Last week we defined addiction, the steps leading to addiction, including the parts of the nervous system involved, and the "Avoidance Cycle." As you recall, the Avoidance Cycle (AC) begins with the individual's attempt to not repeat the unwanted behavior. The AC starts with an earnest commitment to resist the unwanted behavior. Because resistance/avoidance is a doomed strategy, the individual eventually relents to their overly dramatic and insistent Responder's demands that the script is followed as ordered. The person emerges frustrated, shamed, but determined to resist in even harder the next time.
We ended the article with the question, "Is there a way to stop the cycle?" The answer is a resounding, "yes!" "How?" you ask. By replacing the old, automatic script, with a new powerful script that puts your Director back in charge. Avoidance and willpower (or white-knuckling) are not the answer. Instead, you are going to learn how to manage your thoughts, feelings, and urges with a powerful tool: "Face It - Replace It - Connect."
We begin with a Face-it Statement. The 'it' is the unwanted script you have tried for so long to resist. Let's say you are feeling bored, burnt out, lonely, angry, stressed, or tired. To distract yourself from these distressing thoughts and feelings, your brain's Responder orders the "relief from stress script." The script says that in the past, you have turned on the computer and viewed Internet pornography (the unwanted behavior) when experiencing stress. But this time instead of resistance/avoidance or white-knuckling through the powerful dopamine and endorphins urging you to obey the Responder's script, you substitute the Responder's script with a new script. "This is my Responder taking charge again, giving me the urge to look at Internet pornography. It may be exciting and pleasurable for a moment, but I end up wasting away hours with images that not real. I am thinking in terms of body parts, not the "whole" person. Afterward, I feel empty, depressed, and lonely. I can do better than this." You just Faced It.
Now you are going to "replace" the old script with a bold description of what you want and how you will feel. New Script: "It feels good to put my Director in control and start building new circuitry by connecting with real people. I am searching for meaningful relationships because it is more fulfilling and make me feel like a better person. I get peace and feel a sense of well-being. This is what I really want."
Now you are ready to "Connect." "I am going to call somebody (wife, significant other, children, friend, co-worker, brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt, neighbor) and have a meaningful conversation."
Face it - Replace it - Connect.
I wish there a magic wand you could wave or you could tap your heels together while saying "Face it - Replace it - Connect" and your unwanted behavior(s) would disappear. Forming new habits is analogous to how forest trails are formed. A path or trail is the result of repeated trips over the same terrain. The more times the trail is used, the more prominent and enduring it becomes. Similarly, thanks to the human brain's plasticity, new neural pathways can be formed and strengthened by the conscious repetition of your new scripts and behavior.
For example, write down your new script. For support, tell a trusted friend or member of a support group about your new script. Schedule four or more times during the day to practice your new script. Mindfully, visualize your success.
One last thing. Make sure you are making these changes in your quest to become a better and happier you. You are awesome and lovable just the way you are.