Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness (c)2016 Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry
The pattern is so overwhelmingly common that perhaps billions of people on earth can relate to it. I know I can.
When we are told we cannot have something – that promotion, those donuts, the newest technology – we tend to feel deprived and want whatever it is even more. In the book, When You Can’t Snap Out of It*, Psychologist Louis Bevilacqua dares the reader to not think of the color red. Of course, it is nearly impossible. That is because in our efforts to avoid a thought, we are indeed thinking about it.
We become frustrated with perceived failed attempts at disengaging from not-so-great habits. We grow envious of the co-worker who received a promotion. We crave the donuts someone brought to an event. We feel left out when our friends have updated technology we do not own. Do you want to change?
Five keys to breaking your unwanted habits for good:
Stop trying. Paul Shapiro* recently tweeted “When talking with others about their diet, encouraging progress, not perfection, is typically more effective.” Progress over perfection is a helpful quote. Whatever behavior you want to change, black and white, all or nothing thinking will derail your best laid habit-breaking plans. If by successful you mean never-failing, every imperfection will offer an excuse to quit.
Welcome yourself to the human race. Accept the fact you are not perfect. Besides, everyone else in your life already knows it! You will experience relief when you grant yourself this grace.
Choose to count your strengths. While shopping, a statuesque and beautiful blonde-haired woman came my direction. I noticed her height and apparent athleticism, and felt ashamed of my physical appearance. I felt old and unlovable. This is ego-centrism of course, so I switched that focus and smiled at her, hoping to bring her some cheer. As we passed, I felt a little better, thinking, oh well, at least I can be kind!
Surprise! Unseen behind her was a second, equally beautiful woman, this time with dark brunette hair. Everything about her seemed perfect, just like the first. A visually striking difference was impossible to ignore; this woman stood at about 4′ 10″. Smiling, I remembered outward beauty has never been enough to make a woman feel secure. Hypothetically, these two could have compared their heights and coloring and envied each other.
You are wasting your time and emotional energy when you compare your inner and outward flaws with the perceived perfection of others. This is a common habit for both men and women. Instead of keeping track of those times your behavior disappoints you, make note of what strengths you have to offer. Kindness, for example, is a valuable trait in an often ego-centric world.
Change your point of view. You live with your brain, and your thoughts belong to you alone. You miss rich insights by limiting your opinions and beliefs about yourself and the world to your current understanding. Invite other perspectives. Discuss your goals for breaking your habit with someone who has already won such a battle. Look for people who have the kind of freedom you want. Let the wisdom and knowledge of overcomers encourage you. Do not wallow in co-misery with people who remain ineffective in their fight; you will probably just feed each other excuses.
Change your environment. Habits are frequently triggered by our five senses. Some combinations of people, places, and things make it tougher to break those habits. Changing your environment may be as simple as turning your furniture around, and as complicated as ending a relationship. What triggers the habit you want to break? Lack of self-control and a sense of powerlessness result from choosing to entertain the sights, sounds, smells, touches, and tastes of your unwanted habit.
When I was a little girl, my mom read a story about a boy who could not keep his eyes off the cake his mother told him not to touch. The more he stared at it, the more he could taste it. Anticipation grew. Soon, desire for the cake overcame his concern for the consequences, and you know the rest! As much as possible, remove triggers and temptations from your environment.
Play a game with your words. If you are like the rest of us, you probably speak phrases like this when trying to break a habit. “I cannot smoke anymore.” “I cannot spend anymore money.” “I have to say no.” “I wish I could still…”
Have fun playing switcheroo with your words. When your thoughts start down the trail of “I cannot do such ‘n such,” say instead, “I get to not do that!”
Freedom is after all, a privilege and choice.
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NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.
If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.
*Bevilacqua, Louis, Psy D. When You Can’t Snap Out of It: Finding Your Way Through Depression. Tate Publishing 2011
** Twitter.com @pshapiro June 23, 2016