Actually, the same technique can be applied to any behavior one has decided to change. It isn’t so much a matter of will power, in my opinion. What does that even mean? Do some people just inherently have more of this mystical power of will? I don’t think so. Yet I have been told over and over again when I drastically change some element of my life that I have so much will power. I would argue that in holding the perception of some inherent talent like will power, one robs themselves of the opportunity to choose what they want to do. How many times have you heard (from yourself or someone else), “I wish I had that much will power, I can never seem to _____” with a lilting, self-deprecating tone. I’m guilty of having thought it to myself in some choice moments, and guess what, I then acted on the very behavior I no longer wanted to comfort myself out of my state of unworthiness.
So scrap the idea of will power. Get rid of it. Out the window. Down the drain. Begone demon. Let’s assume for a moment that our concept of will power is flawed and such a thing doesn’t really exist. If that’s the case, then what is it that allows a person to change?
Desire is one option. Desire for the positive consequences which one can predict from making the change. This can help. It’s not enough though.
Fear is another option. Fear of the negative consequences which one can predict if the change is not made. This works wonders if you aren’t in a self-destructive mindset, in which case, what do you care if you suffer down the line? But what if you are in a self-destructive mind-set? And even if you aren’t and it helps, is that still enough? Personally I tend to relapse after using desire and/or fear to motivate myself to change. It may take a day, a month, or a year, but a relapse is inevitable because I can feel a desire to do it again anyway.
So here’s the rub. You have to know why you are doing it. Figure out what you are getting out of it. Whatever it is, you are getting something out of it, or you wouldn’t do it. So what do you get?
Onto my example of cigarettes, but I could easily go into any number of other vices I’ve dabbled in over my lifetime, from dietary indulgences and sedentary tendencies right onto porn and codependency. All were taken down by the same method, but the reason for each individual thing is distinct, if similar. For cigarettes, and this sounds ridiculous to me personally even now, I realized I always craved a cigarette when I didn’t know what to do with myself. This was also true of most of my addictions really, one could call it the root of my addictive tendencies. When I don’t know what to do with myself in any given moment, and I don’t come up with an answer for what I want to do, the next thing I do is going to be an addictive behavior.
That’s it? I ask myself that even now. It seems too stupid simple to be true. But don’t let the simplicity fool you. Simple reasons can be the hardest to overcome, because they open up an array of questions which need to be answered to move forward.
Why don’t I know what to do with myself? Is it that I literally have nothing to do? Hardly, I have plenty of things to do, in the practical and lord knows in entertainment fields. It’s more that I don’t know what I want to do.
So why don’t I know what I want to do? Am I bored with doing the same things every day? Do I need something novel in my life? Am I overwhelmed by too many things that need to be done? How much do I expect of myself?
I have no idea how much I expect of myself, it seems like that expectation, whatever it is, will never be met though. Well if a goal post hasn’t been decided on, I will always fail my own expectation to reach one, after all, how will I know when I reached one if I didn’t decide on one?
So what are my goals? I want to stop smoking. But that doesn’t feel like much of a goal. What do I do with myself? Stare at a wall? I need to do something, I can’t just sit here doing nothing.
Why can’t I sit here doing nothing? I need to be doing something to feel worthy of life. Is that too much to ask of myself? I don’t think so, but that means I need to make a conscious choice of what I want to do with myself that is not smoking. So what should that be?
Right now, it means cleaning the dishes. I want a clean home. Maybe in an hour it means watching a movie. I enjoy learning from cultural phenomena. Maybe tonight, it means calling a friend. I want to be present to those I care for. And tomorrow, maybe I’ll go on a hike, and remind myself why it’s nice to be improving my lung capacity again. Oh and then this weekend, I’ll practice singing, I do enjoy singing, it calms my anxiety. And man, now that I see how much better I feel being able to exercise again, and sing again, I can’t believe how much I was smoking, why did I ever do that anyway?
So how did I stop smoking? I gave myself a reason to do something else and encouraged myself to do other things. I never actually told myself “No, you can’t smoke” or “I quit that so no”. Instead, I figured out that I needed something to do with myself, and then gave myself reasons to do the things it turns out I wanted to do all along.
I’m far from being a will power jedi. I just gave myself enough reasons to change. Believe you me, as a human, I am far from beyond addictive behaviors even knowing this trick. Honestly, it is exhausting to properly question yourself and even more exhausting to do so in a patient and helpful manner. All we can do is unwrap the onion one layer at a time and tackle the things we do not like about ourselves one obnoxious habit at a time.
And maybe one day I’ll finally stop chewing on my fingers… Maybe.