Friday, September 3, 2010

Don't Tell Yourself You Can't Have Something

I don't know how many times I will need to learn this simple truth: "Don't tell yourself you can't have something." At the moment you say something is off-limits you've declared war. It's the worst kind of war too -- an internal civil war. When you approach changing your behavior by pitting what you know intellectually against what you feel emotionally you create a battle in your mind. This struggle leaves you feeling depressed and destroyed and is the reason why deciding you want to change can be so hard, that you don't even want to try.

Focusing on what you can't have doesn't work for a couple of simple reasons.

1) To be able to not do something, you have to think about it.
We are not able to accomplish the following mental feat. Don't picture a purple elephant with green stripes. To be able to understand what you are being asked not to do, you first have to create the image. If I hadn't asked you not to think of a purple elephant -- odds are almost everyone reading this would have been able to not think of the elephant. Even if you're a huge elephant fan, you probably don't often have herds of purple elephants with green stripes running across pink fluffy clouds in your mind. Uh oh, now you're seeing hundreds of purple elephants, do they have wings too?

When we embark on a new diet we usually flip to the "Don't Have" list to see if there is something on it that we can't live without -- at least that is my modus operandi when skimming diet books. Please don't say no chocolate, wine, or bacon. Whew, ok.

2) Focusing on not having something, is only hard if it is something you really want.
We typically don't waste time saying, "Ok, whatever you do, don't eat celery." If we did, can you imagine how much we'd start sneaking into the fridge to grab a stalk of celery? Right now, I can imagine the taste of the celery and the way it crunches when I chew it. While I am sure I could develop a Don't Eat list that would include all the healthy foods that I really wish you would incorporate into your daily list -- the idea is, if it wasn't something you really wanted, it wouldn't be a big deal. Just like, not thinking of purple elephants wasn't a big struggle because you don't love spending hours thinking about them. Shoo elephants, shoo... You don't spend time thinking about how to avoid eating celery because you don't feel like it would be hard to do. You're already not thinking about eating crunchy delicious celery, so the idea of not going to the store and buying some pre-cut sticks isn't a big hardship. If however you were someone who loves chocolate and I asked you not to eat any -- you'd suddenly have this strong reaction somewhere deep inside that would rebel against me.

So, you need to stop thinking your choices are between Good and Evil. Chocolate and No Chocolate. What if the choice was a million dollars or a piece of chocolate? How hard would it be to resist the piece of chocolate? On a scale of 1 to 10, less than zero. Hello Fellow Millionaires! And I'm not suggesting you couldn't buy a million dollars worth of chocolate if you chose the million dollars.

Every choice you make can be that much of a no-brainer. What if you decide that instead of saying no to chocolate ever again, that instead sometimes you are just trying to expand your imagination to say yes to something better than chocolate? And, as hard as it may be to imagine that there are things you could say yes to that would be better than chocolate -- we already have the million dollar example. What else could be better than chocolate? Well, really -- a lot of things. So make it easy on yourself and stop saying no to things you "shouldn't" have -- and seek out the things you'd rather say YES!! to.


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