“Getting sober is not a purely physical phenomenon. It requires a transformation at multiple levels of a person’s being. One must heal the physical body, the mental body, one must connect with one’s breath, one must develop a connection with one’s innate wisdom and one must also develop the capacity to experience bliss. These different levels of a person’s being are referred to in yogic philosophy as the 5 Koshas or sheaths. These different layers of our being all must be recognized and accessed if we are to become wholehearted.” -tommy rosen, author of Recovery 2.0
I love this quote and I’m really looking forward to Rosen’s book, due out later this year. I can’t speak to the 5 Koshas just yet, but I always have plenty to say about the power of transformation, no doubt;)
It’s true, we cannot fix many of our problems with technical means. Just taking away sugar, after learning how harmful it can be, for an extended period of time, for instance, without any change in our behavior, thinking, and/or awareness is not enough. After all, the systems that created the habit in the first place are well locked in place.
Information alone won’t do it. We must transform our thinking and behaviors to create new neuropathways that establish healthier habits. This is an adaptive challenge, as opposed to a technical challenge: mindset vs. skillset, if you will.
This is why New Year’s resolutions don’t last very long. We are looking for the answers to come from a skill, a new idea, or increased willpower. According to studies at Harvard, only about 5-8% of us can actually solve adaptive challenges through technical means.
Which means, for something like dieting, we’re going about it all wrong. Duh, right?
I remember when I quit smoking over ten years ago now, I unknowingly did so through adaptive means. I changed my behaviors, which helped to change my mindset.
I had been smoking for over a decade, so I remember the anxiety that came up at the thought of quitting. It sounds funny now, but things like, “What will I do with my friends?” surfaced. Or, “What will I do while I wait for someone, just stand there?” (This, of course, was before smart phones.)
I didn’t know what I’d do while I drove, how I’d digest my dinner, or even what I’d do after sex.
I knew deep down I wanted to quit. I had read all the facts; I’d started to hate it, in fact. But still, all that wasn’t enough.
My Gma smoked for forty years and I remember her telling me that when she finally quit, she did so by taking walks. This was after her cancer diagnosis, mind you, and it still took some big transformative changes.
Nothing else seemed to be working for me, so I figured why not try her method. I had my straw in one hand, cut down to the size of a cigarette, which never helped in terms of quitting, bt-dub, as I walked around the block. No matter what time … midnight or later even.
Soon that walk turned into a jog, and for a long-time athlete, I was mortified at how breathless I was when I ran, furthering my motivation to quit.
What I was unconsciously doing each time I craved a cigarette though, was rewiring my brain. The trigger, I want a cigarette didn’t turn up a cigarette anymore, instead it turned up a healthier habit … a walk.
I also got a shot of Dopamine, the happy neurotransmitter you get from doing something healthy and nurturing, a double dose, in fact, by being out in nature. Dopamine plays a number of roles, but two important ones, especially for any adaptive challenge is motivation and reward. BOOM!
Aside: Dopamine producing activities include exercise, meditation, taking a bath, gardening, art/crafts, reading a book, getting out in nature, and the like. AS OPPOSED TO: TV, Facebook, food/sugar, cigarette, alcohol, drugs*, our typical “rewards.”
Since quitting smoking, I have been able to quit drinking for long stretches of time, quit sugar almost entirely, and adopt several healthy habits with not nearly as much difficulty as it would have been before. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not quite in the 5-8% just yet, but I’d say, in some categories, I’m getting there.
And for someone who got all N’s (needs improvement) in self control on every report card as a child, which set the stage, of course, for my first twenty-five years, I’m walking proof: If I can do it, you can do it.
I leave you with this: Go on a Dopamine dig! Pick a habit, no matter how big or small that you’d like to change and take it on holistically: mind, body, soul. Be kind to yourself if, and when, you fail, and start over–as I did–again, and again. In all transparency, it took me about 6 months to a year to quit. Had I not been just out of college [read: an avid binge drinker], it may have happened sooner. One thing at a time, right?
*Some very addictive drugs increase Dopamine, but I
think hope it’s obvious that that is not the reward we’re after;)