Post #4 in the series Tips for Quitting: Be a Better Quitter in 7 Easy Steps. This series provides journal prompts and writing topics to enable big changes. I used this process to quit smoking, change jobs, start running, and eliminate debt. It works! Start with the first post in the series here.
In the previous post, we made a list of our payoffs. Today we’re going to talk about substitute behaviors that recreate the same feelings as those payoffs.
Once you are crystal clear about the feeling you are seeking through a behavior, you can find another method of creating the same feeling. If you simply deny that feeling, it will be very difficult to leave a negative behavior behind. So be sure to do the previous exercise before tackling this one.
I used to smoke to soothe my nerves. Smoking provides the feeling of comfort. Seeking comfort is a very instinctual human behavior, and there’s nothing wrong with it. I might quit smoking without realizing that cigarettes have been my sole source of comfort for years. So the first time an occasion arises where I need comfort, I reach for my cigarettes. If I can’t have cigarettes, I can’t have comfort.
But if I already identified my need for comfort, I can be prepared with a long, creative list of alternative sources of comfort. No cigarettes needed. It’s much easier to say, “Yes cigarettes used to comfort me. But now I have _______ for comfort.”
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to not dig down far enough to the root cause of your behavior. So you just replace the behavior with a similar one.
For example, many people use food to cope with stress. They have a bad day at the office, come home and take it out on a box of Oreos. Many women, myself included, hit the chocolate like clockwork. The standard recommendation is to replace the Oreos or chocolate with something healthier. “If you feel the urge to stress eat, at least eat something good for you,” the reasoning goes.
You don’t want food – you want comfort! There’s a big difference. The food is just a means to an end. You want to reduce stress. You want to feel better. Once you realize you’re eating for comfort, you can select another behavior that’s comforting and has nothing to do with food.
When I was giving up caffeine, I was talking to my doctor about it. He said, “Why don’t you just drink decaf?” I told him, “Duh, it doesn’t have any caffeine in it!” I mean, really. This guy got through med school?
I’m not drinking the coffee because I like coffee. I’m drinking it because I want to feel energetic. I want a boost. Decaf does not give me a boost. So if I drink the decaf, I still have not solved the problem of needing a boost. Going for a hard run, however, solves the problem. Just like coffee, it makes me feel energetic. I don’t need a replacement beverage; I need a replacement solution.
This is true of comfort eating, as well. Celery does not comfort you like chocolate does. Celery does not solve the problem. You have to think outside of the box to solve the problem.
Creating Plan B
Time to get out your journal. Turn to your list of payoffs that we created yesterday. For every feeling you identified with your list making (comfort, connection, acceptance, power, control, relief, stimulation, etc.), let’s brainstorm at least 10 alternatives. Really juicy alternatives – don’t skimp on this. What really moves you? What activity would scratch that itch?
Here are mine:
COMFORT: Alternate Sources
take a long, hot bath with coconut bubbles
have a journaling session at the café with chamomile tea
walk around Green Lake with a friend I can talk to
go to the movies
get a massage
treat myself to a new CD at Sonic Boom and listen to it beginning to end
go for a swim at the gym and then soak in the whirlpool
take a trip to the library and for new novels
Your replacement habits must be attractive and meaningful to you, so don’t take anyone else’s word for it. I found dozens of great ideas for mini comfort retreats in the Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life. If you’re a guy, you’re on your own. No book for you. Sorry.
Keep the List Handy
I always have my journal with me, so it’s easy to have all my brainstormed comfort rituals at my disposal. But if you don’t travel with yours, copy your proposed replacement behaviors on an index card or something and keep it in your wallet. It won’t be of much use to you if you don’t have access to this information in the heat of the moment. And let me tell you – in the midst of a hardcore craving, memory goes right out the window with rational thinking. You start to panic, and then you can’t think about anything constructive. So keep your list with you for emergencies.
Review the list frequently and get used to doing the replacement behaviors on it. It amazes me how little time it takes to retrain your brain. These days, when I’m feeling stressed out, I actually crave a hard run. My brain defaults to the conditioned replacement behavior.
Our brains are totally malleable. You just have to know how to shape it.
In the next post of this series, we’ll talk about discovering what motivates you. Be sure to come back or have new posts delivered via email so you don’t miss a thing.
Tips for Quitting
Visit the How to Quit series page for a list of all posts with summaries.
#1 What One Change Do You Need to Make?
#2 Do You Realize What’s at Stake?
#3 You Do It Because it Works
#4 How to Write Plan B
#5 Where’d You Hide the Chocolate?!
#6 Who’s on Your Board of Directors?
#7 Celebrate Your Success