Sunday, February 18, 2007

Bad Mantra, or "This is the blog where I say 'fuck' a lot."

As often happens, I was inspired this morning to write after reading a blog entry of a fellow CRON practitioner, Emily (, who was expressing frustration over her recent lapse into making some food choices that she felt regretful about.

First, I recognize this frustration, but just for a little reality check, let's consider the foods in which she indulged during her moments of weakness:

  • cereal
  • chocolate
  • almonds
  • tortilla with peanut butter and jam

These are hardly the food equivalents of a shot of heroin, so let's not completely freak out here. You wanna know what my recent binges included?

  • pizza (delivery)
  • donuts
  • Chinese food (delivery)
  • wine (lots of it)
  • more pizza
  • monte cristo sandwich (ham, turkey, cheese, on FRENCH TOAST!) and fries--FRIES!!!
  • even more pizza
  • did I mention pizza?

Aw, fuck it.

That's what the old me would have said. I have a long history of attempting some life-change, "failing," and saying "Aw, fuck it" and simply abandoning the cause entirely. I'd done it so many times that "Aw, fuck it" had become something of a mantra for me. Not the kind of mantra that helps organize and quiet the mind. No, this is a bad mantra. A self-defeating mantra. A self-indulgent mantra that serves the purpose of giving me all the excuse I need to head to Dunkin' Donuts for an old fashioned buttermilk donut, chocolate frosted cake donut, and glazed chocolate cake donut. I sure like me some cake donuts.

Not to sound all pop-psychology-self-helpish, but we shouldn't underestimate the power of our self-talk. Saying "aw fuck it" is just another tool for making sense of the choices we are confronted with. It's a poor tool for the job, but it is a tool nonetheless. I know, Emily didn't say "aw, fuck it," but she did say "I felt positive and great and totally in the CRON-groove, and now... I just don't know." That's close enough. It may say "I just don't know," but it whispers "aw fuck it." It's just a few slides down that slippery slope from "I just don't know" to "aw, fuck it."

We need to become more skilled at opening up our tool boxes, surveying what's in there, and then--with the job in mind--choosing the best one to get it done. When we stray from our plan, we can say "aw fuck it," and go completely off the rails--that's what I used to do all the time. Or we can say, "oh well, it's not like I can't try again. And again. And again. However many times it takes until it sticks." The tool of negative self-talk makes us feel badly, and still it doesn't get the job done. Like beating on our thumb with a hammer, when we're supposed to be using wrench to tighten down a bolt.

The other issue here, besides the unhelpful ways we talk to ourselves about what we are doing, is our notion of what constitutes success. I argue that an attempt itself is a success, and every attempt, regardless of its outcome, should be applauded. We should be all self-congratulatory AND self-satisfied whenever we make an attempt to do whatever the good thing is that we want to do. Not fully succeeding in any attempt just means we get the chance to try again. Each new try offers the possibility of success, even if that's just an incremental success.

Consider this gem from an article on smoking cessation from PubMed Central:

"The most important aspect to smoking cessation is maintaining the motivation to make multiple attempts. Thus, quit attempts should be thought of like practice sessions in learning a new skill—at some point one hopes to “get it right,” but one should not put undue hope on any single given quit attempt, and take solace in knowing the probability of success increases with each try. (read the article)

Hey--you need to read that sentence again:

"Quit attempts should be thought of like practice sessions in learning a new skill—at some point one hopes to “get it right,” but one should not put undue hope on any single given quit attempt, and take solace in knowing the probability of success increases with each try."

You know, that sentence is so smart, we all need to read it one more time:

"Quit attempts should be thought of like practice sessions in learning a new skill—at some point one hopes to “get it right,” but one should not put undue hope on any single given quit attempt, and take solace in knowing the probability of success increases with each try."

I'm not an addiction specialist or anything, but I've certainly wrestled with addictions throughout my adult life (a topic I'm bound to blog about eventually) and I find it all too easy to analogize the Standard American Diet with cigarette smoking. It's addictive, destructive, deadly. And I have my own theory about why repeated attempts to quit lead to success.

I think we learn a lot from our unsuccessful attempts to quit things (like the Standard American Diet). We learn about the pangs of withdrawal--what they feel like, what eases them, how long they take to pass; we learn about that ephemeral "pink cloud," that wonderful, carefree high we feel in the first days or weeks of abstinence that inevitably dissipates, leaving us to face the long journey ahead with clear eyes not blinded by the comforting fog of euphoria; we learn about the physical and mental pain of relapse. Knowing all that makes the next attempt easier. Knowing the course ahead makes it easier to bear the pains, and not be unsustainably seduced by the joys.

Future attempts are easier too because we already have a chest full of useful tools to put into service: we already know how to distinguish between good food and gak, we already know how to use the software (don't tell me you aren't using software yet--that's like going to the job site without a tape measure), we already know what our own patterns are, our triggers, we've learned tips and tricks, we have our blogs and our online friends--these are all tools we have immediately available to us as soon as we're ready for our next attempt. These are all tools we didn't have in the beginning, so we are already that much closer to success.

I invite those of us new to CRON to look at it this way: quitting lifelong addictions is hard, it requires many attempts, and since we are all in this for the long haul, whatever is happening today, or whatever happened yesterday, is just a tiny piece of a great big picture. All our many (perhaps frustrated) attempts to "get it right" are a necessary part of our future success, so what we are doing now is good, and helpful, and productive. We'll get there in our own time, some faster than others, if we keep on working at it. And I can assure you, we will most certainly not get there if we say "Aw, fuck it," and quit trying.

If, like me, you are starting CRON all over again today (or tomorrow, or the next day), then remember, the probability of success increases with each try. So keep trying. And don't even let me hear any of you say "Aw, fuck it." I promise not to say it too.


Anonymous said...

Amazing post Chris. It's just what I need to hear- I fall off the wagon so much that I've started questioning the point of my attempting CRON at all...

I think I'll put a link up to this post of yours on my site- to the side- so that I can read it when I'm feeling discouraged (on days like today).


Robin said...

Fantastic post!

Anonymous said...

This post is going to be a read and reread for me, each time I need to pick myself up, brush myself off, and start all over again. Thanks

Anonymous said...

You had me at the Dunkin' Donuts old fashioned buttermilk donut... just joking... kinda.

I should by stock in the "fall of the wagon" company. I'd be a multi-ga-jillionaire.

Anyway, great FUCKIN' post.

Mike J.

Anonymous said...

Should have been buy, not by, or even bye, for that matter.


Calyb said...

Thanks for the post Chris. Again, amazing writing!

April said...

Great post!

Now if you could just do one like that every day... :)


Anonymous said...

Hurrah! Thanks for this.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

I *so* relate to that. When it comes to food in the last couple years, "fuck it" has kindof been my mantra, which is a bad thing.

But you know what? Your post helps remind me that I'm not alone in this, and that I can improve my diet and actually DO it.. I just have to get out of that loop of "fuck it" and just DO it. Easier said than done, but if I want positive change, I have to keep trying. Thanks for the reminder, I needed it.

Emi at Project Swatch said...

What a great post! Thanks for writing it.

I'm pretty sure that if not for reading other newbie blogs and the great comments on mine, I would have given up on CRON by now - but instead, I am determined to continue.

And "the probability of success increases with each try" is my new mantra, too.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post! I'm a newbie to CRON and I also can't eat wheat/rye/barley/oats. Every day, I make choices and those choices can be bad or good. Yesterday, I decided to eat the broccoli instead of the cheese and crackers. Good choice, and ultimately, it satisfied me more because it fed me mentally (good thoughts) and physically (with vitamins).

I too have said "aw fuck it" a number of times in the past, like when I started CRON about 10 years ago, but as you said, that was just a practice session. I'm slowly learning *how* to incorporate that many veggies into my diet when I basically didn't eat veggies before, but the proportions of veggies to other stuff is getting better over time. Just keep practicing...

Jacqueline said...

Another newbie here! Awesome post. It helps to know I'm not alone :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Chris! It's time to come back now, as we miss your wonderful musings! JD

Deborah said...

Hello? is there anybody there?

April said...

Chris... we really need you to post... we are starving for a post... this is post-restriction WITHOUT optimal post nutrition!!! Your posts are delicious and nutritious, but we will starve if we only get one one the weekends.

We are going to become post-orexic if you don't post soon.