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Go Tiny! Aim Big! 

The small boulder and the mighty mountain peak share a few things in common…

The small boulder and the mighty mountain peak share a few things in common…

“If you want to change your life, you’ve got to have a goal that’s big enough to inspire you. Go big, or go home!”

“Change only happens incrementally. The tinier the shift, the easier it is to modify a behavior. Tiny habits rule!”

I’m betting that a lot of you reading this right now have come across both schools of thought. However, despite being treated as dueling approaches, micro-habits and big goals hang out together on the same curb.

Tiny Habits, an approach developed by Stanford behavioral researcher, BJ Fogg, is based on the premise that if we adopt a new habit that’s super easy to stick with, we’ll eventually make our way to the bigger goal by encouraging a snowball effect. From his research, Fogg concluded that only three things will change behavior in the long term: a) an epiphany b) a new environment and c) taking baby steps.

Since most of us won’t be able to uproot ourselves and epiphanies tend to be sort of rare, we’re left with learning from our earliest self. 

Fogg’s outlined three steps to implementing a tiny habit: 

1) You need to GET SPECIFIC. What behavior do you want to change? What outcome would you like to have?

2)  You’ve got to KEEP IT SIMPLE. How can you make the behavior easy to do? 

3).  You’ll want to TRIGGER THE BEHAVIOR. For example, you might say, “every morning after I brush my teeth, I’ll do ten pushups.” The trigger is brushing your teeth, and the Tiny Habit is ten pushups. 

What will prompt you to engage in the behavior? Does your trigger already exist, or will you need to create it from scratch? 

Finally, Fogg emphasizes that after you complete the Tiny Habit, you’ve got to celebrate. That could be as small as yodeling “Woohoo!” or giving yourself a pat on the back.

I’m a big fan of Tiny Habits and have shared Fogg’s principles in many corporate wellness talks. Visualizing big goals, like quitting smoking and running a marathon, coupled with beginning your journey to that goal by implementing a Tiny Habit, like lacing up your running shoes each morning after you finish breakfast, is a sure path to celebration. 

Action: 

Check out BJ Fogg’s TED talk on Tiny Habits, and then try it out for yourself! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdKUJxjn-R8)

Power Question: 

What Tiny Habit could you cultivate in working toward a bigger goal? What’s the trigger for that Tiny Habit? 

This is post #3 in a long series on habit change. Do you have any thoughts on big goals and Tiny Habits? Have you tried the Tiny Habits method before? Leave your comments below! Thanks for reading!

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To Move Out of Self-Sabotage, Get SELFish. Here’s How

Whether it’s an addiction, a bad habit, a harmful relationship, a self-sabotaging behavior or an inauthentic life- we’re often surprised to discover that letting go of the thing which has been dragging us down for so long doesn’t automatically coax out the rainbows and trumpets. In other words, a shiny new life won’t magically appear just because we’ve made space for it.  

The self-destructive mentality that we’ve been operating from for so long dramatically compromises our coping mechanisms and life skills. After we finally stop ingesting poison, we may realize that we don’t know how to engage in nourishing activities like cultivating healthy relationships, setting boundaries, practicing self-care, or supporting ourselves. Our sense of self is shaky, at best, and the shame that has underpinned our negative circumstances and poor decisions may still be running the show. When shame’s the director of our lives, it’s hard to know who we are and nearly impossible to assert ourselves or speak our truth.

No matter what our age, we’re bound to fall back into our intricately designed traps until we make a conscious decision to completely change how we think and relate with the world, and then seek support from mentors who can assist us in uncovering our life-affirming and creative gems from the dung pile of shame. Quitting a harmful behavior, substance or relationship provides us with clarity, but it doesn’t give us the tools we need to move forward in a healthy and wholehearted way.

Recovery teaches us to be of service and to release the habit of indulgent, destructive self-pity. Self-involved thinking is part of what got us into a mess in the first place! However, recovery also requires that we embrace SELFishness and reclaim our power by learning how to respect our own needs and health.

This can be an incredibly foreign concept to many women, who were taught from a young age to be selfless, accommodating and long-suffering- a character lesson passed down unconsciously through generations. Here are five SELFish practices that I recommend cultivating:

1. SELF-PROTECTION

Author Julia Cameron writes, “it is enlightened self-interest to be selfish enough to be self-protective. Being self-protective may not seem nice. We may say no to invitations that do not serve us.” A majority of women who engage in self-sabotage can easily be categorized as “too nice.” They are people pleasers to the extreme, and have little experience in standing up for themselves. No wonder- statistics show that women battling addictions, eating disorders, and abusive relationships overwhelmingly contend with early childhood trauma, which programs them for victimhood and low self-worth down the road. It’s these very same women who become easy targets for violence in their adult lives if they haven’t learned to protect themselves, as they consistently allow politeness and the need to be liked to override intuition and self-preservation. When we learn how to adequately protect ourselves, we gain the confidence necessary to show our true selves to the world while asserting our values and beliefs through our actions.

2. SELF-SUSTENANCE

Making a successful major life change usually requires the support of a trusted circle of people, as well as the humility to accept our shortcomings and ask for help. Being able to financially and emotionally support ourselves in some way acts as a counterweight in this process while preventing learned helplessness in what should be an empowering, freeing journey. Excuses and “I can’t” mantras are detrimental to recovery and, if uttered often enough, will undermine our efforts to improve our well-being. One of the most effective ways to legitimize our power is to make our own money through a pursuit that nourishes us, even if the paychecks are initially barely enough to cover a morning tea at Starbucks. It is the act of reaching toward self-sustenance that matters in those beginning stages. Through working, you are proclaiming, “I am committed to taking care of myself.” Similarly, by learning how to emotionally nourish ourselves rather than relying on external validation, we find our voice, our courage, and our self-respect.

3. SELF-CARE

In any major transformation, regular self-care is the contract we must make with ourselves in order to redirect attention to the parts of us that were once neglected and step into a more awakened way of living.

Initially, something as simple as taking time to meet with a coach or therapist, or read an uplifting book with a cup of soothing tea in hand will open up the space you need to trust yourself again. Self-care faciliates a romance between the body and the mind, integrating our practical needs with our higher desires and providing us with the energy we need to venture out into the world with our heads held high. Often, self-care is a sacred secret, a ritual that unleashes our childlike spirit. By doing something each day that is loving to ourselves, we generate a grounded and joyful energy which attracts supportive people and opportunities into our lives. Through self-care, we radiate the message, “I’m worth respect and love.”

4. SELF-CONTROL

Self-control is central to human evolution as a developmental perk of our prefrontal cortex. It’s also what allows us to move forward as individuals through conscious decision-making and behavioral regulation. No surprise- those of us who have struggled with an addiction or bad habit tend to be low on self-control, and once we’re able to admit this shortcoming, we’re likelier to develop more of it. Just like our physical muscles, self-control must be exercised each day in order to grow and flourish. This can feel painful and tedious at first! Because excessive self-control is tied to perfectionism, this SELFish skill may be the trickiest to master, particularly if you’re overcoming an eating disorder, exercise addiction or any other type of compulsive pattern. Often, controlling ourselves actually means riding the wave and letting go of insisting on a particular outcome. Instead, we focus on the moment in front of us and take actions aligned to our integrity and purpose. Self-control is considered one of the greatest signs of spiritual maturity, and mindfulness and prayer are two great ways to cultivate it.

5. SELF-DISCOVERY

At the heart of addiction is the belief that we should not be “feeling” creatures, that the emotions we label as negative are to be snuffed out and rejected. In our pursuit of non-feeling, we lose the essence of what it means to be human, to connect, and to love. Without a full range of emotions, we’re unable to understand who we are and what our purpose is. Self-discovery is a process of allowing once-forbidden emotions to resurface, and of tuning in to the wisdom of the body rather than processing everything through logic.

Being willing to rediscover the self means rejecting the dictates of our current society, which demands that we plaster on a happy face at all times and become masters at emotional perfectionism.

When we commit to self-discovery, our emotions flow without censorship, and we learn how to befriend them in order to uncover what we’re really about.

Although the world may tell us otherwise, every single one of us is worth self-respect. That self-respect must be generated from the inside first; once we treat ourselves well, we’ll begin to notice that other people show more kindness and consideration to us. When we put these five SELFish skills to work, we begin to refill the once empty well that drove us to self-destructive behaviors in the first place, and we eventually come to a place where we appreciate our lives enough to stop the cycle of self-sabotage for good.

How are you integrating a life of service, purpose and SELF-ishness? What's the most important thing you're doing to take care of yourself? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I'd love to hear from you! 

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Ten Surefire Ways to Sabotage Your Sober Ambitions

Now that Drynuary has officially ended, I’m counting down the days until I’ll inevitably receive an email which reads something like this:

Dear Aimee,
I’m reaching out to you because I’d like to get some control over my drinking. I’m a social drinker who enjoys around 4-5 drinks most nights, but it’s getting in the way of my goals now and my body doesn’t feel too great either. I quit drinking for Drynuary- 31 days with no alcohol, yay!- and I thought that would give me a chance to reset, but now I’m drinking more than ever before. I’d like to quit drinking for good- sort of. I mean, I’d like to quit drinking but eventually be able to go out and have a glass of wine or two with friends once in a while. Balance- balance is key! Can you help? Signed, Frustrated


If this brain train sounds familiar, it may be because the vast majority of women with an alcohol use disorder think and behave in this manner. First, they realize that their drinking is getting out of hand. Then, they take on some type of “sober challenge”- there are even businesses that faciliate entire programs around a short-term sobriety stint. After succeeding at the challenge by resisting booze for a month or two, they reflect back on how easy it actually was to give up the sauce and then they decide to drink again- in moderation, of course! A few weeks or months down the road, they discover that they’re drinking more than ever. They really crave alcohol now, they’re not sure if moderation is possible anymore, and that begins to scare the crap out of them. Embarrassing memories of drunken nights resurface, and they develop a new awareness about how alcohol is actually impacting their dreams, as well as the people they care about. Finally, they come to a crossroads: they will either admit to themselves that there’s a problem and commit to do whatever it takes to quit drinking for good, or they’ll continue to drink as usual, awaiting a new beginning to “get it right” next Drynuary, or Sober October.

I know this path all too well- it’s one I followed for a number of years before finally becoming serious about my sobriety in 2009 and, as a coach and counsellor, it’s one I read about in my inbox every single week. If you’re determined to lose the booze, I’d like you to forget for a minute about what you need to do to make that happen and focus instead on some surefire ways to sabotage this goal. Here are ten ways to completely wreck your sober ambitions:

1. Fudge the truth about your drinking: You either have a problem with alcohol or you don’t. You’re either able to stop at one glass of wine or you’re not. While alcohol use disorders fall on a spectrum with both severity and impacts ranging widely, if you’re even on that sliding scale, it will serve you well to come to terms with it. Are you lying to yourself about how much you drink? Do you feel like you’re making excuses for your drinking behaviors? If you’re seeking clarity on the difference between a healthy relationship with alcohol and an alcohol use disorder, a good place to start would be to check out the 11 symptoms of an alcohol use disorder at the end of this post. 

2.  Take the same route home from work: Changing a behavior requires changing the triggers that lead to the behavior in the first place, and routine tends to play a massive role in drinking. If you usually stop by the bar or package store after work, consider changing the routine and the triggers that enforce this behavior by taking another route home altogether!

3. Continue to hang out with your usual crew: Here’s the unvarnished truth- big drinkers hang out with big drinkers, and if your clique of friends is used to bonding with you over beers, they’re probably not going to be very happy to hear that you’ve decided to clean up your act. First, they’ll be bummed not to have gossip time with you anymore (because, what do we do when we’re three sheets to the wind? We talk shit!) Second, your decision to quit holds up a mirror to their own drinking hangups, and then some. Given these two factors, your dear friends may do their very best to sabotage your efforts at a sober life, even if that’s not their conscious intention.

4. Deny the role that alcohol plays in your emotional life: For many women, alcohol serves as a vehicle of numbing and detachment- a way to postpone addressing emotional turmoil. Refusing to investigate the deeper “why” behind your drinking allows you to continue rationalizing your hangovers as “just another night with the girls,” or “a few drinks on the couch.”

If you want this kind of photo on your Facebook page, then be sure to sabotage your sober ambitions! 

If you want this kind of photo on your Facebook page, then be sure to sabotage your sober ambitions! 

5. Insist on quitting on your own, without any source of support: Isolationism and secretive behaviors are trademark traits of many people with alcohol use disorders; loneliness, even in the company of others, fuels the desire for a buzz. Trying to quit drinking on one’s own is an admission that you still have full control over the way you drink, and that you don’t need connection- physical, emotional or spiritual- in your life, nor help from another human being. “You cannot solve a problem at the same level it was created at.”

6. Constantly remind yourself that “everyone else is doing it”: When you make a decision to quit drinking for good, you’re deciding to take the path less travelled and to live in a way that much of the world rejects by bringing more introspection, awareness, and self-responsibility into your life. If you want to do what everyone else is doing and your main objective is to fit in, than quitting drinking is not for you.

7. Place yourself regularly in high conflict situations: Placing yourself in situations of constant stress is a fantastic way to sabotage any goal you have, not just quitting drinking. If you’re still in regular communication with someone abusive or you’re always picking fights over petty issues or you’re holding onto a job that you are absolutely miserable at, you’re going to have a tough time staying on the path. Clean up your environment and say “NO” to the drama.

 8. Fail to fill up the time that you usually spend drinking: When I was drinking, I generally wasted 3-5 hours a day over a wine glass- far more if you count my years moonlighting as a bartender. Booze is a glorious time waster, and the average moderate drinker may spend around 12-15 hours having drinks, as well as many more hours making up for the consequential hangovers and lowered motivation. When you quit drinking, you’re going to have a lot more time on your hands, which will equate to boredom if you don’t figure out a constructive way of filling it up. Running or weightlifting, learning how to paint or make pottery, picking up a new instrument, joinng a fellowship or enrichment group, or volunteering at a charity are all great ways to replace the void.

9. Continuously judge the faults and habits of others: If you’re interested in completely derailing your own personal progress, one of the best ways to do that is to focus not on your own issues, but on the perceived flaws and bad behaviors of other people. Pointing fingers and projecting is an awesome way to ensure that you never do the spiritual and emotional work necessary to stay sober, and it’s also a wonderful way of eroding your support systems. As a wise sage once said, “focus on your own shit.”

10. Depend on other people for your sobriety: “I wouldn’t drink so much if my husband didn’t get me so angry.” “My boss causes me to drink.” “If I don’t have cocktails with clients, I won’t be of much use to my company.” “The only way I’ll be able to quit drinking is if my partner quits drinking as well.” If you want to change a destructive behavior and improve your life, you’re going to have to get into the driver’s seat and take full responsibility for your actions.

By observing hundreds of relapses as well as reflecting on my own when I originally tried to quit drinking in my twenties, I can assure you that if you wish to completely sabotage your sober ambitions, these ten ways will get you there! Here are the symptoms I mentioned earlier in the post:

11 SYMPTOMS OF AN ALCOHOL USE DISORDER

  1. Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  2. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  3. A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain alcohol, use alcohol, or recover from its effects.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  5. Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: a) A need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect b) A markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: a) The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol (refer to criteria A and B of the criteria set for alcohol withdrawal) b) Alcohol (or a closely related substance, such as a benzodiazepine) is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

The presence of at least 2 of these symptoms indicates an alcohol use disorder (AUD). The severity of an AUD is graded mild, moderate, or severe: 1. Mild: The presence of 2 to 3 symptoms. 2. Moderate: The presence of 4 to 5 symptoms. 3. Severe: The presence of 6 or more symptoms.

Do you have any points to add on this post? If you've achieved long-term sobriety, what's the one thing that made the biggest difference to you? If you like this post or think it could help someone you know, please share it! Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I'd love to hear from you. 

 

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