Sorrow During Change |Abandoning Habits
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2019
Even good losses leave a hole, demanding to be filled. Yet, filling the hole with the hated old habit brings us right back to where we were.
Will-power depletion factors into many of our failures. We eventually return to the past we promised to abandon once willpower is diminished. We protect the blows to the ego from this failure of discipline by cognitively explaining our failed resolve by articulating the cause with kind and well-constructed rationalizations. “I realized that he loved me all along and that I was being foolish,” “A few drinks after work loosens me up and I perform better the next day,” “I enjoy my sweets, why should I deprive myself of a few of the things which I truly find comfort in.” Our eloquent justifications are words of a fool, starting down the same painful path that led to the resolution for change.
We error in trying to control discomforting feelings during attempts to change. We want the change but expect a happy transition from where we are to where we want to be. We expend precious energy denying that the desired change is a source of sadness. Sadness is part of a realization of loss. We tell ourselves that the new changes feel great, when underneath, we are struggling. We inanimately explain to our friends how energized we feel by finally leaving that emotionally abusing partner, but inside we struggle with loneliness.
Sadness is part of a realization of loss. We tell ourselves that the new changes feel great, when underneath, we are struggling.
David K Reynolds in his classic work Constructive Living (Reynolds, 2012) wrote, “We need to use our energy and attention sensibly without wasting resources trying to do the impossible.”
It’s okay to feel sad when leaving something unhealthy. Any significant change momentarily feels bad, leaving an empty space in our soul. We can’t force positive feelings to mask the emptiness. Thin layers of paint only accent the crumbling emotional walls. We don’t heal emotion through denial. When feeling sad, lonely, worried, embarrassed or generally beaten down by life, you cannot sit down and will yourself to happiness. Trying to make yourself feel what you are not feeling is foolishness. The power of positive thinking is bunk if it pretends to create joy where no joy is found.
However, we don’t need to endlessly grovel in the pits of sorrow. There is plenty we can do to move forward and back into the joyful rays of happiness and hope. We need to redirect the self-pity. The effort just distracts us from what is realistically changeable and controllable: Our Behavior. (Reynolds, 2012). We must refocus, moving attention to the desired future rather than the sorrowful present. By refocusing, we re-energize our commitment, giving a boost to our purpose. Addictions were adopted as escape. We habitually return to them when overburdened and fearful. Naturally, when working to abandon life-destructive habits, we encounter the same emotional monsters they were adopted to combat.
Self-confidence is the reward for discovering strength and wisdom to succeed where we once failed. Our success against these formidable enemies relies on new sources of energy. Instead of standing fast against enemies that have proven impenetrable, we adopt new strategies. We learn to duck where we once stood tall, we jive where we once proceeded straight. The ducks and jives are the wisdoms of success. We can’t pull from a reservoir of power that has continually failed. We must blaze an easier path when the old path has failed.
When goals to workout at five in the morning has failed repeatedly, this likely isn’t the path to health (at least for you). If leaving an abuser, only to return after a week of solitude (loneliness) has continually failed, the plan must be altered, additional support secured. “This time will be different,” is a precursor to failure. Wisdom from the past hasn’t been integrated and new knowledge yet to be discovered.
Successful changes are within reach. Our success, however, is achieved by doing something different, confronting failures, instead of excusing through justifications. We must look at our process. Goals are made from the security of desire, goals are achieved through the wisdom of effective action.
Reynolds, D. K. (2012) Constructive Living. Kindle Edition