Eating, drinking, smoking, shopping, sex, social media, drugs or chocolate – addictive behaviour is something that can tempt the most saintly among us.
Addictive behaviour comes in all forms and affects most people. Everyone on the planet has their own secret pleasure – it’s just that some people find it impossible to control! Addictive behaviour is one of the hardest things to control, and mainly because of the effect it has on the pleasure centres of our brains. But… beating our addictions is probably the best strategy we can adopt to make a difference to our lives.
All our habits and indulgences are always triggered by something – the trick is being able to identify these triggers. Yes… it really is that simple – it’s always the same stimulus that triggers your craving and thus your need to submit to the addictive action.
The mistake we make is to focus on the behaviour itself rather than what it is that causes it in the first place. If you can identify the trigger, you can break the habit! Here are some clues:
Your cravings are triggered by at certain times or certain activities. This could be a coffee break or social occasion. For example, smoking often goes with coffee or alcohol; chocolate is often a reward for a job done; time spent on social media can be a need to satisfy feelings of loneliness. All these things are learned behaviours, and learned behaviours can be unlearned as easily as they were learned in the first place! One easy step is to swap the addictive behaviour for something healthier, like swapping the cigarette at coffee break for a banana, something which will give you energy and is obviously better for you.
Your craving can be triggered by something you see – a bottle of wine, another person smoking a cigarette or eating an ice cream. Advertisements are particularly effective triggers, which is why they work so well! Visual triggers start the addictive behaviour because your brain associates the image with the feeling of pleasure you get when you indulge. In order to prevent this chain reaction, you should try to keep visual triggers out of sight. Make sure you don’t have tempting goodies in the house – if you have to leave the house to get them it will be less likely you will succumb to the temptation. It will also help to have your family ‘on message’ so that they don’t accidentally trigger things for you – perhaps you could ask them to support you and not smoke, eat chocolate or have sex in front of you. [???] Disrupting triggers will help you to break the the pattern.
Whatever happens, don’t punish of blame yourself for your addictive behaviour because that will only make you feel worse. Trust me – punishing and blaming yourself only leads to more addictive behaviour. IA much better strategy would be to question and explore what’s going on inside your head. Ask ‘how am I feeling?’ Can you see or recognise any patterns you could change? Is there something more constructive you can do to avoid or eliminate the behaviour? For instance, smoking is often about relaxation, so maybe there’s something else you could do instead? Something absorbing like reading or going for a walk would be better, and better for you!
A lot of addictions – especially alcohol and drugs – are down to the need to escape from stress and all the other crappy things life throws at you. Because alcohol is physically damaging, it’s important to take control of your drinking. The same obviously goes for cigarettes and drugs. You have to retake ownership of your life! Food addictions are usually linked to self-doubt or self-worth, or a need to feel loved. Food in our stomach triggers that warm fuzzy feeling of love and appreciation we all need from time to time and so it’s easy for our brains to confuse them.
Stress is often experienced at an unconscious level and we are unaware of how tense we actually are. In today’s high-pressure world, tension is a very common cause for addictive behaviour. I once said to my father (a fighter pilot in World War II) that I was under a lot of pressure. He laughed in my face. Then he said “try having a Messerschmitt up your arse – that’s pressure!” And he was right. It’s important to recognise pressure and put it into perspective.
But tension traps us in a cycle of addictive behaviour. The more tense we are, the fewer pleasant brain chemicals we are able to produce, and this affects the way we think – we can become less clear and logical… and we can sometimes make bad choices. Consistently making bad choices is a perfect example of a symptom of addictive behaviour. So as well as working on breaking habits, it’s important to learn how to relax.
Believe it or not, procrastination is also an addiction and it’s more to do with fear of failure or risk aversion. [I went through a period of procrastination and it did affect my career to some degree, but when I got back on top of things, I really did feel better – I suddenly felt as if I had accomplished something. It was a much better feeling and it re-ignited my feeling of purpose in life.]
The best way to break out of this cycle is to start getting used to taking small risks. You can start with actions that carry low levels of consequence if they go wrong, like trying a new kind of restaurant or taking a different sort of holiday before moving onto bigger things. Over time you’ll come to realise that taking risks is not only OK, it can also be exciting.
Time now to take stock of what we’ve learned so far. It really does boil down to one thing – you have to replace your addictions with something healthier. So far, so simple… except… it is going to take some degree of willpower. Hypnosis can help with this, but let’s live in the real world – you are going to slip from time to time. If and when that happens – and it will from time to time – you have to start over. I don’t care what the NLP enthusiasts tell you – in the real world you are going to relapse occasionally and you’re going to fail from time to time. You’re allowed to do this! The important thing is to set realistic short term goals. If you slip, pick yourself and start all over again. Will power is the real secret of success! Addictions are not always easy to break so if at first you don’t succeed, try and try and try again!
What else? Well… it’s a good idea to be focussed on the present and not the past. It’s always a mistake to dwell on the past – it can’t be changed and you should use the past as a springboard and not a sofa.
Another useful tip is to do more exercise and it will keep your weight down! A lot of people benefit from going to the gym or taking up other forms of physical activity – even just going for a walk is healthier! Meditation. Joining a choir. Painting. Reading. Tidying the garden or generally improving your own living environment. Et cetera. In fact anything that involves active participation rather than just being one of life’s spectators. Sorting out your sleep patterns might also help!
FACT: It’s easier to start doing something new than to stop something you already do. If by stopping doing something you leave a vacuum, it’s easy to fall back into your old addictive ways. Whenever you stop an addictive behaviour, you need to look at your whole life pattern and think seriously about what you can do differently to create – and stick to – healthy habits. Remember, nothing in life that’s worthwhile is easy – no one is saying it is – it’s your life and the bottom line is, it’s the decisions you make that will define you and your future.
Copyright Andrew Newton 2016. All rights reserved.