As the New Year arrives, a collective cultural discussion erupts about wrapping-up the old and anticipating the new. Often that’s transformed into expectations that you consider a new habit for the New Year. If you’ve ever embraced the new-habits energy that blows in with the New Year, you’ve experienced the surge of determination. Motivation quickly ensues, briefly at least, as you enjoy that anticipation of the new you.
But have you noticed something trailing closely behind your determination, especially if your commitment includes new eating and exercising habits? An idea shows up touting the wisdom of a final splurge of your favorite foods or one more morning of extra sleep before facing the gym? The desire for “just one more time” is a thing, a ritual for your transition from the old to the new habit.
The just-one-more-time ritual affords you the dual pleasure of your current habits along with the idea of having successfully adopted new ones—fabulous moment. But how often has the just-one-more-time ritual essentially launched a short-lived experiment that ends in failure, discouragement, and cynicism that leads you to stop even trying?
Meet Your Saboteur
If you’ve experienced this demoralizing sabotage of your determination, welcome to the human experience! I’d like to introduce you to your saboteur par excellence—Urges.
She’s Got it Going On
Urges is one talented orchestrator. She has cultivated a bevy of strategies to perfect her craft and she thrives on experience. Her playing field of choice is your mind. Her primary tools are thoughts and emotions.
One-Two Punch: Thoughts and Emotions
For example, Urges plants those just-one-more-time thoughts and persuades you of the tortured reasoning. Then she shows up a few days later begging you to forget the whole thing. “Stop depriving yourself,” she insists.
“Eat or you’ll get hungry.” “What harm is there in skipping the gym one day, or just this one week?” And on and on she goes.
Her real power lies in the use of emotions, which are experienced in your body as a rapid heart rate, tight chest or jaw, hunched shoulders, dry mouth, etc. You will very often do anything she says if she starts throwing around uncomfortable emotions such as anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, confusion, and worst of all, failure. Many of these she only needs to hint at the possibility of using them and you do whatever she suggests—grab the phone, play a game, look busy, surf the net, shop, eat, flirt with your colleague, gossip, etc.
She’s Got Your Number!
Rest assured Urges knows you inside and out. She’s quite good at convincing you that she IS you. Urges claims to know what’s best for you. She doesn’t!
Urges thrives on your human desire to avoid pain, arouse fear, and seek pleasure and novelty. She has mastered these. Mostly she uses threats to keep you behaving in the same old way with the same old habits.
Urges is part of a habit trilogy along with Routine and Reward. Urges knows the Reward you desire, and you’ve learned the Routine to receive the Reward. Urges job is to trigger your habit Routine or behavior so you can receive your Reward. Let’s face it, some of the habits Urges leads you to are fabulous! That’s obviously not a problem.
My Challenge to You!
I’m challenging you to change your relationship with Urges.
No Need to Invite Willpower and Self-Criticism to the Party
No, I’m not suggesting you take a conventional approach of bringing in Willpower. Urges has some concern about Willpower, but she most often can outlast him.
I’m definitely not suggesting you enlist Self-criticism. Ironically, Urges appreciates your full and joyful obedience, but she’s very skilled with using Self-criticism as her partner in crime.
You have many other options for changing your relationship that don’t involve Willpower or Self-Criticism. For example:
- You can learn to recognize her presence much quicker.
- You can practice simply sitting with Urges more often and longer before obeying her.
Here’s the Simple Strategy:
Part 1: Get to know Urges. Observe these things about her
- When does she visit you?
- What thoughts does she use?
- What emotions does she threaten you with or give you a small taste of before you quickly start behaving as she expects?
Part 2: Once you have learned something about her approach, you’re ready to resist.
- Most powerful resistance: Experience the emotion she threatens. Simply sit with her. Don’t tell her stories. Don’t offer her new thoughts for company.
- Develop a mantra to share with her when she comes visiting and touting. This will be your one-sentence answer to Urges. (see an example below)
Part 3: Collect your experiences of NOT obeying Urges.
- Literally collect them in a notebook, in a Google doc or Word document, somewhere you can review them, admire them, celebrate them, and learn from them. Write what you did NOT do despite Urges best efforts.
- As you collect unanswered urges, you will learn more and more about how Urges works. As you repeatedly disobey Urges, she will weaken and appear less frequently. One day you’ll notice she’s never returned.
Gateway to Freedom for Urges
When you learn more about Urge’s powerful strategies, you will have made a vital first step in weakening her since Urges works best undercover. The magic comes when you willingly experience one of her threats—one of the negative emotions she throws at you when you disobey her. When you gain the courage to allow one of Urges’ threats to simply be with you, you’ll learn an invaluable lesson. This will be the gateway to your freedom.
Real freedom from Urges comes when she leaves you completely and you no longer experience her presence or her strategies. The road to freedom from Urges, however, begins when you recognize her visiting patterns and understand her strategies for eliciting your full cooperation.
I know you can do this! Start small.
My Urges Victory
I used this strategy to stop my half-century addiction to diet sodas, particularly Tab (yes, it still exists). I had tried and failed many times before using this strategy. After I caught on to all of Urges’ visiting times, justifications, thoughts, and emotions, I prepared for battle with this mantra: “Just because I want to drink poison doesn’t mean I need to—thank you for the offer.” I whipped that mantra out every time Urges showed up with all her tools. After consistently disobeying Urges for 2 months she finally went away. I noticed she only returned on long road trips where she had visited me for decades. But I discovered unsweetened tea in a bottle and she finally gave up. I’ve been free of her for more than 18 months!
Choose at least one area of your life where you’re dissatisfied with Urges’ dominating presence or at least the frequency of her visits. Use the strategy I outlined above and start getting to know her. Make your goal to change your relationship with her. The more the relationship changes, the sooner and more complete her absence will become.