There are many things I struggle to manage in my life, including time, food (or more correctly my weight), exercise and making sure my dog gets her heart medicine every eight hours. I have other vices as well, but what links all of these things together is that they are ongoing issues that come and go in my life.
At times I eat healthy, exercise regularly, and use my time well. Yet at other times I find myself scarfing down junk food, skipping workouts all together, and feeling like a mouse on a never-ending treadmill.
Addictive behavior is similar in that it also comes and goes to varying degrees over time, it is not a constant. Although some can find permanent solutions to end particular behaviors:
I just stopped smoking and never went back to it
For most people, even if one behavior goes away, another usually takes its place perpetuating the problem of addiction just in a different form.
Because objects of addiction can also come and go, it is easy to see why dealing with addiction can become so hard – different addictions, different times, different problems, but most often sharing many underlying traits.
As a result, I believe that the most humane way of dealing with addiction is by utilizing a management approach that aims to decrease harm for all behaviors over time, and improve ones quality of life.
Too often I see people going in and out of treatment, attempting desperately to put a lid over the behavior and banish it forever, only to get depressed and frustrated when it returns in its original form, or surfaces in another addiction.
How do we manage behavior?
Whether it’s addiction or giving my dog her pills, I have found four key things that make a difference:
You cannot manage anything if you are not aware of it and how it plays out in your life. Awareness is not so easy these days because we are bombarded from every side with people vying for our attention. But you must increase your awareness of the behavior you wish to change if you have any chance of success.
How do we do this?
- Utilize reminder messages on your computer, phone, on sticky notes, put them on electronic calendars that email you reminders, set alarms to go off at critical times
- Talk with someone about the behavior on a regular basis and process your progress – could be a therapist, friend, pastor, mentor, coach, spouse
- Utilize a form of meditative practice to help clear away psychic junk and make more room to help you stay aware of what is truly important to you
- Set-up your environment in such a way as to increase awareness: find new routes to work that avoid high-triggery places, get rid of the extra refrigerator in the garage where you store beer, add things that you want to focus on instead of the addiction like an easel for painting, a musical instrument, or perhaps a pet
Yes, the tried and true Keep It Simple Stupid applies to managing behavior change. The more complicated you make it, the less likely you will succeed.
Simple means we don’t try to change too many things at once, and we do our best to find the simplest and easiest way to accomplish our goal. Earlier this year I significantly changed my diet and felt great. More energy, better sleep, all the things promised from this new way of eating materialized.
Yet a few weeks later I was back to my normal diet, disappointed that I could not maintain what I started. But I shouldn’t have been. I changed too much too fast. We humans live so much by habit, and the many routines our brains lock into very often determine our behavior even when we desperately want to behave differently.
In a recent post I mentioned how the environment also sets us up, particularly for making it difficult to eat healthy. We have to be begin by making small incremental changes that support new brain connections, new habits. Change is a process with many different drivers, the key is finding the one that works best, and just staying on the road.
For many statistics is a foreign language, existing in a country you never want to visit. But in truth, we live statistics every day of our life. We read sports statistics, check weather reports, listen to stock updates, and hear percentages thrown around in the news.
Statistics is the science of making effective use of data, and in the case of managing behavior, there are many things that can be helpful to track over time: days abstinent, relapses, weight, money lost, time spent on particular activities, etc.
We track things because of our limited ability to keep a lot of this in our head, to remember the specifics. Keeping a record of progress provides a clear indication of how well we are staying on the road. It provides us feedback that is critical to successful change. Our tracking methods can be as simple as keeping a tally on a notepad, or creating more elaborate outcomes on spreadsheets.
I have seen a number of those struggling with addiction get very caught up in statistics, particular days abstinent, where relapses become devastating events instead of opportunities for growth and learning. Statistics should always be used to help us grow, learn, and better manage our behavior over time.
#4 Social support
You’re aware of what you want to manage, you put a program in place that is simple, easy to stick with, and does not change too much too fast, and you begin to track your progress.
The final key and perhaps the most important is understanding that managing any behavior change we make is embedded within the social systems in which we exist: family, school, work, clubs, self-help groups, church, sports, neighborhoods. We are social creatures by nature and influenced greatly be those around us.
Successful change requires taking stock of our social connections, both those that support our change and are positive, and those that clearly contribute to perpetuating problems we wish to stop. I have said many times that addictions are ultimately about relationships, and the goal is to replace unhealthy relationships with objects with healthy relationships with people.
This is an ongoing process of learning how our past relationships influence our present ones, and how we can heal past wounds and emotionally mature in a way that allows to both receive and give love.
As we begin a new year (and a new decade), many of us will set goals to better manage behaviors in our life. Whether the desire is to reduce drinking, drug use, or have a more fulfilling relationship with food or sex, we stand a much better chance of succeeding when we utilize the above four keys. Happy New Year!
I completely agree with your four aspects to support change. Awareness is the initial part of the entire process. Without awareness, there is no need for management, nothing to resolve, and no need to create. The process of initiating a change involves becoming aware of not only the behavior that we want to change but also becoming aware of the triggers in our everyday world that lead to the behavior. This is true whether the behavior is overeating, alcohol or drug use, gambling, computer addiction, or any other actions we wish to modify.
Keeping it simple is paramount to maintaining any amount of success in changing anything, whether it’s a personal behavior or an institutional policy. People often try to become a completely new person overnight, not realizing that it took years to become who they are at the present moment. Attempting radical, all-encompassing change seems doomed to failure. It isn’t realistic to believe that you can lose weight, quit smoking, start an exercise program, become a vegetarian, stop using pain medications, and start a successful business all at the same time. Yet this is the attitude of many people every New Year’s Day. It’s no wonder that most resolutions don’t stick more than a few days.
Statistics in the form of keeping records of your successes and setbacks (there are no failures) definitely helps the progress of change. I have counseled individuals on a variety of health issues and it has always been beneficial to have them keep a journal of their diet. There are often foods in their diets that aggravate their medical conditions. They could not see this fact without the journal. Likewise, it is important to keep some kind of visual record of the attempts at change because change occurs slowly. Without an ongoing record of the activity, it is hard to appreciate that change is actually happening.
Perhaps the biggest component of the entire process of change is having adequate social support. Starting with a supportive spouse/partner, each level of social support adds to the potential for successful long-term maintenance of the desired change. Of course, the opposite is also true. If family and friends try to keep the situation in its current state, there is far less likelihood that any lasting change will result.
Dan J says
KISS. Well, like JRyan mentioned a lot of people use the new year to try to overhaul their life. I can include myself in that group of people. This year it is no more sugar, coffee, alcohol and exercising more. All of them gone forever. So how is it going?
One thing that I really think about now when trying to make any type of change, especially drastic ones, is the secondary amplifying processes. My goal is for dissonance reduction and prolapses instead of abstinence from both substances and conflict.
Yesterday when I went to grab a cup of coffee in the afternoon and started feeling conflicted about it, I reminded myself that I am trying to make a lot of changes while going into a difficult new term. I allowed myself to enjoy the coffee while reminding myself that I look forward to a day when I don’t want to drink coffee anymore. I really believe that day will come, and I don’t feel conflicted by the immediate need for tension and discomfort to be relieved in a tried and true (albeit maladaptive) way.
I think these four steps are really great, and I have been utilizing three of them in my own process. KISS is tried and true, but everyone has their own path to recovery and for me keeping it positive and flexible FEELS more important than keeping it simple.
Thanks for writing this great post around New Years!
I agree with both of you. I think this is brilliant and I have heard of some of these things before, just not all put together in one article. I will be using this in my life and in my career that I am pursuing. I think that these things can be used in just about eveyone’s lives rather it be with addictions in thier lives or use them to help them achieve some other goals……….. Reading this has made me want to do some investigation and I am looking forward to listening to some further information that he has. Anyhow just thought that I would say a few words :)
Katie P says
This article was very reassuring and encuraging for me. As someone who has dealt with an addiction off and on for the past five years, the things that have helped me the most was social support and AWARENESS. Making conscious behavior patterns, (that aren’t too drastic or unrealistic) leaving yourself reminders, and talking to friends, family and a counselor about things are really good tools to have. Also, knowing that relapse is part of the recovery process and doesn’t mean utter failure. Being able to pick yourself up and continue with your recovery process is part of growth and healing.
Ngan D says
The four keys in this article are great. They help us understanding more about how the process of changing behavior is like. People who think they have bad behavior and want to change, so this article can help. If we want to overcome the bad , we must set goal to change our bad behavior. In order to change something, we must be patient because the process needs time. It is not easy to change something in a snap of second. We must plan out, keep track during the process, and we should try the easy steps first before trying any harder ones.
Lorena I says
This article was very interesting; it not only applies to addicts. This applies to everyone; I believe that every person does something that is not healthy for them. One could even be unaware of this type of behavior. For example, someone that eats red meat every single day could be aware or unaware to what this might be doing to their health. I guess with everything there is a point where something healthy could turn into something unhealthy. Social connections according to the article could help us manage these addictions, one people that care about you could inform you of you destructive behavior, and two the unhealthy person might feel obliged to stop the negative behavior. Overall the article was very educational and was applicable to our daily lives.
This blog was interesting. I like how you explain everything and as i read it all made sense. I think that everyone has some sort of addiction and sometimes it can be a good addiction, like reading, or it could be a bad one, like shopping. Although reading could even cause other issues, like lack of social connections with other around you which can be very important in persons life. I completely agree with your four aspects to support change. If anyone wants to overcome a bad behavior , they must set goals in order to change it. You must be patient and keep putting effort in and not just give up after one or two tries. Everything takes time to change, it cant just happen with a snap of your fingers, you have to keep on trying if you really want to change something. Take one step at a time and eventually you can overcome your bad behavior. Once you do it can make you feel like a stronger individual. For example, i used to smoke cigarettes and i have not had a cigarette in 4 years now and by quitting it made me feel like a better person all together and stronger and now feel a lot healthier. you can actually change things if you really put your mind to it and are committed to changing things in your life for the better.
Nafisa Skeie says
This article is a great start to a new year. I’m glad that it’s not too late for me to use the four key things that you’ve talked about. Like you, I would also go into the same routine when it comes to trying to eat healthy and exercise regularly. One week I’d be really good, eating smaller healthy portions, go for an hour workout, and be productive. I’d feel good after knowing I was being healthy and productive. However, other times, I’d fall into the too much schoolwork therefore no time to hit the gym routine. I’d eat snacks or unhealthy food even when I know that I shouldn’t be eating it. And it would go on for days. After feeling guilty, I’d go back to the gym and work off all the calories that I’ve gained. These routines will repeat itself again and again. Some of my friends thinks that I don’t have to worry about it since I look perfectly fine, but I know that these habits are unhealthy. So this year like every other year, one of my new year’s resolution is to be healthy by exercising regularly and eating right. And I’m going to use your four key things to help me with this goal: awareness, KISs, statistics (especially) and social support. Wish me luck! Thanks for the great article!
Jessy F says
I like the KISS aspect. After having a baby I struggled with losing the 50 pounds I had gained that did not just go away like I had thought and hoped. I started out by writing everything I ate down and keeping track of all my exercise. This became very time consuming and frustrating. When I realized what a waste of time it was for me, I decided to keep it simple. I also became more aware of what was in my house and stopped buying tempted items. This article not only validates some of the habits I have changed but also gives me insight to other ideas and ways to go about my addictions with food.
Chris T says
I really have to agree with the four keys you bring are true as to how to fight your problems. I myself am the same way about eating right and working out. I love working out but then somedays I start getting into the “I don’t feel like going today, I’ll hit the gym really hard tomorrow” mode and then all of a sudden a few days pass and I feel the difference in my body. For me, when I am working out I eat better so I feel it quickly. I will start going out to eat and eat more junk food when not working out. I like the KISS and Social Support keys the most though. Again in my example of eating and exercising, it is hard to keep a routine going so I look for help from others. Sometimes the help is not always there from someone so I have to find it in myself, but when there is someone there going through the platteaus with me and hitting the gym hard with me it makes it easier to stay dedicated. Luckily I have my girlfriend who is very supportive and helps me push through those days of “I think I’ll just go tomorrow” and make me get into the gym and take care of my body. I think for me if I can keep these four keys in mind it really will help me break those habits of mine.
Samantha T says
I enjoyed reading this blog. I like many other young women my age have a shopping addiction. I am 20 years old and love having new clothes, designer bags, and shoes. Unfortunately it is not a cheap abit and I have been working on cutting down my spending, especially since I am a college student who is paying out of pocket. After reading the 4 keys I think it will help to find ways to not spend as much, or even to not look online as much. I find that when I have spare time I will either go to the mall or go online and browse for what I like and then temptation kicks in. Luckily I do not have the money to buy everything I want, but when I do have some money I tend to go on a shopping spree. Although it is not always for myself, I do find that I buy things for my boyfriend as well. He actually has the same habit. His is leaned more towards shoes though, but still very spendy. I think that seeing the awareness and social support section of your blog will help me cut back the most. When I do talk with my boyfriend about shopping he is trying to help me cut back while he cuts back a lot on his shoe shopping. Having someone there who will stop me and tell me “Do you REALLY NEED that?” does in fact help me stay away from buying whatever it may be.
Overall, this blog post really opened my eyes and brought awareness to different types of management styles. It also made me think about the various addictions that people face everyday, even those who have multiple. There are ways of overcoming and having blogs like this one help connect people going through similar experiences.
Awareness is so important. Sometimes we need someone else to point out the problem, and sometimes we are aware of unhealthy feelings or actions that we take part in. Ultimately, the beauty is in the knowing. I now know that I have a problem, what is the next step to fix it?
I really liked the section about keeping it simple. So often we get all the bells and whistles out to distract us from the obvious. By getting to the root of the problem and taking simple steps to reach a resolution it makes it easier to deal. “We have to begin by making small incremental changes that support new brain connections, new habits. Change is a process with many different drivers, the key is finding the one that works best, and just staying on the road.” You can’t run before you can crawl so if you continue with the baby steps eventually you will deal with the emotions, problems, ECT. that you needed to deal with but in your own time. For me, I am not one that deals with large quantities of emotions all at once. I need to think about it, what I want to say and who I want to share my struggles with. Every person has some sort of baggage whether it’s a weight problem, an addiction or a failed marriage. People carry this baggage in different forms. I tend to carry a trunk and things that I didn’t even know bother me somehow find their way in the trunk. Other people like to talk about it right away (at times obsess) cry and then let it go, this would be more like a handbag. Taking small steps to reach my goal is a tool that I know will help me be more successful in the future.
Statistics are an area where things get a little nerve racking. For me I tend to dwell on the progress or regression. Having statistical data to show that I am making progress would be positive, unless you tend to dwell on it. What can I do more of? How can I get results faster? These sorts of questions come to mind and then what once was a way to track progress and recognize achievement has become an obsession all its own. If I fell off track I wouldn’t be thinking how do I get back on track and keep moving forward, I would dwell and wonder why I let it happen to me and how I’m not at my goal yet. Obviously this is a seriously negative way of thinking but as someone that has been competitive and an athlete most of my life, mental toughness is a huge part of success. You need to be mentally and physically prepared before a game and if you let others judgments cloud your own than you allow yourself to be vulnerable. For me keeping track of the numbers is not as useful as checking in with myself every day. By gauging myself and asking questions about how I am feeling? If I’m ready for…? It helps me get the information without becoming obsessed with the answer.
Social Support is in my opinion the number one key to success. We need to trust and rely on others and receive understanding and empathy. We all have our time of listening and giving support. It’s who we are as people. We identify with those who have similar interests; in many cases we are closer to our own circle of friends than members of our family. Cutting social ties is a painful process whether you are engaged in unhealthy behaviors or not, losing friends is never easy. I like quote, “Successful change requires taking stock of our social connections, both those that support our change and are positive, and those that clearly contribute to perpetuating problems we wish to stop…This is an ongoing process of learning how our past relationships influence our present ones, and how we can heal past wounds and emotionally mature in a way that allows to both receive and give love.” This idea of how our past relationships influence our present ones is something that I could not explain but was looking for. It is easy to blame the problems on the past. It makes sense that instead of letting the hurt or disappointment go it follows you to new relationships. You could be attracted to this “type” or you could have just not dealt with the original problem.
Antonio Swanson says
I really like this article. I can see how the four keys can play out in all different types of personal problems. I especially like the KISS aspect. I think people with weight struggles can find it very helpful. They don’t have to spend 10 hours in a gym and lose all the weight at once, just “keep it simple” and do what you can. Build up to something bigger. Having social support is also a necessity. In the example of weight loss, going to the gym with a friend or family member makes it more likely for you to go more often.
Yana Tsyplakova says
I definitely agree with everything that was said in this post. I have actually been thinking about this topic a lot, especially since I started taking a Drug Education class. It is interesting how addiction can go so much beyond drugs. We can be addicted to so many different things we encounter in our daily lives (food, places, relationships, etc.), and all those addictions take a lot of energy to manage. That is why, in my opinion, when we exhaust all our internal resources and energy trying to manage and control those addictions along with other things in our lives (schedules, time, weight, family), it is easy and tempting to give up, which is also the reason why addictive behavior is not constant and why we often tend to substitute an addiction we are trying to overcome with a new one. For example, I personally often have a love-hate relationship with food. When I am not too overwhelmed by all those things I need to manage and just different daily duties and feel like I am in control of my life (exercising regularly, having my homework done on time, etc., etc.), I eat healthy food, but once I start feeling like I lose control of at least one of those aspects of my life (mainly because of stress), I feel like everything else is out of control, too, which leads to me overeating (especially unhealthy junk food). Another reason for this is that at times of stress, food (or any other type of addiction), gives us some kind of comfort (no wonder it is often called “comfort food”). Addiction is indeed not easy to overcome and often does look like going on a “never-ending treadmill” if not managed properly. Thus I also do believe that overcoming addiction and sticking with the new approach to increase one’s quality of life (continuing the treatment, for example) becomes hard to maintain as it is not possible to immediately “put a lid over the behavior and banish it forever,” which results in people getting “depressed and frustrated when it returns in its original form.” Once again, judging from my personal experience with overeating during stress, I can definitely say that those times when I decide to not eat a particular food at all (chocolate, sweets, and other junk food), I can say that the approach of rejecting something completely never works. What does indeed work for me, though, is a slow step-by-step approach, where the awareness of the issue is the first step. I really enjoyed reading this blog.
Thanks for the feedback! Food is a tough one, for me too. I also agree on the importance of awareness.