to use was my unconscious. My unconscious was like a girl behind a locked door, and no matter how hard I screamed and begged, she couldn’t hear me. She couldn’t see how badly my habit was damaging us both; all she understood was that when she saw, or heard, or felt a trigger, she should begin the routine of using, and that once she had completed it, we would feel the reward of being high.
Cooperation, not competition. At first I thought I could exert my willpower and beat her, but she was stronger than me; she had more control over myself than I did. After failing over and over again, I realized that it wasn’t a competition or an argument between what I wanted and what she wanted. In fact, she was listening at the door, confused and trying to figure things out as much as I was. I saw that I would never be able to unlock that door and talk to her in person, so I began to try to communicate with her in subtler ways. I slipped letters under her door, and we started tapping on the frame in a Morse code of our own making. Suddenly, all of the power and control that she had was mine again, and no matter how tired, stressed, or bored I was, with her help, I could do anything.
When you approach the girl, or guy, behind the door, remember it will difficult and frustrating. She can be short-sighted, and she’s going to misunderstand your messages a few times before she finally figures it out.
So, keep it simple and build onto what she already knows. You can’t tell her that you want to lose 20 pounds. The message is too long and complicated. She won’t get it. Break down ‘lose 20 pounds’ into tiny steps and show them to her one at a time. Try to go to the gym right after work. She’ll protest and say she’s tired and just wants to go home or that’s she’s embarrassed and doesn’t want to get out of her comfort zone. Ask her to be open-minded and just try it; if she hates it, she doesn’t have to stay. Start with a small workout, and try to accommodate her. If she’s embarrassed, go to the women’s only area. After your workout, when you’re feeling proud and happy, knock on her door. It’ll take her some time to understand that the new trigger is getting into your car after work, that the new routine is going to the gym and exercising, and that the new reward is feeling good. Once she gets it though, she will take over, and a habit like going to the gym or jogging will become as easy and thoughtless as brushing your teeth.
It can take anywhere from 18-154 days to build a new habit, so be patient and persistent with her. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.674/abstract). Remember it’s not about intensity; it’s about consistency. Don’t work so hard that you start to dread the habit you’re trying to build. Just do a little everyday, and eventually it’ll become a habit that you can start to build more and more on top of.
Try: Adding on more rewards to help her understand. Post your workout on social media; share with a friend who will congratulate you; or treat yourself to something that’s not counterproductive (e.g. a bubble bath, or a new pair of shoes, not a chocolate cupcake). Make the rewards immediate and emotional. If you were training a dog to learn a new trick, you wouldn’t give him the treat a half hour after he did the trick. You’d give it to him immediately after and lay on strong verbal and physical praise. Treat the girl like that dog.
Try: Habit-stacking. Attach a new habit you want to start onto an old habit that the girl already has. I have a hard time motivating myself to brush my teeth (don’t judge me). I can’t believe something I have done everyday for my entire life hasn’t become a habit yet. It feels like a struggle every morning, but that’s my own fault. It’s not a part of my routine. Sometimes I do it first thing, or after I shower, or after I eat, or last thing. The rest of my routine is easy. It all flows together, and one thing leads to another thing that leads to another thing, and I don’t have to think at all. The girl behind the door knows the sequence, and I just go on autopilot while she gets it done. You want your exercise, diet, and health routines to look like that: an unconscious flow. So pick a trigger that you’re exposed to everyday, or an activity that you do everyday, and start building a flow from it.
Don’t let the girl get overwhelmed. She’s pretty lazy. She does the things she absolutely has to, but when it comes to trying new things, she’s not really into it. Don’t tell her that you’re going to read an entire book, or work-out until the sweat is pouring off of you like it does in the commercials. Tell her you’re going to read 5 pages, or you’re going to do some light stretching just to loosen up your muscles after sitting in your chair all day at work. After 5 pages, or a little warm-up, you’ll probably get more involved and spend more time working than you initially anticipated. If not, that’s fine too. It’s not about intensity, but, instead, consistency, doing it everyday until it’s a habit.
Breaking an old habit is a lot different than building a new one. Going to the gym for a half hour a day is a lot easier than eating healthy and avoiding junk food for the other 23½ hours. Going to NA meetings once a week is a lot easier than not using for the other 6 days. Honestly, I’ve gone to meetings totally high during the darkest parts of my addiction.
See my older post, “Triggers,” to give you some ideas on how to communicate to the girl behind the door that your bad habits are more harmful than helpful. Again, she’s short-sighted. She sees the immediate reward and satisfaction of getting high or eating junk food, but not the long-term dissatisfaction and consequences of those habits. And, again, she’s emotional. She doesn’t understand rationality and logic, so you have to communicate with her through emotions and feelings.
Stay tuned for more tips and tricks on how to stop fighting with the girl behind the door and start communicating and working together to break and make your bad habits and your ideal lifestyle.
A free app for goal and habit tracking: https://www.coach.me/habit-tracker
A facebook page for people to share and support each other while developing new good habits: https://www.facebook.com/groups/182058985596545/