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Addiction Change Counseling Psychology

Beyond Trend

Assessing your readiness to change, especially with lifestyle choices that may go against societal trends

Two glass tumbers with ice and dark brown whiskey next to bottle of Ballantine's scotch whiskey laying on its side atop a wood table.

Assessing Your Readiness to Change (Even When It’s Not Fashionable)

The following post is the expressed opinion of the author and is not be used as a substitute for medical advice. If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, eating disorder, or self-harm behavior, please seek medical advice from a licensed and/or certified provider.

The other day, I found myself chatting about a subject that rubbed me all sorts of wrong: Food Ennui.

Just a few days ago, the U.S. entered its third year in the global pandemic, and all the cracks in the system are apparent. With supply chains affected, workers shifting jobs or resigning outright, and a surge of the Omicron variant triggering localized calls for the National Guard to assist in everything from teaching in classrooms to helping in the hospitals, being bored with food seems disconnected from a reality that looks more like a war zone.

And yet I am not surprised how many people casually responded in a text chat that food ennui is real, as real as the fatigue many of us are experiencing in other parts of our lives. Some of us are really feeling tired of eating the same things, yet we’re aware that there bigger fish to fry and larger fires to put out.

Like many decisions we can make about how we function, order our days, care for our family members, and meet our own needs, not all of our decisions are going to be the latest trend. Not all of our choices are filled with fun or ease. Yet avoiding change just because it goes against the current trend has its personal consequences.

You do not need New Year’s resolutions to learn to make sound decisions and create a plan for change. So what DO you need?

Readiness for Change

The first thing you need to know before you make a change, big or small, is your answer to this question, “Are you ready?”

It’s OK if you answer that you’re not sure if you are ready, or that you want to be ready but you have some hesitation. Yet I think it’s important to give yourself a chance to hear your thoughts and feelings about how ready you are to make a change in your life, and go from there.

There is no one magic pathway to determining your readiness, yet here are a few questions to ponder that will help you think about readiness and what it would take to see some real change:

  1. WHAT do I think needs to change? What will I gain or lose by this change?
  2. WHY is that change important to me?
  3. HOW have I tried to change this before, and what stopped me the last time?
  4. WHO is in my corner, even if the only support I have is myself? Is it enough, or can I find a way to get more support?

Make a Plan with Small Steps

Whenever people find out I like to run long distances, they can’t get over how far I run. “How do you even get to a place where you can run those kinds of miles?” they ask.

“Well, you start by running from your house and around the block and back.” In essence, you start with where you are: start with small steps, and then add on more over time. Small and incremental changes that can be sustained have an accumulative effect.

My answer remains fundamentally the same whether you want to start a meditation practice, learn a language, play an instrument, or get rid of processed sugar from your diet. Once you have assessed your readiness for whatever change you have chosen (and accepting it as your choice, even if you don’t like the thing you chose in the moment), you can start with small changes.

As a therapist, I get asked for help with many of the same kinds of behavioral trends that come in and out of vogue. Here are just a few:

  • stop smoking
  • lose weight >20 pounds
  • begin and progress into a fitness program
  • learn how to cook at home to eat less processed food
  • decrease or eliminate drinking alcohol* (see comment below)
  • minimize negativity and maximize action
  • increase mental resilience
  • improve sleep
  • communicate with empathy
  • stick to a hobby
  • watch less television
  • learn to meditate and relax
  • decrease mindless activities on computer or devices

If you want to try a short exercise in how to look at a change with small steps, pick something on this list of which you experience success, and imagine sharing with a close friend how you came about experiencing that success. Take each factor, and make the steps even smaller, so that each step does not have much distance between them.

Beyond Trend

On a personal note, I noticed that Social Media is flooded with memes surrounding the pandemic, fatigue, and humorous reasons to indulge in drinking alcohol, overeating, and spending money regardless of budget or means.

This is not to say that these memes didn’t exist before the pandemic, or that people should be shamed for their personal choices. I simply noticed that the amount of content around these themes appears to have risen significantly. I’ll leave that to data scientists to tell us if my observations are statistically significant!

So let me choose one of the three to talk about here as a “beyond trend” choice. What if those who decided to try a “Dry January” — that is, a month abstaining from drinking alcohol in order to increase their awareness around their relationship to alcohol and its use — wanted to extend that practice beyond the month of January and beyond the supportive trend that has become an annual event, even a badge of honor to boast about?

Well, if you went 31 days without alcohol, you already walked yourself through an analysis of your own readiness to change, taken the initiative to implement small steps of change (i.e. removing alcohol from home, or going out with friends but telling them you are not drinking alcohol for a month, having an alternative beverage choice, choosing activities that are not centered around food and beverage, etc).

Lasting changes that go beyond the trend and support of short-term changes take more planning. It may involve talking to people in your support system and your household about what you need from them to be successful, as well as what you will provide on your own (such as boundaries, limits, and choices).

If you find yourself struggling, you may want to get more support, such as joining a group of likeminded people, hiring professional help, or broadcasting your choice and your needs to a larger group beyond your immediate support system in order to hear about more similar stories. You may discover that you aren’t among the majority making that decision, but you don’t need a majority to stick to it.

You may wish to keep track of your thoughts and feelings about your choice to abstain from alcohol in a journal, reminding yourself why you are doing what you do. In the world of sobriety, the phrase, “One day at a time” helps those who have chosen a sober life to focus on getting through each day without drugs or alcohol.

You might need to turn down the volume of the Social Media memes and messages that promote lifestyle choices* that are not in line with what you are trying to accomplish. Again, it may not be on trend with what “everyone” else is doing. Turning down that volume so you can hear your own thoughts and choices can help you maintain clarity.
Ensuring your lifestyle choice does not encourage dangerous or damaging thoughts and actions is also a part of the process of change

Living a sober life has much more complexity to it than eliminating drugs and alcohol. The underlying causes of drug and alcohol addiction or use, and even its identification in the user, have been the study of philosophers, healers, and addiction specialists for centuries.

If you have chosen to reduce and/or eliminate drugs and alcohol for any reason, there is help available for ALL of the complexity.

______

* Lifestyle choices – let me clarify, a lifestyle choice can have an intersection with appropriate medical advice. I am not advocating for dropping sound medical advice in lieu of a lifestyle choice. An example of this would be using one’s insulin pump for diabetes as a means to drop weight fast, or taking on a restrictive diet at the expense of syncope, hormonal damage, and severe anxiety or depression.

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, AIP Coach and PN1-NC, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 30+ years in healthcare (22+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is a two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018); she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for 100 Mile trail races and a backyard ultra. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, camping under the stars, and cooking real food.

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