Quitting the “Thing”
This is the time of year many people plan how they are going to quit the “thing.” Whatever the “thing” is; smoking, weight, alcohol, sweets or even a relationship gone bad.
New Year’s Resolutions have been around for as long as we have marked the end of one year and welcomed in the next. For some reason, we have beliefs there’s something magical about the first day of a new year being the best time to change a behavior.
In some cases, this is true, but more times than not, those who use the first of the year as a target date to change a habit are setting themselves up for failure… one more time.
A Date On The Calendar is Insignificant
Truth be told, when someone is ready to make a change, it really doesn’t matter what time of year it is. When we’ve reached a point where we say we are going to quit something, or start a new behavior, it’s because what we’ve been doing quit working.
I’ve had plenty of those “coming to Jesus” moments in my life. The two most obvious addictions I’ve given up are smoking and drinking.
I quit smoking in April, 1994. I was 40 years old when I sucked on my last cigarette. By that time, I had not had a drink in over a decade, having quit drinking on November 11, 1983.
If someone were to ask me which was the most difficult to stop, I would honestly have a hard time deciding. I had attempted to quit both many times over.
And yet, now that I’ve done neither for decades, I can’t imagine doing one or the other. Period. I don’t smoke and I don’t drink and have no plans of every doing so again… one day at a time.
My Breaking Point
I had reached a point with both where I was tired of having the chain of addiction controlling my life.
Because of my own process of letting go of habits that no longer served me, I’ve long been fascinated with what triggers someone to reach the point where they say, “Enough is enough.”
It’s not always as simple as using will power to change a behavior. Often, it goes way beyond this.
And why is it that for some people, once they give the “thing” up they never go back, while others give something up for a period, but one day, forgetting their commitment, start up the behavior again?
There are some addictions, such as sugar, that are more insidious. Sure, there’s the obvious sugar we have control over like candy bars and donuts, but other sugars, we are not even aware we are consuming.
Hidden Obstacles are All Around
Our foods are made in such a way that sugar is hiding at every turn. This is what makes is near impossible for people to quit. No matter how committed, it can be an incredible uphill climb to freedom from sugar.
Food manufacturers spend millions upon millions of dollars to get us hooked on their “drug” of choice.
The reason we quit certain behaviors and take on others, is for what we hope to be a better quality of life. The challenge resides in giving up one addiction for another. Ex-smokers are all too familiar with what it’s like to give up cigarettes only to replace cigarettes with candy, chips or nuts.
Within a short period, they are dealing with a new set of problems; excess weight, sluggishness and less energy due to weight gain.
Thus begins a vicious cycle. Another commitment to change a behavior.
They make the commitment to lose the weight. Initially, they do great with the change in eating habits only to saying, “Just this once I’ll have a dinner roll.”
The first dinner roll is followed by another then another then another. Maybe it’s not a dinner roll that’s their downfall. Maybe it’s a small slice of pie for dessert.
Whatever it is, it will likely be followed by the tiny voice only they can hear that says, “Now you’ve gone and done it. You messed up. May as well have another piece of pie.”
This is the beginning of the end. Before they know it, all their good intentions are out the window and they are back to where they started. Often, they are worse off than when they committed to a change in behavior.
Be Aware of The Voice of “Un”reason
The bottom line is this, when you plan to give something up, you need to plan how you will deal with the addiction demons that show up and whisper in your ear, “One won’t hurt. Just this one time you can have a cigarette (drink, candy, see that person).”
Truth be told, if you’re serious about changing a behavior, you must want to let go of it more than you want to indulge just one more time. And it has to be more than a lofty New Year’s Resolution.
In an article in WebMd, Dr. Susan Jaffe shares 3 Easy Steps to Breaking Bad Habits.
“The first step is to figure out when — and why — you bite your nails, crack your knuckles, or engage in any other bad habit. “If you can notice when you are doing it and under what circumstances and what feelings are attached to it, you might be able to figure out why you are doing it and be able to stop,” says Susan Jaffe, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City.
Regardless of how minor or major the change, you must want to give it up more than you want to continue. It’s really that simple.
The first step to making any change is to admit the behavior is causing problems. Until you do so, nothing will change. This is where you must get completely honest with yourself as to how serious things are for you.
Commit to the change
Next, make the commitment that no matter what, you will make the change. Making the decision is huge, but sticking with the commitment, day in and day out, is where your success resides.
Something I love doing when I’m making changes is to educate myself as much as possible. When I decided to participate in a marathon for my 61st birthday, I headed over to Amazon and ordered a bunch of books to get myself in the right mindset.
Some were on nutrition while others were on the physical aspect of preparing for a race. Other books had to do with mindset.
I also learned as much as a I could about the gear I would need. All of this gave me an advantage over knowing nothing about the sport. I was more likely to stay committed to my goal by educating myself as much as possible.
The challenge with educating ourselves is not implementing what we learn. It’s one thing to learn what to do, it’s something completely different to apply what we learn.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Notice the triggers around the behavior you want to change. If you plan to stop smoking, get rid of all the ashtrays in your home, clean out your car, and throw out your favorite lighter.
If it’s sugar, clean out your cupboards, refrigerator and hiding places. Replace the artificial sugars with healthy snacks.
Have Checks and Balances in Place
Do you have someone you can enlist as an accountability partner? Make sure it’s someone who will call you on your stuff and not bend to your rationalization.
Set milestones of success. For example, with smoking, have a money jar that you add in the amount you spent on cigarettes every day. At the end of a month, buy yourself something nice to reward yourself for a job well done.
Make sure whatever your reward doesn’t set you up for failure. For example, if you gave up processed sugar do not get a piece of cake at the end of a month to reward yourself.
Although this seems like common sense, often addictions have no sense at all.
Visualize Your Outcome
It’s amazing how powerful visualization is. Take time to “see” yourself free of the behavior. What will you be able to do after a period of time that you can’t do right now?
I picked up the sport of running when I turned 60. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would enjoy running. Yet, there are days I’m out on a few mile run where I smile uncontrollably due to realizing I never would have been able to do this had I not let go of two huge behaviors that held me back for years.
Now I can’t imagine not doing the things I do, like running a 10k race in 27 degree weather. Yup! I recently did just that. And I loved every minute of it.
More times than not, the behaviors we want to change are due to stress. Stress is something that can be managed when we take the time to get quiet. Meditation allows us the ability to get quiet and centered.
Many people have a misunderstanding of what meditation is. In reality, there are many types of meditative practices with the simplest being to simply get really quiet for a short period of time while concentrating on your breathing.
It doesn’t have to be something super elaborate. It’s simply about getting connected to your core.
Commit to The Quality of Life You Deserve
The bottom line is that changing behaviors is about giving yourself the quality of life you deserve. Whether you make the change today or wait to set a New Year’s Resolution, the quality of your life is based on the quality of your choices and decisions.
Minute by minute choices do add up to a lifelong change of behavior. They type of change that gives you the quality of life at one point you only dreamed of.
It’s up to you to find the reasons why you must do something rather than the excuses why you can’t.
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