March 3, 2019 admin

The hardest part about getting addictive behaviours under control

In how to win the battle with addictive behaviours, I outlined a three step process:

  1. Self awareness
  2. Do a Reset
  3. Decide the line

I think most people would assume the reset is the hardest step. I’m finding out that’s not the case.

I’m not saying a reset is easy – it’s not. The first week of giving something up can be tough. But, most people can get through a 30 day reset if it’s important enough to them.

What I’m finding much harder is deciding the right line. You have to do some honest weighing up of the positives and negatives of the behaviour you’re trying to change. And you have to be realistic about where the right line is for you.

As I’ve said before, there isn’t usually a middle ground. The right line is probably closer to elimination. Whilst that narrows the gap, it’s still surprisingly tricky to get right.

I rarely get it right first time. I end up doing quite a bit of trial and error before I settle on what feels right.

After a reset period, I’ve come to realise there are three different ways to bring an addictive behaviour back into your life in a manageable way:

1. Eliminate it permanently

In some cases, it’s best to give it up forever.

This is usually the case when the negatives overwhelmingly outweigh the positives. Or, it’s a behaviour that you struggle to control.

Giving up Facebook is a good example for me. Upon deeper analysis I found no one single benefit that could convince me it was worth sticking with. The benefits I used to tell myself fell apart pretty quickly when I was honest with myself. I also had a big list of negatives. That was enough for me to give it up permanently. I’ve never felt an ounce of temptation to return.

2. Mostly give up – but do it once in a blue moon (with limits):

This is about as close to eliminating it as you can get. I find this is the best option when the positives and negatives are evenly balanced. Or, one of the negatives is so strong it’s hard to have it in your life on a frequent basis. It’s also a good option if you struggle to control the behaviour, even in a limited way.

I’ve only just realised that this is where alcohol best sits for me. After a reset, I tried to set weekly limits for myself. But even with those limits, I found the negatives were too powerful (poor sleep, less likely to wake early, less likely to exercise, less likely to plan the day, low mood etc.). I also find it too hard to stick to the limits I set myself, often going over them. This tipped the scales towards it being overall negative for me.

So now, by default, I don’t drink. I’m clear on my ‘once in a blue moon’ use cases and will always approach them with clear limits. I haven’t touched a drink in three weeks. It’s starting to get easier to consider myself a non drinker, who now and again has the odd drink on a special occasion.

3. Frequent use (with limits)

This is a good option if the positives mostly outweigh the negatives. It’s also a good option if you are confident you can be in control over the behaviour.

Caffeine is a good example for me. I cut my caffeine intake by roughly 90% since the beginning of the year.

I started off by setting a limit of one caffeine drink a day, always before midday.

I soon realised that a one caffeine drink per day limit was a bit too restrictive. I enjoy a cup of tea with my early morning routine – but I also enjoy one mid morning. The difference between one and two caffeine drinks per day isn’t significant to me. It doesn’t affect my results. So, I’ve settled on a limit of two caffeine drinks a day – always before midday.

Since I upped the limit, it feels much better. In fact, I probably still drink one cup about 50% of the time. I think that shows I’m well in control of the behaviour.

Some things will always be a struggle…

The above approaches work most of the time. But, I’ve found that some things always feel a bit of a struggle to get under control.

For me, that’s food. After doing a reset period (strict paleo), I decided permanently eliminating non paleo foods would be too hard to stick to. Plus, I wouldn’t be happy. For the same reasons, I also decided it would be too hard to mostly give up – but do it once in a blue moon. So, I settled on frequent use (with limits):

Mon – Fri:

  • Strict paleo eating (no wheat, dairy, legumes, sweeteners, chocolate, soft drinks or any processed foods)
  • Time restricted eating. Eat between 12PM – 8PM (8 hours) and fast between 8PM – 12PM (16 hours).

Weekends:

  • Ease up on strict paleo and time restricted eating. But, still make fairly sensible choices (avoid going overboard and pigging out).

Whilst I’m doing OK (in fact, better than I’ve ever done), I still have the odd slip up during the week. I also find it hard to resist a blow out at the weekend.

I don’t know why I have such a desire for bad food. It’s just something I have a temptation to over-indulge in. It’s gone on for a long time and I guess it’s something I’ll always struggle with. I’ll probably have to settle with being OK getting as close to the above limits as I can. That’s still pretty good and achieves most of my goals.

As you can see, I’ve found the reset step to actually be the easiest bit. There’s not a lot of thinking about it – you just have to put your head down and cut it out for 30 days.

Trying to work out where it should sit in your life after the reset is much harder. It requires honest analysis, good judgement and often quite a bit of trial and error. But, when you nail it – it feels great. You can’t beat being in full control, with most of the upside. That’s a great place to be.

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