The Little Book of Big Change – the no-willpower approach to breaking any habit, challenges the assumption that we need willpower to break our ingrained habits and addictions. (This applies whether we label them “behavioural” or “thought habits”.) Because so many of us have not yet found a solution to breaking or dissolving our habits, it feels like they are here for ever.
But based on her understanding of the logic of the Three Principles, author Amy Johnson gives hope to those who assume that these habits are now entrenched and immutable facets of their personalities and lives.
I can definitely relate to this assumption both from my past and present experiences.
I used to suffer from extreme food bingeing, feeling helpless in the face of my compulsion to eat anything and everything I could get my hands on. There is nothing pretty or graceful about a binge, whether its food, alcohol, drugs or any other form of sedative. They are all “designed” to take away an incredibly compelling urge that feels extremely frightening and uncomfortable. Based on her own research as an MD, Amy explains the biological and neurological pathways created by the misunderstanding at the root of where the habit begins. She also explains how these pathways are instantly uprooted and rewired when the misunderstanding that is keeping the habit in place falls away and insight emerges.
If you are unaware of this, it often seems as if you have no control or ability to resist the urges of your habitual and/or addictive behaviour. You assume you will be stuck with them forever. At best, you resign yourself to endless, interminable battles that – if you were a betting person – you wouldn’t back yourself to win most times.
I remember explaining to many therapists how impotent I felt once an urge seemed to overtake me. It was as if I was possessed by a power greater than me. I seemed to lose myself – and then find myself again hours later, ashamed and so very disappointed by my “abject failure”. To compound matters, the huge misunderstanding that I was at the mercy of some seemingly unstoppable addictive force was not challenged by the people I looked to for help. They also misunderstood the nature of the cycles I was trapped in and so encouraged me to use willpower and manipulation of my mind to fight these demons. This simply amplified the problem.
Amy explains how willpower can never ultimately win these battles. Even at my lowest points – when I was so confused and desperate – I knew this was true. Because the one thing you would not have called me was lazy. I was up for a fight. A good one. Yet I always seemed to lose, each and every time.
How did these addictive habits first appear on our psychological radar? At a certain point in our past, we attempted to get rid of an uncomfortable feeling or find a nicer feeling. In our delusion and innocence, a “new” habit seemed the quickest way to give us relief. Which it usually did, at least for a short while. But we quickly got hooked; I guess this is what is known as the “opiate effect”. We temporarily feel safe as we have found a way to sedate the pain and deal with unwanted feelings.
Obsessive thinking and addictive behaviours can temporarily and superficially distract us. But they will never be genuinely satisfying. And they will not give us the solution we are looking for. Actually, they simply become a vicious cycle.
It will never be satisfying because the feeling – whether painful or beautiful – (I would and still do turn to food when I am feeling good) is not coming from the outside. And so, it cannot be dealt with from the outside. All feeling, Sydney Banks explained, whether positive or negative, derives and comes alive through the Power of Thought.
It is incredibly helpful to know that our habits are not rooted in our personalities, our DNA, or our pasts. We have a capacity to live in and sit with uncomfortable feelings when we remember that they too are created from the power of Thought; the power that creates all of our experience. Every time we see the Thought-feeling connection – which tells us that all our feelings and impulses are created from the power of Thought – it becomes more and more obvious that food, alcohol, getting “likes” on Facebook, and so many other emotional and psychological needs we wish to have met, cannot put a feeling in us. This is the beginning of finding freedom from addictive behaviours and thought patterns.
Knowing the power and presence that is within will lead us to deeper feelings of wholeness inside ourselves. The Mind is a deep spiritual and psychological resource. There is nothing outside of its remit. It is replete with infinite knowledge and deeper wisdom. And we are a part of this knowledge and wisdom. Each time we realise and remember the truth of how our habits and feelings are created, false barriers to this wisdom fall away.
So no, I don’t binge like I used to in the past (it’s been over 25 years since those days). But yes, I still forget where my feelings are coming from on a daily basis. And in this forgetting, I still look to food and other distractions to help me out. But the power they once held over me is no longer. Because every time, in that moment when I once again wake up to the origin of where real power lies, of where feelings come from, there is a resetting of sorts.
We now know the singular source of misunderstanding that has created, does create and will create all addictions and habits. Armed with this knowledge, we are light years ahead of the rest of the field. Armed with this knowledge, we can break the cycles that we assumed could never be broken – no matter how hard we tried.
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