Treat yourself with ease! Be gentle with yourself! Give yourself self-care! Practice compassion!
Okay, got it. I’m down with that.
And also? With those places in your life where change is most necessary?
Lean. The fuck. In. Put a little grit into it. Make it a personal mission not to let yourself off the hook on a regular basis.
Why? Because behavior patterns can be addictive, and one of the things that supports any addiction is when someone doesn’t really put some ooomph behind changing.
Alcoholics can’t say, “Well, it’s been a hard day—I’ll let myself off the hook and have a drink.” That’s the addiction talking.
When it comes to our most dysfunctional behavior patterns, I believe that telling ourselves one too many times, “Well, I’ll just take it easy” is one of the deceptive, illusory ways that old habits stay squarely in place.
All of those self-help articles telling you to take it easy? Or that if it isn’t easy, it’s some kind of sign that you’re not on the right track?
Yes, sometimes they’re spot on. But when it comes to the stuff that just ain’t working in your life, it’s time to cut the shit, and get committed to shifting.
Addictive Behavior Patterns
Addictive behavior is behavior that you don’t feel you have much control over.
Like a chemical addiction, at first a person isn’t really aware that they’re turning to the same behavior, over and over and over, until a serious problem emerges.
For instance, handling conflict in your marriage in the same way, over and over and over, is something many people aren’t aware of until serious fissures in the marriage appear.
Once those cracks appear, most people at least initially think, “I’d like to change this.” Awesome. But the next time a disagreement happens, the same patterns run and an argument happens—again, just as the alcoholic might decide to drink less—but then, they end up drinking more than they’d thought they would.
For most people caught in an addictive cycle, this is going to play out, multiple times, until the person truly sees the cost of her addiction, decides to get sober, and puts all of her effort into recovery.
For the person immersed in an addictive behavior? She’s got to truly see the costs of her behavior, decide to stop, and put all her effort into changing.
The Shame of Seeing
We don’t change because we’re afraid of the shame we’ll feel when we truly see.
Confession: I used to be one of those “bad-ass” people who would tell people exactly what I thought of them when I was upset. If you crossed me? I was going to put you in your place and let you have it. I didn’t “take any shit.”
How many friends did I lose, from this behavior? Um, a lot. It was awhile before I finally understood—if this behavior didn’t change, I was going to lose more people I cared about.
As soon as I saw that cost, and as soon as I truly saw what my behavior was doing to my relationships, what rose up next?
Incredible, crippling shame. I decided to walk through that shame because I saw that every other time, I’d run scurrying away.
When the costs and rewards are great, you’ve got to fucking double-down on change.
The Path of Most Resistance
When you really get that a behavior pattern isn’t working—when your relationships, your career, your finances, your health, your kids, your sense of self-worth—is at stake, you’ve got to pony up and commit to change the way an alcoholic has got to commit to recovery.
This is not the “path of least resistance.” It’s the path of most resistance. Your resistance is going to rise up, strong, and it’s going to be gnarly.
For awhile, when you are changing an addiction, all the thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and triggers that propped it up are going to show up. For an alcoholic, it’s the thought, “A drink would be nice” and the belief “Drinking would solve this problem” and the behavior of habitually grabbing that extra bottle of wine or the trigger of piling on too much work.
For behavior addiction—let’s use the example of people-pleasing—it’s the thought, “I don’t want her to be mad at me,” and the belief “Good people always help out when asked” and the behavior of saying “yes” without thinking first, or the trigger of noticing that someone seems upset with you.
This shit is hard. It’s the path of most resistance. This is not the time to listen to the self-help sing-song of “Choose ease.”
You Can Do Both
At the same time that you’re deciding to really commit to change, you can still be kind.
You do not have to become a drill sergeant, to get yourself to change.
You can be absolutely ruthless in drawing a firm boundary with yourself—“I’m aware of this behavior pattern, and I am absolutely committed to changing it”—while also being kind towards yourself when you inevitably stumble or falter.
Abusing yourself only perpetuates patterns.
Also? Excusing yourself only perpetuates patterns.
The day of reckoning is a hard one, for most people. Scurrying away because it’s hard doesn’t make it any easier. Your life will always, eventually, present its bill—the sum total of all of those choices, both the choices to change as well as the choice not to.