As Lilian woke she became aware of the stream of bright light forcing its way between the curtains that had not been drawn tightly enough the night before. Dawn had always been her favourite time of the day, and the enticing light suggested a beautiful day was stretching itself before her. The thought that today would be a good day to run a marathon seemed to come from nowhere but once the thought had entered her awareness she grabbed hold of it and allowed it to blossom in her mind and she sketched out a route that followed country roads between where she lived and the next small village and then a different country road on the way back. A circular route that was at least 26 miles, probably nearer 30, but hey, in for a penny.
The fact that she had not run before, apart from the gym membership she took out five years ago with a burst of enthusiasm and tried to run 5 km before going less and less until finally she was paying a monthly subscription with the hope that one day she would return. What better time than today, she would run her first marathon and that would kick start her new healthy lifestyle, she would start going to the gym every day and get her fitness and health back on track. She was happy, she had her goal, and she was determined to succeed.
Digging into the dark recesses of her wardrobe she retrieved the trainers she had bought when she joined the gym and grabbing a bottle of water she set off on her morning run.
How far do you think that Lilian would get before the benefits she saw of getting fit were replaced by the pain in her body and the blisters that were developing on her feet? How long before that 100% commitment to run the marathon when she jumped out of bed began to slide down the scale towards zero? The doubts piling one on top of the other in her mind as what seemed like a really good idea was now feeling like one of the poorer decisions she had taken.
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”.
So, the story of Lilian might seem a bit unbelievable, but millions of people do something similar every Monday morning after a weekend of over-eating and/or over-drinking they swear to themselves that today is the day they will start their diet; the day they will give up alcohol for good and with a great determination they set off on their new journey with no plan, only a vague idea of a goal and no thought to how they will overcome all the hurdles they will meet along the way on their journey to freedom from their addictive habit.
When we give up an addictive habit most people fail because they have little understanding of what is involved. The easy bit is to stop; stop overeating, stop putting alcohol in your mouth, stop smoking, the hard part is the maintenance, the hard part is the forever part, the hard part is reaching the end of your journey when you know that no matter what happens you will never again go back to your old habits. You will never return the person you were before you made changes in the way you want to live your life.
One of the problems that many people have when they give up a bad habit is that they do not change anything else. Like an onion being stripped of its outer brown skin they are left exposed with no security blanket to wrap round them. When the addictive crutch is gone we need to peel back the layers of the onion to discover who we are without our crutch and rebuild our lives as our authentic self.
When we wake up one morning and decide that we will never drink again we are setting ourselves up for failure, unless we also plan and prepare ourselves for the changes we will have to make. Willpower and self-control wear off over time, they are great for getting you started but unless you make the necessary changes your love of your addictive habit will slowly drive you back into its crutches at the first sign of weakness.
If we want to change for good then we have to prepare for the changes in our life and the challenges that lie ahead. Hurdles that we need to jump over that will do their best to trip us up and send us straight back to the starting line.
Measure your commitment – it is really easy to believe that you are 100% committed to giving up you habit. But are you really? Make a list of all the reasons that you believe what you do serves a need you have inside e.g., eases boredom, helps in social situations, going out for a meal is not the same without a bottle of wine, a cigarette, or the chocolate dessert to finish. Does it help with stress or anxiety? Then make a list of the benefits of changing, all the things you will gain when the addiction is gone. Now weigh them up, can you 100% commit to giving up all the perceived benefits of acting out your habit because you know that the benefits of giving up are far greater. If they are not, then you are not ready to give up and you are only setting yourself up for failure.
Changing your mindset – start to change the way you think about your habit. It is something that you used to do. It is no longer you. Start to see yourself in the future, not a vague idea but be really detailed. Like watching yourself in a film of your life, watching it develop over the years, what will you be doing and where will you be in 6 months, 12 months, 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years.
Do not go all in on a Monday morning – If you are serious about change then start slowly, perhaps cutting out one food group or having alcohol free days, try going 3 days a week without alcohol, try leaving it as late in the day as possible before your first cigarette. Slowly cutting down and at the same time exploring hobbies and changes to your life that you can bring in to replace the habit you are setting free. I know this stage is not for everyone and many people like to go all in on day one but feeling your way into a new life will help you to maintain it over the longer term. So, if you can try cutting down and experimenting with feelings and cravings and getting used to the new you.
Decide your long-term goal – make it clear and not some vague idea of something you would like to happen in the future. Make it a definite thing – something you want to buy or a career change, a health goal, or a fitness goal. Maybe plan to run that marathon now that you will be prepared.
Make a list of all the positive things that will happen your life once the habit is gone – whether that is health, financial, relationships, career. Learn it and repeat it to yourself as often as you can during the day. You are reprogramming your mind to believe in the new person you will become. The old you is fading and the new you is emerging from behind the cloak of addiction behind which you have sheltered for too long. Focus now on the future, there is only one way you are heading and that is to the finish line.
Think through any obstacles – that you see may present themselves before you: a wedding, birthday celebration, a holiday, how will you deal with a night out with friends. If you are giving up alcohol what drink will you order instead, practice saying it. Do not wait for the moment to arrive then start apologising and mumbling some excuse for not drinking. Be strong and be proud, it is an amazing thing you are doing, do not let anyone or anything stand in your way.
A journey to freedom from any addictive habit is a journey of change. It is not just a matter of giving up one habit and then carrying on with our lives as normal as if nothing is different. Everything is different and you need to plan and prepare and gather as much knowledge as you can to get you to the base of the mountain. Day 1, you start the climb to the top and only on reaching the top of the mountain can you say that you are truly free and no matter what happens there is nothing that would make you go back to the person you were before.