To change our behaviour we have to make a decision. Nothing about what we do will change, until we make a genuine, committed decision to change. Before we can decide to make that change, something, or someone, has to make us stop, and think about, how we behave – what we do.
There are many ways to arrive at that point where we decide to change what we do:
It might be a split second impulse to do something, or it might be a problem we agonize over for years, such as deciding to quit smoking, or stop drinking so much (or not at all). Or maybe it’s a decision to reach out for help because we know in our hearts that we have an addiction.
Some decisions are really easy, for example:
Example 1: We feel hungry, so we decide to eat.
Unless we are on a diet, most people make that decision without much thought.
A more complicated decision might be:
Example 2. Someone invites us out for a drink, and we make a quick calculation in our heads – and depending on how the for-and-against arguments balance out for us, we decide to either accept the invitation, or we make an excuse so we don’t have to go.
Example 3. Our boss tells us to do something we don’t really want to do, and we make a decision about whether we will do it, or not. Just like above example about going out for a drink, we quickly make a for-and-against calculation before deciding what we will do.
The important thing to notice about all three examples is that:
No one ever ‘makes’ us do anything
We always make a Decision – a Choice – for Ourselves
No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we calculate our personal for-and-against arguments and make a decision based on how those opposing forces balance out for us at that time, and in those circumstances.
We make the choice by choosing the action that we feel best satisfies our competing needs – advantages vs disadvantages – whatever they are at that time in our lives.
But whichever alternative we choose, that decision is based on how we think and feel about those different alternatives, and how they personally tally up for us at the time. Then we act on that decision. It is our decision. No one else has ‘made’ us make that decision for us.
Other people’s needs might be an influencing factor in the equation, but the weight we assign to their needs, vs our own personal needs, depends entirely on us, and how we feel. The choices and decisions we make are always our own.
Making Difficult Decisions Always Involves Psychological Conflict
If we are doing something in our lives that we know we want to do, but we also know that we shouldn’t really be doing, we have conflicting forces waging war in our heads. Our decisions about what we choose to do, are based on which force wins.
Other people may argue, or threaten or try to persuade us to change our behavior, but until the balance of our own personal for-and-against forces comes down on the side of change, change will not happen.
So, in order to change what we do in our lives, we have to find a way to shift how we think and feel about that balance of personal for-and-against factors.
What Does it Take to Make Us Decide?
Sometimes it’s an event or some dramatic change in our lives that suddenly shifts that balance for us. Or it might be the increasingly painful knowledge that we are damaging our family by continuing with what we do. Situations like that can sometimes shift the balance for us, and push us to decide to change. See the article: What Will It Take Before You Ask for Help and How and Why I Gave Up Smoking
It doesn’t matter if it’s a decision to go out to dinner, or to quit smoking, or to phone the Help Line – we still make those mental calculations in order to decide. And it always involves psychological conflict – which side will win in the battle of our For and Against motives. And we always choose the course of action that seems most attractive to us, at that time.
It all comes down to how we think and feel.
It’s important to realize that this process doesn’t guarantee that what we decide to do, is in fact, the choice that’s in our own best interests. If we have an addiction we might find that choosing to continue our addiction, comes out ahead of deciding to reach out for help – our personal ‘For’ reasons to continue, out-weigh our ‘Against’ reasons for continuing.
But that doesn’t mean we’ve made the choice that will be in our own best interest in terms of being healthy, happy, or successful in our lives.
That is the power of addiction.
It alters how we feel, how we think, and what are needs are, and therefore, what we do. A central goal of rehabilitation programs is to try to ‘reset’ our thoughts and feelings towards a more balanced and rational way of thinking and feeling. To reach a point where our For quitting reasons, genuinely win out over our Against quitting reasons.
Without some change in the way we think and feel, no decision to change our behaviour will be successful in the long term.
How Rehab Works
This is why it is so important that anyone with an addiction doesn’t leave rehab right after Detox, because there hasn’t been enough time for real and lasting change to take place in how they think and feel. And that is one of the main reasons why relapsing back into addiction is so common.
If their mind set hasn’t changed in some committed way, the old addictive behavior is very likely to still have it’s unbreakable hold over them. Despite their best intentions, once they re-enter their old world, with all the same temptations that led them into addiction in the first place, they are very likely to fall back into their old ways.
When they encounter these temptations again, and if they are still thinking and feeling the same way they did before entering rehab, relapse is almost certain. It’s not enough to know what they should be thinking and feeling, their attitude and beliefs about their addiction have to genuinely change.
So how is that done?
Staying in rehab and getting help and support over time, can help addicts to see and believe that it is, in fact, possible, to overcome their addiction. Not because they believe they have the will power to just say No, but because they have changed in their views about their life, and their hopes for the future. This beginning of Hope and belief in the possibility of a better life, begins to become a stronger driver than their desire to continue their addiction.
They can begin to see that there is still the possibility of a life of freedom and opportunity available to them. Then they can begin to genuinely believe that they have the ability to break free, and change, because now, they really want to – now they think and feel differently about themselves and what they want to achieve in their lives. When an addict comes to genuinely believe in their heart, that lasting change is actually possible, hope is restored, and they are well on the way to Recovery.
Detox is Not Enough on It’s Own
It’s true that after Detox, there aren’t any drugs in the body anymore, and an addict’s intentions to change their ways may well be good. Perhaps they really do believe they are strong enough to resist the intense cravings of their addiction, but unfortunately, it’s usually more complicated than just relying on our determination, and strength of will.
Detox is a necessary first step, but the path to recovery usually requires more than that. It’s very unlikely that a person’s attitudes, ambitions, self-belief, and belief in, and hope for the future, have changed very much during the few days required for Detox.
The consequence is, that in most cases, those good intentions to use willpower to defeat their addiction, will not work in the long term.
Health professionals, and people helping addicts in Rehab, will try to lead someone with an addiction to a place where their ‘reasons to quit’ really do outweigh their ‘reasons to continue’. This is done in a variety of ways which can be grouped together under the title of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short.
I’ll explain more about CBT in later articles. Also see my article on how to use The For and Against Decision Making Chart.
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