There’s no such thing as an ideal time to quit, or an ideal time to create change in your life. Change can be chaotic and traumatising, and the safety of routine, even damaging, harmful routines like the patterns of addictive behaviour, can feel comforting. Here are some of the most common fallacies that you might find yourself thinking or fending off, and how you can overcome them by staying mindful of your long-term goals.
- The Sunken Costs Fallacy
Have you ever, halfway through a book, film, or TV show, realised that you aren’t enjoying a moment of it? And have you ever opted to finish the book, film, or TV show, because you’d already started? If so, you fell victim to the Sunken Costs Fallacy. This is far more common than you might think. However, you can’t change the decisions you have already made. You may have spent the last four hours binge-watching a rapidly more boring Netflix series, or you may have spent the last four years scarring your liver with vodka intake. You can’t change that, but you can change what you do tomorrow, and the day after. Yesterday’s mistake is not a reason to avoid tomorrow’s success.
- The Terminally Unique
Every human being alive today, and every human being who has ever lived, was a fully formed, unique being, with their own thoughts, feelings, dreams, and aspirations. We’ve all had great days, we’ve all had awful days, and we’ve all felt our own circumstances overwhelm us when things get tough. The paradox, however is that this feeling of uniqueness is anything but. It’s a universal human experience. Your situation is yours alone, and that makes it yours to control. You may have very good reasons why you can’t change your behaviour right now: your kids eat up all your time, you have a demanding job, you might depend socially on others who drink or misuse drugs. Everyone was a kid once (and all of us were raised by people who had kids), and most people have serious obligations that eat up their time like a snail on lettuce. And don’t we all, as human beings, value social acceptance almost to the exclusion of all else? Of course, you always know yourself best, but it’s often useful to remember that other people with similar responsibilities and obligations have changed their behaviour, and you can too.
- Fear of Missing Out
Most people’s problematic relationship with addictive behaviour began due to social pressure. How many stories begin with an early teenager trying to fit in with older, supposedly cooler kids? By the time you’re contemplating whether or not your consumption of alcohol, drugs, gambling or anything else might be a problem, you might be best served to entertain your fear of missing out, or “FOMO”, with a firm “so what?” What exactly are you scared of missing out on? And how many times recently have you engaged your behaviour – gone out drinking, smoked that cigarette, pulled that lever on the one-armed bandit – that you got to experience what you’re scared of missing out on?
Now think about what you’re missing every time you’re hung over, high, or in debt. What do you really want to prioritise? Asking yourself the tough questions that only you can answer is the best way to overcome irrational fears.
- False positive cues
“Intermittent reinforcement” is a strategy deliberately built into poker machines and mobile phone games to give people the illusion that they’re winning even as their pockets empty. According to Psychology Today, “when rats, pushing a lever for food, were rewarded some of the time (as opposed to on all occasions or none), they would try even harder for longer.” So if, out of six mornings, you got to work hung over but on time, or you got tested for HIV from the dirty needle you used and came up negative, your brain might interpret these positive cues as evidence that everything is just fine. That may be the case, but you’d do well to take stock of the whole situation, and assess the entirety of it instead of each moment. Is the overall picture one of despair, or one of happiness? Make your decisions accordingly.
- “I can’t stay motivated!”
Unfortunately, as good as it feels, motivation is only ever temporary. The initial rush of overcoming your addiction is not to be underestimated, and should always be acknowledged and congratulated. However, as anyone with a long-term gym membership will tell you, nobody is 100% motivated 100% of the time. Things happen. Life gets in the way. People get sick, tired, or stressed, and might not be as motivated two years in as they were two days, hours, or minutes in. Motivation is temporary, but discipline maintains change, and provides reminders of what’s really at stake. The best way to overcome a lack of motivation is to keep a log of your milestones and achievements. The simple reminder that you managed to accomplish what you once thought was impossible – the “yes we can” moment – is frequently enough to centre your priorities and the reasons you brought your behaviour under control in the first place. Another great tip is changing your phone’s background to a picture of your kids, your family, or a post-it note reminding you of what you really value. Many people find it much harder to call their drug dealer or their old drinking buddies when confronted with the positive changes they have made since their last lapse.