10.14.2012

The Secret To Change


"Change is like a diaper. The new one takes some work to get into and chafes at first, but at least you're not sitting in your old shit anymore."

I wrote that as a note to myself a few years ago. It's still relevant. In fact, it's one of the few that I actually kept and didn't toss.

I'm going to do you a favor. I'm going to save you tens of dollars in self-help book purchases and just give you the real, honest, no-shit secret to change:

1) Don't do the thing you want to stop doing.
2) Do something else. 
3) Repeat.

Yep. It's that simple.


This isn't being naive. This isn't being short-sighted. I know, because I've been through it. Multiple times. I've done the posturing. I've done the self-deception. I've done the "It's too hard..." crap. And then, one day, I just stop doing the thing that I don't want to do anymore, and instead, DO SOMETHING ELSE.

People don't like change. Patterns are easy. They're routine because they're routines. Wash, rinse, repeat. Disrupt the routine, and you glitch the system. Glitches suck. They shock. They cause discomfort.

If you want to stop smoking, you can start chewing nicotine gum, or get a prescription for Chantix, or buy any number of books or tapes or even software that will coach you in the process. To me, this is all bullshit. It's not something else, it's "something else." It's like that guy who's always telling you about the comic book he's perpetually working on, and today, he did a bunch of character roughs! But you've never seen a single panel. Or, the guy who is always "writing a book" who never shows you page one. Or, the girl who says she's going to quit smoking, who uses another delivery method for the drug that she gets in smoking until she finally realizes she might as well smoke.

You can do this bullshit.

Or...

You can do what my dad did and, one day, just don't smoke. And then continue to don't smoke.

I've never smoked, so I can't tell you I know how hard it is to quit smoking in particular. But I have, at one point in my life, been 375lbs due to overeating and being lazy, and I have faced several addictions. The funniest of them (and the one I don't mind talking about): video games. You might laugh at the idea of video game addiction, but it's real, and it sucks. "Who can get addicted to Mario?" Well, anyone who would rather play in a fantasy world than face their real world. Just like living in chat rooms online all day. Just like obsessively posting to Facebook and Twitter for validation via "likes" and retweets.  Just like overeating. Just like drinking. Just like everything.

Every addiction is a seeking of normalization and control over self that isn't present in day-to-day life. You feel helpless, so you find something to control. Living in this world sucks, so you go to the other world. It's escapism. Gambling, alcohol, heroin, food and yes, even video games.

Bad habits are the same thing. They may not be compulsions to a behavior -- they may be lack of another behavior. But the result is the same. One day, you decide you don't want these things to control you, so you control them. Even for a minute.

And there it is, the secret to change: decide what it is you don't want to be, and then one day, just decide you won't be that thing. Even if it's just for that one day. And then the next day, don't be it again. And again. And soon enough, a habit forms. And then, it becomes your new routine.

Yes, people will notice. Yes, people will complain. I know about smokers' circles. I know about the socialization that occurs during lunch hours at work spent at buffets and Taco Bells and whatnot. I know about gaming guilds. I know about happy hour at the bar.

I know how hard it is to not show up to those things and have people asking "Hey, where were you?" And then 'where were you' turns into "Hey, what gives?" And then 'hey, what gives' turns into "Traitor."

And then you're on your own. Thank God, because you're free.

My father loves to tell the story of when he quit smoking, because he loves punchlines to jokes. It's almost comical -- my entire life, I've watched this man build stories up around his experiences, just so he could deliver that zinger at the end. And his zinger at the end of the quitting smoking story is that he never really had a problem with quitting smoking -- the hard part was figuring out what to do with his empty hand! His entire routine up to that point was spent doing everything he did with his right hand, because his left hand always had a lit cigarette in it.

That's the problem, isn't it? Filling that empty hand... Filling that empty time... Filling that empty space. You must fill it, or else you're just leaving open vacuums from which no desire can escape. You snack while relaxing. Instead, chew gum. You drink with friends at the bar -- go to the gym instead. You hate your job and disappear in video games all night and on weekends. Write a book instead.

Join a cooking class. Make stuff. Draw. Run a mile around your neighborhood. Take up biking.

Or, keep being miserable, because it makes you "happy." And keep posting to Facebook and Twitter how much you wish whatever you hate about yourself and your life would change, and follow it up with "FML" or "But what can I do?" or other helpless bullshit.

And make no mistake: it IS bullshit. Because you're not helpless, you're just lazy. Everyone has the power to help themselves. You can help yourself by going to a meeting at the local Whatever Anonymous than the bar or the buffet or game store. You can help yourself by working out. You can help yourself by talking about your attempts at change with your friends and family. You can help yourself by removing yourself from ANYONE who doesn't support you in those attempts.

Or, you can help yourself to another drink, cigarette, ice cream bar, or 12 hour gaming binge. The choice is yours, and it's always -- ALWAYS -- a choice. And when you make the one that leads you to ultimate misery, and you complain on your social networks about it, and everyone else commiserates with you and shares your lament because they're miserable and misery loves company...

Know that at any time you want to, you can just step out of this Hokey Pokey circle and DO SOMETHING ELSE.