By Barnes Boffey
Barnes Boffey, EdD; Director of Training, Aloha Foundation… www.alohafoundation.org
In 12 steps programs, it is frequently noted that most people looking for relief from their pain have systematically tried “an easier, softer way” to relieve that pain rather than the actual necessary step of stopping their addictive behavior. I don’t think I would be overstating it to say that what most Americans are actually addicted to is the “easier softer way.” From a very young age we are taught that you don’t necessarily have to follow any specific paths to get a result — there is always a way around undesired choices.
Is there anyone who can’t relate to the hope that each time we go to the doctor’s office that he/she will come up with something else besides “diet and exercise” as the long-term keys to physical health. “C’mon, Doc,” we think, “there’s got to be another way…a pill, a shortcut, even a magic potion…anything but those two things.”
A simple fact of mental health is that if you want to have a specific emotion, you have to think what people who have that emotion think, and do what people who have that emotion do. If we want to feel courageous or proud, for example, we have to do what courageous and proud people do.
The great American dream is that we can feel those feelings without having to do those things; and in fact there is one way to do that… drugs. What any drug does is to allow you to feel a certain feeling without it being tied to a behavior. So, the side issue here is that when we stop drugging, we have to learn to behave in new ways in which behaviors are in line with emotions.
When we move to internal control rather than external control, the questions we use to guide our lives change. Previously, for example, I used to ask myself the question, “If I want to feel proud or courageous, what do I need to do to feel that?”
It’s a subtle shift, but that is the wrong question. The correct question is, “If I were feeling proud and courageous, what would I be doing?” And then do it… whether I feel like it or not. The error in our thinking is to wait to feel an emotion before making the change. We may say,” I don’t feel very proud of myself; how can I apply for that job?” What we should be saying is” If I were feeling proud of myself, would I apply for that job?” If the answer is “yes,” then we should go ahead and apply even though we don’t feel like it.
Healthy people make changes based on how they want to feel rather than making the change based on how they are feeling at the moment.