As mentioned in previous lessons, the underlying premise of this approach is that unwanted drinking is a response to discomfort.
DISCOMFORT -> DRINK
The need to solve the discomfort is greater than your ability to resist drinking.
In the previous lesson I told you how to Set Good Constraints. One of the outcomes of setting constraints this way is that it will increase the power of your resistance. That’s great as far as it goes, but we want to work on the left side of the equation so that you have less to struggle against.
In this lesson I’m going to give you some techniques for managing the discomfort so you have less desire to solve it with a drink, and therefore need less resistance to avoid drinking.
This discomfort I’m talking about is emotion, or feelings. I use these words interchangeably.
Emotions can be inspired by real-time events - snakes, men attacking with crowbars, the smell of fresh-baked cookies, walking on stage to deliver a speech. However in our safe modern lives, most of our emotions are generated in response to our thoughts. We think about real and imagined physical and social threats and opportunities in the past, present and future. Our brains react to these thoughts by adjusting our physiology - heart and breathing patterns, blood flow, muscle tension, digestion, salivation - in order to be prepared for what may come next. Other parts of our brain are subconsciously monitoring this physiological activity.
For most of us most of the time, this all happens more or less subconsciously. Our subconscious reaction to the ‘negative’ ones is to want to make them stop. Eat the cookie to close the loop on desire. People-please in order to maintain social standing. Criticize and command in order to maintain a sense of control. Drink to reduce the sense of anxiety.
This is all just fine until we find ourselves repeatedly taking actions that are opposed to our well-being and prosperity.
This is what’s going on with your unwanted drinking. Because of the habit, when beer:thirty comes around, you experience a dopamine-fueled urge. Additionally you might be feeling stressed out from the workday, and resentful that you still have another hour of work to do after dinner. All of this is reflected in your body, and even though you aren’t consciously aware of the sensations, mission control in your brain is saying ‘Houston we have a problem, do something about it’.
The solution is to bring this entire cycle into your conscious awareness. This physiological activity can be perceived as sensations in your body.
Here’s the crucial thing - these sensations are NOT a problem. Have you ever done 10 burpees, or sprinted for 200 yards? Had a pinched shoulder or sore back? Gone to work with a hangover? If so, you’ve experienced strong physical sensations, and they didn’t kill you.
In comparison, the sensations that come from emotions are incredibly subtle and mild. Tension in your neck and back? You don’t have to make that go away. Shallow breathing and fast heart rate - not gonna hurt you. Butterflies in your stomach - you’re not going to die. Extra salivation in your mouth - a quick swallow fixes that.
It’s only when you let your subconscious handle the emotions that they get blown way out of proportion and cause you to do things you don’t want to do.
The key to handling emotion is to tune into what’s going on in your body, to observe and describe the sensations, without wanting them to go away. This is what I mean by Allowing emotion.
Here’s how to do it:
1 - How do you feel overall? Are you generally feeling open, expansive, safe? Or are you closed, constricted, hunched?
2 - Scan your body from feet to head. What do you feel? Give special attention to your belly, chest, shoulders and neck, jaw, face. Pick out the strongest sensation.
3 - Is the sensation steady or varying? Does it feel fast or slow?
4 - Does it have a color?
5 - What is it’s texture - dry or sticky, smooth or fuzzy, hard or soft, round or jagged?
6 - What does it make you want to do? If it were 100 times stronger would you feel compelled to run away, or curl into a ball and hide, or to lash out in attack?
7 - Why is it here?
What you’ll generally find when you engage with an emotion like this, is that it’s just not a big deal. You don’t need instant relief. And if you just hang out with them with an accepting attitude, they’ll simply dissipate after a few minutes.
One of my guiding principles in my life is that I want to be a man who is willing and able to feel any emotion. When I’m willing to experience the emotion - the physiology - of fear, embarrassment, rejection, failure - I have the courage to do whatever I want. The worst thing that can happen is always just an emotion.
This process I’ve just explained is the key to becoming that sort of person.