I have had many conversations in my office about stopping a bad habit. These habits often include things like eating junk food, negative thoughts, smoking, over-spending, anger outbursts, or a repeating argument in a relationship. Clients will often say they “just want to stop” or “I don’t want to do it anymore” or “I try not to think about it.” However, the attempts at not doing something can be just as addictive as the habit itself.
Instead, I encourage clients to think of crowding out the habit with your preferred outcome. This works in two ways. One you are spending time thinking about what you would prefer to be doing (instead of doing or not doing the habit). Two it becomes easier to succeed. We can all commit to doing less of what we want to change or practice starting a new habit. And by focusing on the replacement you begin to untangle yourself from the habit making it easier to forget about entirely.
It was the last day of my first year of graduate school and one of my professors was leaving. I don’t remember why we were talking or how the subject even came about but she said, “My best supervisor once told me, therapy is a series of awkward conversations.” I remember the complete sigh of relief I felt. As if everything I had done up until that point had new meaning.
I remember this moment so well because I relive it all the time. I have come to believe that most conversations worth having are awkward or at least have some awkward moments.
In a world of consumerism where things are continually dressed up or pitched in a calculated way, being truly authentic is awkward. Our brains have been trained over time by the television to consume production value and price points.
The key isn’t avoiding the awkward it is re-framing it. That awkward feeling may actually be authenticity. Those moments that have a level of discomfort are often the deepest and most fulfilling. And the moments that are truly worth something won’t feel like a smoothly executed scene in a movie.
Recently I have been reading a lot about the Western States 100 race that took place two weeks ago. Western States is a 100 mile trail race through some of the hottest and most rugged areas of California. Of course, as a trail runner, this race and the incredible athletes it draws always fascinates me. I was reading an interview with Kaci Lickteig who was the female winner (Article Here) talking about her training and race strategy.
What stood out to me was that in her description of her training and race day there is such a large emphasis on attitude. And I think what goes with intentional attitude is presence. Kaci set out on race day to “smile, smile, smile” and in a hot 100 mile trail race I would think that would take a lot conscious effort to keep doing. On top of that, she was maintaining focus on staying fueled and hydrated.
To me, this describes the power of being present. Kaci’s strategy wasn’t to fantasize about the finish line or dwell on past race outcomes. She kept smiling and staying focused on the incredible task of keeping her body running like a machine and a smile on her face. With that present awareness she was able to be pleasantly surprised the more she gained a lead on the other competitors. Even then, it wasn’t until mile 98 that she shares she started to think, “maybe I could win this.”
On the contrary, one of the male competitors who had set out to set a course record lead the race until a fateful wrong turn! I don’t know his full story, but I do know that speaks to being distracted in some capacity. Whether it was wondering thoughts or not staying properly fueled to keep focused, it is evidence of not being in the present moment.
The present moment is the only place that we are offered both good and bad opportunities and can enjoy respite from the anxiety or worry of being trapped in the future or the depression and regret of being trapped in the past. The present moment allows us flexibility to continually create our lives with what we are being handed at any moment.