You could glue your eyeballs open, OR…
Last night after the kids had gone to bed (and perhaps the previous five nights, but who’s counting?), I found myself laying on the bed, exhausted, and scrolling…and scrolling…and scrolling…and scrolling through Facebook. Hitting refresh every so often for good measure – and then with increasing, slightly manic frequency.
At one point, I considered gluing my eyeballs open so that I could continue with this behavior. But I didn’t want to stop scrolling to locate the glue.
Eventually, I gave in, closed my eyes, and proceeded to sleep restlessly with dreams about whatever post I had just read. (I’ll never give names.)
I can imagine that none of you have ever done something similar, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that such behavior is exhausting.
HaHa. Just kidding. I see you. I see all of us. When it comes to obsessive behavior/addiction/engaging in numbing behavior to deal with life, I can sniff if out like a hound dog. With a long eating disorder under my belt, I’ve got a serious pedigree earned through thousands of hours of engaging in the behavior/shame/sorrow/false promises cycle.
I’ve also talked to/counseled/coached enough of my fellow beings to know with certainty that each and every one of us has, at some point, found ourselves in the repetitive cycle of continuing to do shit that on one hand, we really don’t want to be doing, but on the other hand, can’t stop doing.
But I don’t want to speak for you. I can only speak for myself and let you take it from there.
So this is what I want to share today. It’s about what works to help me get out of any repetitive cycle (e.g., eating, Facebooking, thinking the same damn thought over and over again, having fights with people in my head, spending money on things I’ll never need).
There are three steps.
Step One: Pause. You guys, the pause is your best friend when it comes to repetitive behavior.
I once counseled a woman who couldn’t stop buying clothes for her newborn. Like $200-worth-of-clothes-per-week-they-know-my-name-at-Marshall’s kind of can’t stop. I knew that she wasn’t going to stop her behavior by thinking her way through it. Because, in my experience, we don’t stop obsessive behavior solely by thinking about it. The head is where the obsessive cycle lives and flourishes. Instead, we change the behavior by getting *out* of our heads and dropping into our bodies. You know, that thing attached directly south of your noggin.
When you find yourself obsessively doing something you promised yourself you wouldn’t do or don’t want to be doing, PAUSE. For as long as you can. Just stop and breathe.
Maybe at first, you will only be able to pause for 5 seconds before your brain takes back over (“Okay, Cowan, seriously, that’s cute, but this THING – we need to get back to it!”). That’s okay. If you keep it up, you’ll soon find that you can go longer – 10 seconds, 30 seconds, one minute, a whole damn season.
Step Two: Name the Behavior. Once you have some practice pausing and have built up to at least a minute, you’re ready for step two. Continue breathing and say to yourself, “I am doing X.”
“I am crafting my defense against Aunt Martha in my head so I can take her and her support for that awful politician DOWN when I see her in August.”
“I am checking my phone every 5 seconds to see if Paul has texted. WHY HASN’T HE TEXTED?!?!”
“I am purchasing this pair of $300 cat leggings.”
“I am eating a bag of Ho Hos while I sit on the couch.”
“I’m raising my voice at the children again.”
As you say your piece, continue to breathe. Let yourself engage in the behavior, but stop to remind yourself every so often that you are.
Step 3: Accept it. You guys, this step is super advanced. Really. When I get to this step, many people either: 1) Fight me on it or 2) Tell me I am wrong.
Which is okay. I could be. But I just know what works for me.
In this step, after you pause and name the behavior, you say to yourself, “I am doing XX, and I accept that I am doing it.”
I know. This flies in the face of the lessons taught by many addiction programs, modern “wisdom”, and our culture, which has its own obsession going with getting rid of the “bad” parts of ourselves by just thinking them away and trying harder. (Willpower and positive thinking are kinda bulls$%#, you all, but that is for another day.)
We only have to look around – in a culture full of obesity and unhealthy diets, debt, compulsive sexual behavior, workaholism, etc., and less happiness than at any other time – to know that this strategy gets an F.
It’s doesn’t work, you guys.
The only true transformation I have had in my life around my behaviors is when I stop fighting myself about them.
The thing about obsessive behaviors is that they are just behaviors. And behaviors can be harmful, yes, but we tend to make them 1,000 times worse by engaging in self-flagellation and fighting ourselves, which is pouring shame gasoline onto behavior that is in fact already fueled by shame.
So, in this step, we’re going to perform some reverse psychology ninja magic and psych ourselves out a bit.
Seriously. Think about it.
What we stop to notice, name, and accept in life tends to feel loved. And then it loves us back.
It’s no different with any behavior we want to change.
At the very least, consider this: what you’re doing isn’t working. So why not try changing your strategy to love yourself through whatever you have going on and see what happens? If you’re not convinced, you can return to your old ways tomorrow.
In any case, what I have found to be true is that engaging in these three steps leaves me in a calm place where I am actually able to figure out, lovingly and calmly, what steps I can take to change what wants to be changed.
It is from this place that I can truly take action.
Speaking of which, I will now put the phone down and back away. At least for a minute.