The Power of Perseverance in Breaking Bad Habits


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It's been about six weeks since I started worked with my coach, Reba, on my phone overuse issue, and, while I've had my ups and downs, overall it feels like I've made some pretty major progress. Phone overuse is something I've struggled with for a really long time, so of course it's not magically gone with just six weeks of attention, strategizing, and change, but I'm feeling much more positive about (and in control of!) my relationship with my phone. 
 
For me, having the accountability of a coach has been massively helpful, because, as with trying to break any bad habit or tackle an addiction, going it alone is often incredibly difficult (if not impossible). My ultimate goal when I started working with Reba was to be pain-free and to have more control over my relationship with my phone. I'm still in physical therapy for pain, but it's gotten so much better over the past few weeks. 
 
And, most importantly, I feel like I'm much more aware of what I'm doing when I reach for my phone. Do I still have moments when I scrolling mindlessly? Yes. Do I still find myself reaching for my phone when I'm stressed or tired? Yes. But, through awareness and the strategies Reba and I have come up with, I'm looking at it much less often and, when I do look at it, I'm much more aware of what I'm doing (and typically spend much less time scrolling than I used to). 
 
Working to have a balanced relationship with something that's highly addictive but that I still want to have in my life has been difficult. I tend to default to all-or-nothing, but working with Reba has taught me that the "all-or-nothing" mentality is something that, while it might come more easily to me, isn't the only option. If I give a problem like the one I've been facing with phone overuse my time and attention (and a hearty helping of accountability), I'm able to find strategies that allow for balance and moderation. 
 
Speaking of strategies, here are two new ones that I've recently implemented. I'm sharing these because (a) they've helped me, and (b) they're perfect examples of how creating balance is an ongoing process. 
 
 
 
GOING GREYSCALE. 
 
This is often one of the top recommendations for those suffering with phone addiction, but I used to think to myself, I absolutely cannot do that. Everything I work on is so impacted by color and not being able to see it would make it impossible to work in apps like Instagram. But this week, after watching this video, I thought to myself, Why not just try it? I can turn it off if it's not working out, and I can always turn it on to see how things look on Instagram and turn it off again. 
 
I'd been holding myself back with the belief that I couldn't try that strategy (something I think a lot of us do when trying to break bad habits), but when I found myself thinking I can't, I reminded myself that it was up to me to choose what I could and couldn't do, to decide where I wanted to spend my time. Did I want to spend it sucked into the colorful images in an app? Or did I want to do something else with my time? If I really wanted to work on this phone issue, I had to give everything a shot. 
 
There's a reason this is one of the most popular tactics for combatting phone addiction. It works. I know how hard this one can be to implement, but I highly recommend it.
 
 
HIDING INSTAGRAM. 
 
The other strategy I've recently implemented is hiding Instagram, the most tempting of the apps still on my phone. A few weeks back, I hid Twitter and Pinterest, putting them on a third page of a folder so I had to click/swipe four times to get to them), and it greatly reduced the amount of time I spent on them because I had time to think about whether or not I really wanted to use them (a pause that doesn't exist when the button is right there on the home screen). While I ultimately ended up removing the Twitter and Pinterest apps from my phone, that's not an option with Instagram so I figured the next best thing would be to hide it. I put it in a folder, again on the third page, so I have to do some swiping to get to it. So far it seems to be helping! 
 
(What's fascinating though it how many times I still click the spot where it was on my home screen, even though it's no longer there. It's showing me how much of a habit it was to click it and how little I was actually thinking about what I was doing. I've put the MOON app in that spot now and it's a perfect reminder to focus on the present every time I click it accidentally.) 
 
 
 
I share these two new strategies as a reminder that there's no quick fix when you're dealing with an issue that doesn't have an all-or-nothing solution, and it takes time to figure out what works. Some strategies might been to be changed or abandoned; some new strategies might been to be added. 
 
Changing a behavior that's been dominating your life for years is going to take time and effort. It's going to be an ongoing effort, maybe with no clear solution or endpoint. But just because you don't have a clear view of the finish line doesn't mean you don't get in the race. And, once you're in the race, if you trip and fall, that doesn't mean you have to just lie there. You get up and keep going, and that's what my plan is with this whole phone situation. It's not perfect yet and probably never will be, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to keep working on it, keep using the strategies that've worked and keep seeking new ones to keep improving. 
 
 
Now Reba's going to share some of her insights on helping me work through this phone issue so you can get another perspective! Keep reading below for Reba's thoughts on the power of perseverance. 
 
 
 
After reading Dani's wrap-up of our work together above, I replied, "This is great writing, but you aren't giving yourself enough credit!"
 
Early in this process, we talked about recognizing your own courage — the bravery it takes to make a change and ask for help. Now we need to pause for a moment to see our progress, and give ourselves a big pile of gold stars and a confetti parade. Or, at least a pat on the back.
 
 
LOOK BACKWARD TO MOVE FORWARD
 
As Dani's coach, it is much easier to see her progress than it is for her; this is natural. For all of us, things are always clearer from the outside.  
 
I'm reminded of an experience I had earlier this year, when I went skiing with my husband's family — all expert level skiers. While I can ski passably, it takes me a few days and a lesson to warm up. By the end of the trip, I joined the family on several very difficult runs... and made it down without broken limbs. Even though I knew it was a tough mountain, I did not realize what I'd done until my husband patted me on the shoulder and told me to turn around and look at the towering (frightening!) slope I'd just descended. He said, "Look what you just did!"
 
Looking back at the mountain gave me confidence and momentum to keep trying new runs.
 
My job as a coach is to prompt Dani, and all my clients, to look backwards at all they have accomplished so they can move forward with renewed energy.
 
In Dani's case, she made so much more progress than she imagined she could in six weeks. On our final coaching call, Dani said, "If you had told me how much my pain could decrease and my mindfulness and phone/app control could increase in such a short time, I wouldn't have believed you!"
 
When we first started working together Dani lived at a 7-9 on the pain scale from phone use in her hand and arm.  She also felt the phone controlled her instead of the other way around. Dani wanted desperately to change her habits, but was discouraged from so many attempted tries to change. Despite her best efforts, Dani always ending up back where she started, or worse. (I know every dieter out there has experienced the discouragement of this "Bounce Back Effect.")
 
Now her pain is at a 3-4 range and just this week her physical therapist told her that she might be able to stop her sessions if she kept up with her at-home exercises! Go, DANI!
 
Whether it is digital addiction or any other change, don't forget to pause every few weeks and appreciate your progress. It will help keep you going!
 
 
HAVE A REALISTIC PLAN
 
Change and recovery never occur in a straight line — not for anyone! — which is why it is vital to be realistic about how you will move forward. Saying: "Great! I'm recovered! The phone will never control me again!" is approximately as effective as a habitual overeater vowing to never eat baked goods again.
 
A more helpful statement would be: "No step in the right direction is too small to measure," and count your wins as they come. This means proactively acknowledging there will be hours, maybe even days or weeks, where you will slip into old patterns sets you up for success. Temporary setbacks do not mean your work is in vain. They mean you are human!
 
One strategy that works for my clients is to make a plan for when things don't go as planned. A good tactic to implement this strategy is using this:
 
When I find myself doing __________________ (behavior),  I will: 
  • Call a friend or coach for support
  • Get outside for a short walk
  • Pick up a book
  • __________________ (Insert all behaviors you find useful)
 
Doing this short-circuits the mental process to help create new habits. 
 
 
TRY, TRY, TRY AGAIN
 
Back to my skiing experience for a moment. I had a realistic goal: to get better every day; I didn't tell myself I'd become an expert! I also had a plan: though I knew with certainty I would fall, I promised myself to ask for help to get back up and try again.
 
On my  third day of skiing, though, I got really upset. Not only did it seem like I had made no positive progress, but I'd fallen hard at least ten times! On the lift, a stranger asked me how my day was. I groaned, told him about the tumbles and bruises. "I think I'm in a fight with the mountain, and the mountain is winning," I told him miserably.
 
Continuance ContractI thought about how I tell my clients — "failure" is an opportunity for growth. Every single time you catch yourself doing actions that are not helpful and go back to the strategies that work for you, you strengthen your muscle memory of change.
 
This advice did not seem helpful on the mountain, when the only way down was, well, down — a vertical drop. I wondered if I had any business telling people about courage and change. I thought maybe I should turn in my life coach badge upon return.
 
The ski life stranger fell quiet for a moment before he asked: "Did you get back up every time you fell?"
 
I nodded yes.
 
"As long as you keep getting back up: you're winning."
 
Keep getting back up, and, if you need a reminder to keep going on your journey — whether it's phone over use-related or in relation to another habit you're trying to quit — download and fill out the free we created below. Putting it in writing will help keep you accountable (and remind you that, no matter how many times you fall, you can get back up and try again!)
 

The Perks of Being (8 Years!) Sober

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Get this print in the shop! 

 

On Wednesday I celebrate eight years (!!!!!!!!) of sobriety. If someone told younger me I'd be sober for eight years, I never would have believed such a thing would be possible, but here I am, eight years in! To commemorate the day, I redrew the illustration seen above while chatting about the benefits of sobriety in one of my Lettering Life Lessons sessions. Check out the video below! 

 

 Can't see the video? Click here to watch on YouTube! 

 

Looking for more insights on getting and staying sober? Check out some of the sobriety-related content I've created over the years...

 

10 Ways Sobriety Improved My Life

The Benefits of Pets in Recovery

6 Lessons from 6 Years Sober (Video)

Seeking Sobriety? : 9 Tips for Getting Started

Positive Choices: Lessons from 4 Years Sober

Self-Love + Sobriety: Benefits of Being Sober

Pick the Weeds, Keep the Flowers

Staying Sober During the Holidays (Video)

 


Face the Fear: A 6-Step Plan for Dealing with Anger

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I'm a lot of things, but angry is rarely one of them. (Not because I don't have things to be angry about, of course, but I don't tend dwell on anger the way I might with other emotions.) This week, however, I stumbled, a bit shocked, into some seriously angry feelings. My first reaction was the desire to run from the feeling, to push it down and away, but then I realized it's probably better if I practice what I preach. I certainly wouldn't tell any of you to push down anger and run from from it, so I decided to sit with it and try to figure it out. And now I thought I'd share what I did to cope with it, which was a whole lot of trial and error, but this seemed to be what I'd remind myself if I faced the situation again. (Isn't that what all advice is, really? Haha)

 

STEP 1: PAY ATTENTION. 

The first step of almost all good advice is pay attention, and it's for good reason. When you pause, look around, and explore what you're feeling and how you're reacting, you give yourself a chance to gather information and make more logical, sound decisions. Knowledge is power here. The more you can notice — about the situation, how you're feeling, what thoughts are running through your mind — the more you know and the more you know the more prepared you are for Step 2, which is the hardest part. 

 

STEP 2: FIND THE FEAR. 

I remember learning, long ago, that all anger comes from fear. I've used that lesson to help me be more compassionate and empathetic with those I know who tend to gravitate toward anger. When I remind myself that others' anger is really their fear, I'm able to think and react more calmly. What I hadn't realized until recently is that this truth applies to my anger as well. When I'm experiencing anger, I'm really feeling fear. The more I started thinking about things / people / situations that angered me with that perspective in mind, the more easily I could see the fear behind each and everything thing that made me angry. Realizing that anger comes from fear opens the door to the place where you can get to the heart of it and figure out what's really bothering you. 

 

STEP 3: TAKE A TIME OUT.

After you've figured out where the anger is coming from and identified that underlying fear (this could happen right away or maybe it takes days to make the connection), it's time to chill out. There were moments this week where I wanted to just react, to lash out in the first act that came to mind, but (fortunately for all involved) I decided not to. I did this by reminding my angry self that I could still take the action tomorrow if I felt like it, knowing that it was likely that the urge to react angrily would probably pass. (This is hard at first because it's not until you do it that you realize how much it actually works!) Taking a time out — which sometimes might mean pausing conversations until you're calmer or actively seeking along time — will help you get some perspective.  

 

STEP 4: IDENTIFY THE IDEAL. 

Speaking of perspective, another thing I did that I think really helped me understand this powerful emotion was asking myself, What do I want to happen? Rather than just doing the first thing that came to my mind, I instead pondered what the absolute best outcome would be for the situation. When I had identified the ideal outcome, I was able to work backward in my mind to figure out how I might get that result. It became instantly clear that picking up the phone, raising my voice, and releasing a rush of hurt in a frustrated tone wasn't going to lead me to the ideal outcome. It would, at best, result in things remaining the same or, at worst, make the situation worse. Once I knew what I wanted to happen, I could come up with a more productive way about getting it. 

 

STEP 5: CONFIDE IN A FRIEND. 

This one might depend a lot on the situation, but if it's something you can discuss with a friend (if not, consider someone completely removed from the situation or a therapist), I highly recommend doing a little venting with someone you can trust. Sometimes it helps to have someone not in the situation offer a fresh (and must less biased) perspective. Talking with friends about my anger made it easier for me to actually identify my reasoning (and envision how it might appear from another's point of view, giving me instantly another perspective on the subject). Now, in addition to knowing what I was afraid of and identifying what I wanted the outcome to be, I now had more knowledge: my own shifted perspective and the insightful, less-biased input from friends.  

 

STEP 6: RESPOND / REACT (IF NECESSARY). 

Then, with all of that knowledge — and a little bit of space from that time out I took — I was ready to take action. The choice I made ended up being very different reaction from the one I wanted to enact initially, and I got a result much closer to my "ideal" outcome than I would've likely gotten had I gone with my knee-jerk reaction. And, perhaps one of the greatest benefits of this little exercise was that I ultimately felt so much better than I would have if I'd reacted irrationally. Yes, I still feel fearful and frustrated in some ways, but I recognize the complexity of the situation and am handling it with more nuance and compassion (both for myself and others) than I otherwise would have. 

 

I'm not one to recommend avoiding emotions, but I personally think that, when it comes to anger, following these six steps (when possible — I know that not every situation might allow the time for this kind of reflection) will help you not only feel much more positive in the present moment, but it'll also lead to more peace in the long run. You should never bottle up emotions, but you don't have to let them explode, cork flying, spraying everywhere either. It's all about balance, and using this six-step process really helped me cultivate more emotional stability. 

Do you have any good tips for dealing with anger? If so, leave 'em in the comments section below! 

 

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