When I first started personal training some 10 years ago, I was introduced to people ‘falling off the wagon’. They would tell me so, and we would just refocus and start again. It wasn’t until I studied life coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy that I understood a little bit more about, beliefs, values, thought patterns, feelings and behaviour plus how they were all an entwined web which was never as simple as on and off the wagon.
In fact these patterns of on and off the wagon repeat themselves, over and over, until we learn the lesson that needs to be learnt and we release the need to hold onto whatever ‘off the wagon is’.
Let me give you an example. If ‘off the wagon’ for you is refined sugar or chocolate as it has been for me, then when you fall off the wagon you binge on chocolate. There is a lesson to be learnt from why you binge on chocolate and when you learn that lesson and release the need for chocolate you can move on.
Awareness is the first step in uncovering what is driving your behaviour. Awareness of your beliefs and values – these are subjective, awareness of your automatic thoughts based on those beliefs and values, then your feelings trigger from those thoughts, followed by the consequential behaviour which in this case is binge on chocolate.
So an example would be if one of your values is ‘honesty’ and therefore you have a belief that ‘everyone should be honest’ then when you are exposed to a situation where this belief is challenged – like someone lying to you – an automatic thought pops into your head. There are common thinking distortions I will discuss in another post, but for the meantime that automatic thought could be ‘They lied to me so they don’t respect me. If they don’t respect me then it means they probably don’t like me…’ What feelings do you think you would have if you had this belief and this event happened?
Those feelings would be different from someone who’s occupation was a scam artist, the same event might happen but those feelings would be different as you have different values or belief. So possible feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal, loneliness, unworthiness, are the result of the sequence of 1. the belief system 2. the event 3. the automatic thoughts 4. the feelings that then drive the behaviour.
Unless you are comfortable with feelings of sadness, anger, betrayal, loneliness, unworthiness then you will likely try to move away from those feelings. As a new born baby what did your mum do when you were uncomfortable with your feelings of fear of starvation, maybe of abandonment or overwhelm? She fed you. The one behaviour that has been reinforced since you were a baby to cope with feelings you are uncomfortable with, is feeding. Its no wonder the hand to mouth behaviour is automatic when you feel uncomfortable with any feelings – that result from automatic thoughts – that come from your beliefs and value – that were also established when you were a child.
As you can see, these beliefs and values are subjective and can be challenged as to their accuracy in reality. We also have the opportunity to challenge the truth behind the automatic thoughts that created the feelings and we can learn to embrace and sit with these feelings instead of avoiding them.
But that is not even how you avoid falling off the wagon.
How you avoid falling off the wagon, is to never get on the wagon. The on and off the wagon is ‘all or nothing’, ‘black and white’ thinking, and is one of David Burns ‘Cognitive Distortions’ also known as ‘common thinking distortions’ or ‘distorted thinking patterns’. These distorted ways of thinking are what drive these strong feelings and lead to binge behaviour. So the very way we describe the binge behaviour gives insight into our thoughts that are driving that behaviour. Mind Blown.
So there is no wagon. Now what? How do you travel through life without a vehicle?
Write a story. Your life is a story, it is not black and white, it is colourful, there may be black and white pages, there may be grey scale pages, sometimes there may be words and no pictures and sometimes there may be pictures and no words. There is no right or wrong. No judgement if you don’t want there to be. It just is. Your Story.