Addictive Behaviour

Through my years of practice I’ve had numerous addicts express the same curious concept to me: their addiction had a limit. Now not all addicts have the same limits, so while one person might be able to do one thing, another could do something else. So, for instance, one alcoholic couldn’t stay sober unless there was an event important to her daughter, yet in another case531 Relax and Succeed - And once the storm is over another alcoholic couldn’t stay sober even for a wedding, and yet they could if they were going to church.

There’s all sorts of forms of these limits. Crack users that stopped at needles even though they fully believed the next high would be even better. Or people who will crave painkillers but they won’t touch the one that killed their mother even if they’re jonesing. People that think they can’t control their eating and yet all day long they control their eating by making choices. I’ll give you a great example of that last one.

I like to travel by mixing with the locals and trekking etc. I think I’ve tried everything else except a cruise. I was once on a bus trip (that will seem so strange to my friends) in Europe. We arrived at a hotel where we picked up some other Canadians who had just landed late the night before. I was seated behind a woman who could be fairly described as obese. She got on the bus with a very large purse/bag, and in it she had an assortment of snacks like chips and cheezies and candies, and she shot through them very quickly.

Throughout the drive the woman was telling her seatmate all about her various attempts to lose weight. Each time she said she just did not have the will-power necessary to succeed. Keep that statement in mind for later in the trip when she’s run out of cheezies. Because as an inexperienced traveler she was shocked not to see all the brands and items she would expect to see at home. Everything looked different. She was fickle and she curled her nose in distaste. No. No, none of this will do. She’ll eat at the next stop.

531 Relax and Succeed - Believe in the powerThat happened stop after stop. She would go in, not recognize any of the packages for the foods that she ate, she would turn up her nose and she would leave without eating. There were other foods she recognized—like many chocolate bars—but she didn’t like those. She was craving a bag of Old Dutch chips or Hawkins Cheezies but they—especially way back then—didn’t have anything like that in Europe. They had their local brands. And so she went all day without eating. Not because there wasn’t crisps or chips or whatever. And not because there wasn’t chocolate in various forms and shapes. She didn’t because her thoughts told her not to. Her thoughts told her that those other foods weren’t foods because she didn’t like them. And so she does have will-power against food. She just doesn’t have it when it comes to her own thinking.

The simple fact is, that woman was hungry and there was food all over the place and yet she stopped herself by simply telling herself a story that there was no food she would accept. Because if she stayed in Europe long enough, eventually she’d get hungry enough and she would try some new things and she would eventually develop new favourites and then she would have the same problem she has now, only with European foods. The point is, on that bus trip her barriers to those foods are were made purely of thought. She didn’t believe those were foods for her so they weren’t. And until she changed that belief, turning those foods down was easy for her.

531 Relax and Succeed - Try notIf you’re battling an addiction you’re not really battling the substance or behaviour. You’re battling your thoughts about it. You see yourself as an addict and everything is weighed against that. That identity holds you back. Instead be no one. Study your thinking. Study your addictions and your restraints closely. Get to know them so well that you can see that they are subtle forms of the same idea. Your thoughts will lose power and control over you, and you will be able to exercise more volition over what you do with your time on this Earth.

Thinking you have no control is having no control. Knowing that you are capable of control means that it is simply a matter of enactment. Turn your wisdom into a verb. As Yoda said, “Do or not do. There is no try.” You don’t try to quit an addiction. You simply no longer see it as yours. Change who you think you are and a different life will seem more appropriate for you to live. Enjoy.

peace. s

Tapping Out of Awareness

Despite the fact that virtually everyone actually has an addiction, the vast majority of people will purport that they don’t have an addictive personality. In a tiny percentage of cases they’ll have actually spent some long dedicated hours earnestly studying their own behaviour. And they’ll do it systematically, to the point where they’re able to depersonalize the process to the point where they can come to the rational conclusion that they are not addicted. But rational conclusions have nothing to do with why most people would say they aren’t addicted or 514 Relax and Succeed - Meditation because some questionswouldn’t get addicted. The reason they dismiss that identity is because of their ego.

Our egos want to be liked. We want people to admire us because then we feel like they’ll keep letting us be close to them, which is our real goal. We want connection. Being liked has two sides: One is to do things that people like, and the other is to not do things that they don’t like. And since addictions are seen as weaknesses, people believe admitting such a thing would risk their connections to other people. So they immediately dismiss the idea and they point to the fact that they don’t do heroin or drink heavily, but there are all kinds of addictions that people leave completely unexamined.

Some people need to go the gym. Some need to be thin. Take those addictions to the extreme and you have those ballooned body builders that go ridiculously overboard, or an anorexic who sees herself as fat when she’s skin and bones. This the brain playing the same trick. The story it’s telling isn’t in alignment with the feedback from the actual inputs (seeing herself, others opinions etc.). People can also be addicted to eating, or sex, or smoking, or video p0ker games in casinos. Each of those things causes an appealing chemical that triggers a favourable brain response.

Our brains and nature evolved together, so while natural things impact our brain responses, we’ve also learned how to mimic that affect in the devices we create. That’s why casino owners make so much money off of the video poker games. The lights and sounds are carefully designed by brain scientists to reflect real-world events. Simply put, if you’re walking through the woods and you hear an animal rustling through the underbrush, then two things will happen. Your brain will react to something new—as in the sound—and it will process that 514 Relax and Succeed - It's your lifesound as possible food source, meaning it will have an immediate chemical attraction and that will kick in a motivation to pursue that good news until we’re eating some opossum or something. That process is what the video lottery Terminals tap into. It’s flickering lights and sounds etc. triggers our novelty then reward response.

The problem with that is; if that response is repeatedly summoned—as in say, military combat—then your brain will begin to rewire itself to constantly be ready. You’ll be on a chemical high designed to keep you awake and alert. It’s like someone giving themselves cocaine. It’s why it’s so hard for soldiers to return from war. The trauma of coming home is that they’re drug supply gets cut off and they go through an actual form of withdrawal. Well the video lottery terminal also does that rewiring to the point where you brain will begin to expect a chemical rush. Oh oh.

Oh hey—you, the non-addicted person reading this? You know what else stimulates that response that you’re around essentially all day? Your phone. You know that feeling. You haven’t had a text in a while. You wonder what might be rolling by on facebook or twitter. You wonder what the people you know are doing right now. And this entire narrative you build around wondering is created by you and for you, so that you can then use the narrative to go get your drug. Because enough of that self-talk and you’ll eventually reach for you phone and tap tap and—aaaahhhhh. There. That feels better. And almost all of you live with that tug all day long.

The problem with that is, just like with anything, if you stop you’ll go through actual withdrawal. You may have even felt it a few times already. When smartphones were still relatively new, a friend of mine’s broke and it was going to take two days to get it back. She was constantly acting weird, rubbing her arms, drinking way more coffee—she was just 514 Relax and Succeed - When you lose touchgenerally agitated and irritated. She actually said she felt sick not knowing what’s going on. Not knowing what’s going on? What are friends talking about on facebook? Lottery wins and murder? I think she’ll survive without another cat video or a texted whasup? But as trivial as almost all of the content is, it will still command you the same way that heroin beckons an addict—except way way way way more often.

The nice thing about the brain is, if you wired it one way you can wire it another. So if you want to break the ADHD addiction and learn to slow your brain down, you just have to undertake more focused activities that allow your brain to feel more relaxed and comfortable. Do things like read long articles or books, watch an entire documentary without getting up once. Don’t touch your phone on one day of the week or during certain hours. Undertake hobbies and activities that demand concentration and focus. That’s what I love about modern video games. 15 years ago they had the horrible idea to allow you to rape hookers, and today the latest version of that same game makes you do Yoga before you can advance, and that sequence requires calmness and concentration. This is how technology can make us better rather than dumber.

I’m not actually sure how you get around this. We’re talking about how your brain fundamentally works, and the simple fact is that your brain and a smartphone are not a particularly healthy match. But I very much doubt many of you will follow my lead and not have one. I’ve written before about how I don’t want my brain inadvertently reprogrammed by a 514 Relax and Succeed - If you want our life to changedevice, but most of you virtually depend on one. So I suppose the best most of you can do is to try to use it as a tool to keep you conscious.

Focus your brain on consciously recognizing the tugs of your various habits. Done right, maybe your resistance to the tug of the phone could actually propel you toward the overall rewards of heightened awareness. It’s like a mental gym that you carry around. Over time it’s entirely possible for you to be more focused on the present moment where you physically are, rather than having your consciousness on and controlled by the feed on a device delivering trivia from other times, places and people.

Concentration and focus are skills unto themselves. So if you want to know how much control you have over your thoughts, just ask yourself how uncomfortable you get when you can’t access your phone—even if it’s near you. Drive with it in the back seat and see how it feels to not be able to answer those little dings and pings. If it turns out that that’s difficult, then maybe it’s time to start regularly using your device as a signal to refocus your attention on now.

Anyhow, gotta go now. Phone’s ringing. 😉

peace. s

Pavlovian Eater

I need help with a strange addiction. I’m not overweight and I don’t overeat. But I’ve learned I will overeat under certain circumstances. Last month my sister was visiting and she kept laughing at my “Pavlovian” behaviour. She observed that I always went to get food during commercials on TV. I was suspicious of her motives when she mentioned it, and saying I did it “every time” felt ridiculous. So I watched myself over the last few months and I’ve been surprised. I didn’t get up during lots of commercials but the truth is I WANTED to get up every single time. I was surprised at how badly I wanted to get up and how important the kitchen seemed. Is Pavlovian behaviour the same as addictive behaviour? Is there a way for people to change that?

signed,
Ad-dicted

Dear Ad,

Not so strange really. Addictions all work the same way in the world of the Mind so it doesn’t matter if you’re hooked on meth, food, exercise or getting angry, the mental function is the same just the subject is different.

415 Relax and Succeed - I amHere’s how your addiction works. First off, to be like Pavlov’s Dog you need the person you spend a lot of time with doing repetitive patterns of bell-ringing and feeding. Because it’s the repetition that causes your brain to start to expect it, and as the Buddhists always say; expectation leads to suffering. So the bell rings, salivating starts but the food doesn’t show this time. So they know the salivating isn’t about the food, it’s now about the bell. So your bell is the commercials you watch and as a result the capitalists who run corporate television are people with a huge amount of very subtle influence over you.

Your brain knows everything by association. So things are all linked together in a big flat database that makes ideas out of other ideas. So like Pavolv’s dog and the bell, advertisers know that your brain associates certain sights and sounds with eating. So sizzling and dripping cheese and creamy beverages are things your brain associates with consuming food. And a lot of TV advertising is for food. So you start off your TV-watching career and you’re just watching TV. But over time Campbells and Kellogs and McDonalds and Burger King all ring their bells and urge your senses. You cave in 10% of the time, then 20%, then 30% and by the time your sister visits you’re at 100% without even noticing it happened. Because you weren’t experiencing an addiction, you were just hungry. The real question is why?

I was teaching a group once and a couple had a young son we’ll call Brett. We were at the part in the course where we’re talking about egos and how they form and I noted that they should watch their son as he’s about at the right age, and that when the ego first presents they’ll usually ascribe the voice to somewhere just because their brains know that voices come from somewhere. So maybe it’s a stuffed animal or more likely an invisible friend, but they eventually 415 Relax and Succeed - Be suspicious of what you wantdevelop an excuse for that voice and they get so used to thinking that way that we eventually become blind to it and we don’t realize we are no longer seeing the world we are seeing our thoughts about the world. But before they could even start to watch for Brett’s ego, he introduced it to them.

They had just finished lunch and Angela had belted the two other boys into their car seats in the second row and she’d climbed into the driver’s seat of the van when she looked in the rear view mirror and she could see Brett looking around the van quickly, as though he was tracking something. Angela jumped out of the van, opened the side door and leaned into the third row where Brett was. “Are you okay? Is there a bee in the van Brett?” She was concerned because she’d told her husband for several weeks to deal with the hive the bees had built in the eaves of the garage. But Brett shook his head. No bee.

I… I… I think… it’s a voice.”
A voice?”
His brow wrinkled as he considered a weird idea.
“Yeah. I think it’s in my head.”
Angela is immediately fascinated because of where we are in the course.
“You hear a voice in your head Brett?”
Yeah.”
What’s it saying?”
Brett gives this a good think before finally replying, “It says it wants Chicken McNuggets.”
What?!?!” Angela responded, horrified. “Brett we just ate.” Brett nodded his agreement.
I know. I’m not hungry. But it says it wants Chicken McNuggets.”

It.” At first it’s so strange they see it as separate from themselves. Because it is. Those words aren’t the kid’s. They belong to the parent or a character on TV or a commercial. The kid is just replaying them. “Don’t you eat those cookies!” they’ll hear as they then quietly steal cookies. Soon that voice is so ubiquitous, so consistent, so common that we cease to differentiate it from ourselves. We become word-based, symbol-based people with mechanical reactions and interactions. We do what we’re told is right not necessarily what we feel is right.

415 Relax and Succeed - It is no measure of healthSo you’re like little Brett only farther along. You’ve lived like this a while and so your voice is so subtle it’s invisible. Then your schedule created an opportunity for you to spend more time with some professional brainwashers who have used TV and your natural senses against you to create a need for a Big Mac at ten at night. But if you’re too tired to go get one, you’ll still go to the fridge and grab a slice of cheese….

The nice thing is that this is something that can be made conscious. You’ll start by catching yourself after you’ve eaten. Or as your making it. But because you’re watching for it you’ll see it sooner and sooner as your senses sharpen. Eventually you will be able to sense the desire to go, and you’ll stop it all in one deft motion. You need only familiarize yourself with yourself. Don’t presume you know you very well at all. You’re driven by those little Brett-voices. Unless you get conscious, you’ll be whoever they told you to be. So it’s good for you to become aware of what they taught you to say to yourself.

In the end this is a totally breakable habit and it’s not even hard. Just start interrupting it and eventually it will disappear due to a lack of use. Almost the same way it was formed. Just think of something different. It’s that easy. It really is.

I do hope you’ve found this helpful. Because I don’t want your diet and ergo your health dictated to you by a corporate entity with no soul. But whether you continue to eat that food or not, please enjoy your day either way.

peas. s 😉

P.S. You might also be interested in reading Cruel People.

Psychological Burnout

I’m working as a youth counsellor and I love my job. I love helping. I love it when people do great. But when they fail it kills me. I want to keep the parts of my job I like. But I can’t sleep for weeks any time one of them ends back up addicted or committing crimes. This is killing me. Do you get burned out working with your clients? And if you don’t how come you don’t?

signed,
Wick’s End

Dear Counsellor,

If you’re a counsellor and you’re willing to ask your question then I know that we don’t have to worry about you lacking humility, and that’s important. We cannot learn something unless we begin with 340 Relax and Succeed - When we are no longer ablenot-knowing.

I’d like to start by thanking you for the compassion, sincerity and dedication you appear to put into your work. These are professions that attract caring people but it’s always nice to see people getting their oar dipped into the public pond. There are many souls starved of love and we need all the angels we can find. Also, with you being a caring person I can appreciate why you would find it painful when your clients are suffering. The world is fortunate to have you working within it.

Now, to answer your question: no, I don’t really get burned out. Can I book too many sessions and tire myself out physically? Yes. But other than that do I ever get tired of discussing the Truth? Not really. Because it’s a fascinating subject and everyone uncovers it in their own unique way. I don’t sit around talking about people’s problems. I’m sure I wouldn’t enjoy that. I can listen to their problems long enough to learn enough to be able to do my thing, but I don’t want anything close to the majority of our time together to be focused on unpleasant things. You can’t get peaceful by feeling not-peaceful. My sessions are usually fun. They’re like treasure hunts.

When it comes to your practice, what you have to get is clear. You have to truly and profoundly understand that you are not there to save anyone. That is to misunderstand your role. You cannot get attached to outcomes. You can’t imagine futures where it’s all worked out for everyone. Because you don’t have control over them. All you can do is communicate with them. And you can only function in the now. And in this moment you either love someone or not. You either help them or not. You either judge them or not. There is nothing else.

Imagine that your patients are like peaches growing on a tree. You value all of them equally, but some are harder to reach than others. Even with the ladder of your education helping, you are still unable to reach some of them. You can make yourself sad wishing you had a longer ladder or a shorter peach tree , or you can be happy you’re able to save all that you are. And remember that while yes, the others will eventually 340 Relax and Succeed - Lighthouses don't go runningface the cold and they will wither and fall and bruise on the ground, that too is the natural order of things. Because it is those lost and forgotten peaches that dissolve and disappear into the landscape only to later emerge as seeds and soil for a new generation of family trees.

Don’t get caught up in results. Don’t build castles in the sky you can’t live in. Just live the moment you’re in. Do the loving, caring, compassionate thing and leave the rest to the universe. Because your clients lives are their own, not yours. Just as your happiness comes from your choices theirs comes from their choices. You can love them and educate them but you do not choose their thoughts for them. So keep it all in perspective.

Enjoy loving them and anyone like them for as long as you’re able. And revel in your successes. But there are no failures. There are only those that were too far to reach.

peace s

Your Purple Path

111 Relax and Succeed - Isn't it funnyYou want change and you want it now. Personally, socially, politically. You’ve made up your mind. Now it’s time for the world to fall into line. Ha!

Sorry. It can happen that way but it rarely does. Usually if things change they do so very gradually. That’s why I find the AA system of breaking habits to often be so tense and difficult for people to achieve. Every time they have a drink or do their drug they have failed. That seems so big and final. It presents so many opportunities for failure. Sure: quitting suddenly and cold turkey is one legitimate way to quit. But so is slowly quitting something. Even if that something isn’t a drug or a drink—even if that something’s a someone.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Yes you have to walk uphill for a while as you acquire new habits. But don’t berate yourself while you climb. It only makes the hill steeper. You’re not supposed to go from blue to red. If you’re blue, then go trade some blue for some red and turn yourself aubergine. Then keep doing that. Because with that simple action you will move from blue to aubergine to purple to mauve to rose and only then will you get to red. That is more often how change happens, so do not be critical of yourself for being purple when you simply have to pass through purple to get to red.

111 Relax and Succeed - The secret of changeYou don’t stop drinking. You don’t stop taking drugs. You don’t stop an unhealthy behaviour or relationship. You replace them. You don’t need to throw your old life out, you need to start building your new one. Because dot by dot, molecule by molecule, experience by experience you will ultimately change your world by changing yourself.

The way to change is not through making a proclamation or an announcement—it’s not by pinning some date on a calendar, having a ceremony, or through some grandiose gesture. The way to change is to simply decide what colour you want to be and then grab some of that colour whenever it’s available.

To make room for the new colour you’ll have to leave behind some of the old. Before you know it, you’ll look back and realize that you’ve become someone new. And you will realize that you did it one step at a time. And you will also realize that not every single step was forward. And that’s entirely okay. Do not define yourself. Simply movie in a direction. You will be fine.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

AA Or Your Way?

Everyone has someone they want to be. They want to be thinner, or happier, or more relaxed. And they’re perpetually disappointed by their inability to change into that other person. The reason that change is difficult is because they’re trying to change into someone they’re not, rather than trying to be fully themselves.

50 Relax and Succeed - Welcome to todayFor instance, addicts don’t really want to give up their addictions. In my practice, they’re always the slowest to sign up. They’ll call and discuss the idea with me for some time before committing. The reason is they get the sense they’ll actually quit with me, so part of their journey is acceptance of the idea that they could actually imagine themselves as a non-addict.

I’ve had a lot of success helping people kick everything from painkillers to cocaine to alcohol. The interesting part is, I didn’t do that by trying to get people to kick painkillers, cocaine or alcohol. Rather than getting them to stop enjoying the islands of numbness that dot their otherwise painful life, I got them to start enjoying the seas in between those islands. Eventually they very naturally come to the point where they don’t stop drinking, they start living. They knew the islands were there, but they were simply less attractive when the sailing was good.

Can you see the subtlety in that? If you try to change, you will feel resistance to change. If you accept who you are and use that as a foundation to grow into the person you intend  to be, then there is no resistance—you’re like a sailboat following the wind. There’s nothing forced about that. You’re not struggling against a headwind to go in some direction because you think it’s right. Instead you’re working with your own nature, going the way that makes sense. You do it all the time, but you don’t think about those things like smoking or drinking or drugs.

That famous experiment with the rats taking heroin instead of food until they died? The one that proved how powerful addictions were? Well that experiment’s been redone except they put the rats with the source of heroin into a space that included rat maze with a bunch of fun 50 Relax and Succeed - A smooth seastuff to do. And you know what? No addicted rats. They had some heroin, but over time mostly they just played on the available toys and habitats.

AA and the like ask you to push against your addiction. They encourage you to make the addiction very real every day. They even tell you you’ll always have it—that it will define you for the rest of your life. I have trouble hanging around many AA “successes” because all they do is talk about not drinking. Well I’m sorry, but talking about not drinking is just another way of talking about drinking. If AA’s helped you and you’re loving your life that’s terrific—I truly am super happy for you. But in most cases what I see in the AA approach is tension and a fear of failure. Everyone feels like they’re clinging because they feel like they’re constantly battling the “fact that they will always be an addict.”  Well that simply isn’t true and I have a lot of examples of people who prove it by living differently.

First off, don’t feel alone. Remember that a large percentage of the population is anaesthetized with either alcohol or some form of legal or illegal drug. Other than people who’ve only been using for a very short time I have yet to meet the addict who’s not trying to quit. But that kind of quitting will cause you to beat yourself up and that will only serve to make those islands even more attractive. Forget how ugly the seas feel and focus instead only on your sailing. Get to enjoy that and the islands won’t seem anywhere near as important and you certainly won’t feel motivated to interrupt a good time sailing just to stop at one.

Stop trying to change. Accept who you are. You will only change by following your bliss and you will naturally grow into the next—and bigger—version of yourself. But like water finds low ground you must choose your path by nature. You must not try. Simply move towards what feels good. Eventually whatever you’re addicted to will simply fade in value next to all of the goodness you will have accumulated.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s