Is this what comes to mind when you think of the vices that hijack your day? The things we resort to for the instant dose of dopamine and escape from the dirty dishes, incomplete project or loneliness?
Tuesday, June 2. 10:30 pm. A few days post OCB Colonial Open. I find myself standing in the kitchen mindlessly watching a stream of Russian stand up comedy and spooning trail mix into my mouth. Do I love trail mix? Yeah... I wasn't savoring it though. I didn't even put it into a bowl. I didn't sit down. I wasn't even looking at the food. I was looking at the screen and spooning the trailmix what seemed like into the black hole of post show emptiness. And I had just had dinner, so I wasn't hungry either...
Feels like after the major goal (competing in a bodybuilding show) has been accomplished, and the result has been even better than I could have desired (7 awards, woooooah!). Now there is a huge void inside of me, and no amount of trail mix and stand up comedy or calling friends and loved ones is able to fill that abyss.
I have just quit smoking too. Not many know, 2 weeks before my first show I was so depleted and mentally exhausted, cigarettes happened. Devoid of any other pleasures (couldn't have food, didn't have energy to do anything physical - from playing and running with dog and social functions to intimacy), I have allowed myself to smoke a few a day to get through the day. After the shows when I could eat off the meal plan, had more energy to be out with friends and for creative projects (writing, painting), lift heavy again and pick up more work, smoking peeled off the "vices" list unnoticeably. thankfully, a month wasn't enough to have developed a physical addiction. However, the "soul hole" hasn't been filed. The activities listed above just replaced "bandaid" with negative health impacts with the one that has less side effects.
Now, here's a $1,000,000 question:
What soul hole was the vice attempting to fill?
I've started focusing on the internal feeling and self talk that led to winding up with a tub of ice cream or bag of trail mix or checking instagram for an hour. It was loneliness and the lack of a new exciting goal, something rewarding to work for as well as external validation of friends, coworkers and judges. The monkey brain was resorting to instant gratification trying to comfort and make me fill better. It cares - in the only simpleton way it can. The shitty part is, it doesn't understand the long term consequences of this "caring"... As a lucky owner of that brain, I can though - with enough patience and effort.
Every time I reached for the phone to check email or social media during an important task (which has been proven to spike our dopamine, one of the pleasure hormones), or found myself wanting for something to snack on even when I wasn't hungry, I started writing. I'd close my eyes, take a couple deep breaths and focus on how I FELT inside. There was always something negative screaming to be noticed: boredom, sadness, loneliness, frustration, etc. Feelings aren't rational, which is why they are great pointers on what we're lacking in our life. And for that exact reason when we FEEL a certain way can take a huge negative or positive impact on our life by triggering a certain action.
For example, you love running, but you FEEL lazy because you snooze the alarm every other morning and skip you morning jog. It doesn't matter that in reality - you're an accomplished person with a family, a job, a bunch of hobbies and great friends. If you FEEL lazy and let that emotion run your life, it will eventually propagate to other areas of your life and demand an instant proof of worthiness. Like instant coffee, instant gratifications are not the most efficient things. All they do is - make you feel better for a short period of time, but typically have a negative long-term effect. Say, you missed a deadline at work even though it may not have been your fault and blame yourself again - "Why am I so lazy!? I could have stayed late and pushed through!" So, you come home and clean your apartment or reorganize your wardrobe. It didn't need to be done, but now monkey brain is happy that there has been an action with an immediate result disproving the original assumption that you're a lazy person... And cleaning is one of the innocent examples. You could also go out with friends that will always encourage you and collect a bouquet of the external validation about how productive and badass you are, yell at a coworker that slowed the team down, or go play video games for the next 4 hours completing 4 new levels for your character...
If your work is always tough to manage, or you snooze without realizing the instant gratification of a coffee and muffin from Dunkin is a response filling those dopamine stores on a consistent basis - in a couple weeks, you've got a worse problem to deal with. A habit. A vice that is always there for you to escape the guilt, worthlessness or any other negative emotion is too much to handle for the monkey brain.
What do do?
If you're reading this post and a bunch of "instant feel good" vices come up in your head, congrats - the first step is done. Slow down, sink into the emotion that triggers the brainless protective behavior and investigate what it's trying to help you do. Is it trying to help you feel worthy and accomplished again? Is it trying to raise your self esteem and the illusion of inclusivity? Grab a notebook and write a bunch (at least 5) of other activities that help you feel included, accomplished and worthy. Focus on things that are applicable in various situations - at home, at work, on the road, in a restaurant, etc. Being prepared never hurts. Next time the silent rage reaches your brain, you've got a bunch of tools to tackle it with. Now, making a bad decision becomes a choice.
Why do I need to write this down?
Glad you asked! You don't, but you want results, right? It's hard enough to slow down and recognize the angry emotion that triggers you to do useless shit, now you want to ask your future self to come up with solutions on the spot once the mind is already foggy and irritated? Good luck. You're writing it down for the same reason you write a grocery list before going shopping, or put doctors appointments into your calendar ample with reminders. The less you need to think in time of stress, the more likely you'll be able to break the pattern of a bad habit, or an unwanted behavior and pick something else that will result in a similar aftermath, just with less negative consequences.
This week notice the "trigger" (pat yourself on the back when you do!) and try doing one of the better options you've come up with instead. Reflect how you feel after. Write down or take a mental note - on a scale of 1 to 10 how much of the original "bad habit" satisfaction did the alternative behavior bring? What is missing? What can you add to fill this gap?
If you miss the trigger and still do the bad habit thing, don't stress it.
- Its done.
- You've noticed, and awareness is key, so good job.
- More chances to try later :)
Treat it as a fun game on how many times during the next week you can replace and reflect. Write down how you FEEL after. try to beat that number the following week :) I will too!