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Addictions: staying in or getting out

Mary Thomas (Associate Editor)

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

Whether you made New Year resolutions or not, now is the time to reflect on how much you’ve followed through. 71% of those who make a commitment to change do so in the first few weeks of January, and nearly 50% report continuous success 6 months later. When you really think about that, it suggests that simply setting an intention is quite powerful. Making difficult changes often requires a few attempts before we turn that corner and maintain them. Better to make a shift that will make your life better than to allow yourself to be stuck and dissatisfied in the long term. None of us are new to addictions: smoking, alcohol, drugs, social media and other things that veer us away from our purpose, time suckers. I have friends who’ve been clean for a few or more years. Here’s 4 strategies that set them apart from those who fell back into their old ways:

First, they rewarded themselves for success. You can use rewards to eliminate any habit, you are trying to break, or to begin a new, healthy habit (like exercising). Make achievable goals with timelines for yourself, and plan how you will reward yourself for following through. Remember to make the link clear in your mind, by telling yourself, “I’m celebrating the positive change I made and followed through.”

Second, they kept reminders not to give into the problem. You can put it in your notes on your cell phone: a list of the reasons why you committed to changing something, such as eliminating smoking, drinking, or overeating. Then look at it whenever you feel tempted. Or put a sticky note on the refrigerator so that you’ll see it when you’re tempted to open it. Pick reminders of the reasons that are most important to you, focusing on the results you can envision if you are successful.

Third, they avoided situations that tempted them to engage in the addiction. Counsellors might tell you, “Be smart, not strong.”  More often than not, people measure their success by testing out their strength in a challenging situation. Rather than testing out your willpower, which tempts you to return to your old ways, you can increase your chances of success by staying out of tempting situations. The more you succeed, the more you’re motivated to keep it up.

Finally, they practice positive thinking about their ability to change an old behavior.  If you don’t do this already, it is a really great habit, so start now! It is easy to get hung up and focus on all of the reasons it might not work. Although it is good to anticipate problems and make plans to overcome them, dwelling on those problems for too long will not help you. Change the narrative. Think about times you’ve survived hardships in your life. Focus on your strengths, find evidence that change is possible.

What do you want to change? Today is the first day for the rest of your life.


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