At some point in your life you’ve probably tried dieting, saving, quiting a bad habit, or stopping negative thoughts by using the “deprivation” approach. In other words, the “just say no” approach. If you’re like most people, this may have worked for a short while and then backfired. You may have rebounded to feel an even stronger urge to do what you tried not to do—be it eating junk food, spending excessively, smoking, or negative self-talk.
Deprivation is what you might call a “resistant strategy.” As noted above, it is based on saying “no” to something. What happens with saying no is that you are still associating with whatever you are saying no to. The behavior you are resisting is still just as much a part of your thinking, feeling, and action—just in a negative sense. When you resist something, it persists in your field of awareness. You keep it alive by fighting against it. You are still caught in the same chain of association, just on the other side of the equation.
If you really want something to go away, don’t focus on it positively or negatively. Instead, pay attention to something else.
This brings us to a different strategy—substitution. Substitution takes advantage of the power of association in a different way. It takes an existing pattern of thought, feeling, and behavior and shifts it. Rather than focusing on saying “no” to something, you say “yes” to something else. When you are triggered in a way that usually elicits a certain thought, feeling, or behavior, you consciously pair that with a new thought, feeling, or behavior. If you repeat that new association enough times and it has enough positive emotion associated with it, it will become your new response pattern in that situation.
For example, if you want to let go of excess weight and find yourself triggered to eat fast food whenever you pass by it on your way to work, find a new route that passes by an awesome place to get tea. Order the absolute best tea they have, something that tastes really good, that you really enjoy, and make that your new habit.
If tea doesn’t do it for you because you really want to chew something, maybe you can find the greatest tasting, xylitol sweetened gum and substitute that. Or maybe a crisp, sweet, organic apple will do it for you.
The secret is to find an attractive substitute that creates the effect you want in your life. Find something positive and enjoyable to say “yes” to, instead of trying to enforce a “no.” Here are some other suggestions to spur your own creativity.
If you want to stimulate your mind and inspire your soul, record your favorite TV show, fast forward through the commercials and use the extra time to read something that fascinates you. You’ve just substituted inspiring reading for watching commercials.
If you know you need to exercise, but can’t stand sitting or standing on a cardio-machine or lifting weights, substitute taking a hike with a friend in a beautiful environment.
If you can’t seem to get to sleep at night, instead of spending time tossing and turning, try substituting meditation during your “falling asleep time.” Meditation will shift you from your busy-mind, beta brainwaves down a notch to slower alpha brainwaves, which will lead you closer to a sleep state. It will also enable your mind to let go of the events of the day, so that, when you do sleep, it is more restful.
If you have a behavior you’d like to let go of, find a positive substitute that you look forward to and put that in its place. I’d love to hear about healthy substitutes that work well for you.
In our next two posts, we’ll talk about using substitution with negative feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.