I once heard the phrase “One is too many and 100 is not enough” it was from a TV show where the principal character was attending AA for alcoholism. It is a phrase that has stuck with me over the years, and it sums up why when we try to moderate our behaviour, whether it is alcohol, chocolate, shopping, drugs or gambling etc we become unstuck.
Diets, giving up alcohol or whatever you use to get through the day all involve depriving ourselves of the very things we love. We want to be able to eat chocolate without finishing a whole box in one sitting. We want to have a glass of wine when we socialise without drinking every night of the week.
We look around and the whole world appears to be filled with people who are able to enjoy life without getting drunk when they go out for a drink, who know how to say no. Who can accept a chocolate from the office boxes of chocolate at Christmas without spending the rest of the day eating chocolate and going home feeling sick.
So, why is it when prior to indulging we know the right thing to do. Why is it so easy to say no before you take your first glass of wine or your first chocolate? The answer lies in the fact that prior to indulgence we do not have the feel-good chemicals rushing through our brains which after the first indulgence we want more off.
Before we start we can rationally consider whether we want to or not. We can take the time to weigh up the pros and cons. If I drink this glass of wine when I am trying to stop, it will make me feel ill tomorrow. I have to go to work in the morning and I will be hungover, I will have no energy and it will make getting through the day difficult. If I eat this chocolate it will set me back on my weight loss plan, and probably I will have more than one which will make me feel sick later and I will be unable to eat a healthy meal. So, having weighed up the short-term gain for the long-term pain you can decide rationally whether or not to indulge. You may go ahead anyway, but you did so in the full and accepted knowledge that you would regret it later or the next day.
After the first indulgence, however you will not have the same capacity to weigh up the advantage and disadvantage for a number of reasons:
- You start to give yourself justifications for continuing “I have started now, so I can keep going”, “I will start my healthy eating tomorrow”, “I will give up drink tomorrow”. Tomorrow always seems to be the best day of the week to give up a bad habit;
- Our brains have been flooded with feel good chemicals and we want more and more of that nice feeling, so we no longer have the ability to stand back dispassionately and weigh up the pros and cons;
- You might even find that you are starting to think about the second drink before you have even finished this first, this is due to the fact that you feel you are depriving yourself. If you are drinking anyway, you want to make sure you get as much as possible while it is available. It is the same reaction to someone in a famine situation, they will overindulge as they are unsure where their next meal is coming from. It is a natural reaction to deprivation, so don’t think it is just you, that you are in some way weird or different. It is just our brain doing what it thinks is the right thing for you.
One of the reasons some people can have just one of anything is that they do not get the same instantaneous rush of pleasure that pushes them to keep going. Some people may find they can’t stop eating chocolates when they start but are quite happy with one drink. Other people can’t stop drinking when they start but are quite happy with one or two chocolates. It is not what you are putting your mouth that matters, it’s your emotional attachment to it. You have a believe that what you are doing in some way enhances your life. Until you can change that believe you will always be dragged back time and time again. As long as you have that belief you will also have think that without your comforter of choice you are missing out on life.
So, what can you do it you are one of those people that need more than one, that need to finish the whole box of Quality Street, or the whole bottle of wine?
One answer lies in AWARENESS, in understanding what is going on in your brain. If we don’t understand, it is like trying to fight when you don’t know who the enemy is. Understanding that it is a chemical reaction that is coaxing you to continue despite the fact that doing so would not be in your best interests. That it would interfere with your goals of giving up your habit, getting healthy etc.
The fight is between awareness and your addiction – who do you want to win?
How do we give awareness the best chance of winning?
Give Yourself Time
In addiction you are doing something that you believe will give you pleasure, part of your mind will be encouraging you to go ahead and get that instant gratification. Life is too short etc – it is easy to give yourselves a justification for acting out your habit. But another part of our brain knows that you don’t want to do this, you have an internal conflict that usually you can win before you indulge. After you have indulged you knock down the barriers and the side that wants you to indulge will win every time. Unless you can step back and realise what is happening. You really don’t want another a drink it is just the way our brain functions. So, give it time, allow yourself to move into a different mode of thinking. Focusing on your breathing and calmly think things through, do I really want this second drink or is it just my brain thinking that it is the right thing to do.
Be Honest with Yourself
Do you really want to move your life forward, change the way you are living. Move away from habits that no longer improve your health? Or are you kidding yourself, and you still believe that what you are doing offers you something you want in your life. Go ahead and indulge but don’t kid yourself on it is for any other reason than you are feeling the need to change your mood. Do you still have a belief that in some way you will find happiness in a new pair of shoes, a gin and tonic or a chocolate cake? Do you still believe that these are the answers to all your problems. If you don’t believe that you can change, if you don’t believe you really want to change, if you still believe that happiness lies in a bottle of wine, you will always be dragged back, and after one glass you will have nothing to fight the urge for the second and the third.
Visualise the Journey
Before you indulge in a second, visualise the whole process from taking the first drink to how it will lead to more and more as the night goes on. Visualise the next morning waking up with a hangover, feeling tired, sick and swearing you will never do it again. Then visualise saying no and looking at all the things you will achieve the next day. Plan a trip to the gym or a long walk in the country. Visualise no more wasted Sundays. Visualise not having to start another diet on Monday morning.
Repeat your mantras to yourself
I am whole, perfect and complete just as I am.
Look at things from a third person perspective.
Look down on yourself sitting there deciding whether to indulge or not. It can be easier to get a clearer perspective from a wider angle. The simple act of observing yourself and your thoughts can calm the mind down. When you can look at your thoughts from a different perspective they tend to diffuse. Their intensity is mellowed where you can then make a rational decision. It’s like pulling your thoughts out from inside your mind to a larger space allowing them freedom to move around and float away. Think of all the good you have done, in giving up your habit, the money saved, the weight lost, the fitness gained. Is it really worth throwing it all away?
Base your decision on fact not on any emotions you are feeling at the moment.
Is being bored, is being angry or any other emotion really a good enough reason to throw away all the good work you have done and go back to the start? Ask yourself:
Are you committed to change
What are the benefits of changing
What are the consequences of not changing
Change the focus of your attention
Change your thoughts away from your addiction to your friends, your family, your work, any holidays you have planned, your fitness regime. What do you plan to do tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Thoughts can be changed just by changing what we are thinking about.
Get up and do something else, don’t sit their wallowing in misery of decision making. Will I or won’t I take another one. Change the environment and your mind will move onto something else.
Ask yourself how much do I really want this?
Before you indulge in anything that you are trying to give up – ask yourself “on a scale of 1 – 10 how much do I want this right now” and ask it with a curiosity, weigh up all the pros and cons. What benefit will doing this add to my life, and what will be the long-term consequences to my health, my finances, my relationship, my career. How will this effect the life I want to live?
Overindulging in anything takes years of practice. You have reached this point because you have been overindulging in your bad habit for years. The exercises above will help you to create a new habit, a new way of living your life, where you can make considered decisions about everything that you do and not react without making sure it is in your best interest to act in that way. When we become aware of our actions we give ourselves choice, choice to act or choice not to act. We can become mindful of our actions and always make decisions based on what will add value to our life.
Remember if you do reach out for that second chocolate, that second drink, it is your choice, your actions and your responsibility. Don’t shift the blame onto anyone else, no-one can make you do it. Someone else might have put the chocolate cake on your desk or bought a second round of drinks without asking you, but they cannot make you drink or eat. Is it time for you to take responsibly for your own actions?
This is your mind and your body; you are in ultimately in control of what you put eat and drink or smoke. Do you want to take care of the only body you will ever have, treat it well, feed it nourishing foods and exercise. It always amazes me that some people take better care of their cars than they do of their bodies. They would never dream of pouring beer in the engine instead of oil but are quite happy to pour drink after drink down their own throat as if our bodies are any better able to cope with the poisons than their car.