One way to recognize that you have a block is to notice when you do the same thing that gets you in trouble over and over again. Such a repeating pattern can take many forms. One person starts off projects with great enthusiasm, then loses momentum and ends up turning in work that is less than they are capable of. Another always gets into a fight with their boss or client after a “honeymoon period,” then needs to find a new job or client. A third might procrastinate whenever there is a deadline, only getting serious when it gets down to the wire. The pattern repeats no matter how mad the person gets at themselves for “doing it again” and how strongly they vow to change their ways.
There is even a philosophical term for this kind of behavior that goes back to Socrates: akrasia, or acting against what you know to be your own best interests. It seems so illogical that Socrates apparently claimed that it didn’t happen, since “No one goes willingly toward the bad.” According to Socrates, anyone who does this must simply be ignorant of facts or knowledge. Later philosophers, who recognized that people do in fact act against their better judgment, equated it with a weakness of will. Edmund Spenser even included a temptress in The Faerie Queene, Acrasia, who was the embodiment of “intemperance.” So all these great thinkers have deemed anyone who doesn’t do what he knows would be best for them either stupid or morally wrong.
That kind of thinking shows up all the time to this day. It seems like we in the US blame people especially harshly for not following through on their better judgment. Just call to mind what you’ve heard, or thought, about someone with lung cancer who still smokes. “Weak-willed” is probably the least harsh of the descriptions we use. We find it very difficult to understand such a problem as anything other than some sort of moral failing.
It’s the new year, and a quick survey of the resolutions Americans make every year shows that losing weight is one of — if not the — most popular. Maybe it’s because, by New Year’s Day, the stress of the holiday season, family get-togethers, and trying to meet everyone’s expectations has led to too many trips to the cookie jar. Unfortunately, as most people know, losing weight is one of — if not the — most difficult resolution to keep.
I started working with a client to get rid of her cravings for sweets so she can lose the weight that crept up on her over the holidays. One of the first things I told her to do is to stop beating herself up for not sticking to a diet. This tip is counter-intuitive for most people. They think “if I make myself miserable over that bag of Lays Potato Chips I just ate, won’t that stop me from wanting to eat junk food the next time?”. Unfortunately, the answer is no. In fact, not only will yelling at yourself for giving in to a craving not help you eat less, it will very likely lead you to eat more!
Think about it. Most people break their diets when they are stressed or down. How do you feel when you get mad at yourself and say things like “I’m such a loser” or “I have no will power”? If you’re like most people, saying anything like that makes you feel more stressed and more down. Then that ice cream looks like just what you need to feel better. And on and on goes the cycle.
For some ideas on what to do to get out of this cycle, check out my post on Cravings. (Hint: relaxation exercises are much better than food to bring down your stress, but you have to remember to do them before the craving hits. Tapping can help to get to the base of what’s driving the craving.) But whatever you do, the first step is to stop hitting yourself over the head and neck (metaphorically speaking) when you give in to a craving. Instead, tell yourself you’ll do better next time. Then go do something relaxing, like exercising.
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a get-acquainted session by phone or Skype to talk about what might be blocking you.
A funny thing about stress — for some of us, it makes us crave things like cigarettes, coffee, soda, potato chips, chocolate, or anything with sugar in it. But smoking, drinking, or eating any of those things actually tends to increase anxiety. It’s a vicious cycle.
For people who get these kinds of stress-related cravings at work (or at home), eating cookies or sipping a Pepsi seems to take their mind off their stress and calm them down so they can function. Some people rely on their food, drink or smoke of choice so much that they keep a supply handy at all times, stashing a bag or two of Doritos in their desk drawer just in case the vending machine runs out. Others are so worried that they’ll run out that they cache supplies in several places, stashing bags of M&Ms in their drawer at work, their coat pocket, their briefcase, and in the back of closets and cupboards at home, hiding them so others don’t find out just how much they are dependent on the stuff. The thought of running out when they need it can make them break out in a cold sweat.
Unfortunately, these things we crave are precisely the things that make anxiousness worse. When we eat something sugary like candy or soda, our blood sugar spikes, which temporarily boosts our energy and heart rate. More energy may sound great, but it comes at a cost. When our heart rate goes up, it can add to our feelings of stress. Next, our blood sugar drops like a stone below where it was before we had the Mars bar, causing our stress to increase, too. Then, of course, we want more.
The same thing happens when we eat starchy foods, like white bread, white rice, and potato chips. The starch very quickly converts into blood sugar. Then we’re on the same treadmill we were on with candy and soda. You might as well down some sugar cubes instead of those Pringles.
Caffeine can lead to jittery feelings in anyone if they have too much. So if you’re already stressed, the addition of caffeine to the equation is definitely not going to help. You need to limit how much you have of such things as coffee, caffeinated soda, black tea, and — sadly — chocolate. (I’m told chocolate doesn’t have caffeine, but what it does have works on our bodies pretty much the same way as caffeine.) And avoid those sugary, super-caffeinated energy drinks like the plague when you’re stressed out.
Cigarettes also do their part to increase stress in our bodies. Which is usually news to smokers, who know that their cigarettes calm them down.
So what do you do when the thing you count on to get you through a stressful day is also raising your stress level? Most people try will-power first. It works for a few, but it’s pretty distracting to try to get through your day constantly pushing aside thoughts of that bag of half-stale Ruffles in the bottom drawer of your desk. And, if stress gets too high, will-power usually isn’t enough.
Cutting out the stress in our lives seems like the perfect answer. Sadly, however, most of us can’t retire tomorrow and move to a tropical island where we laze about thinking happy thoughts. We have to make a living, and we have to deal with other people (and, if we were honest, we’d get pretty bored on that island eventually). Stress is part of our world, at work and at home. I highly recommend looking for ways to limit it, but I know that is only a partial solution.
Making relaxation a part of your day is a good way to decrease your reaction to daily stress. Deep breathing exercises can retrain your body to be more relaxed throughout the day. So can visualizing yourself in a calm, soothing place. Yoga is also great for this, I’m told. I don’t have the patience for it myself, but I recommend it for those who enjoy it and have the time.
The fastest, most long-lasting way I’ve found to cut out cravings is to use the tapping relaxation exercises I teach. Some people get instant relief trying it on their own using my Quick Start Guide. For others, the cravings are more persistent. If you don’t make much headway, or your craving keeps coming back, there is probably something underlying it.
I work with people to clear out those underlying causes that increase their stress so the cravings go away for good. Please e-mail to arrange get-acquainted session to talk about what is bothering you and how we might work on that together