Letting go of our dearest comforts takes extra special care.
This morning, we started a “no-binkie” experiment to see how our little boy would fare. He was upset first, then brave, and for a good hour, he was absolutely fine. Then, in a moment of absent-minded comfort-seeking, he went for the binkie. His courage collapsed into outrage, desperation, sadness and fear. We sat with him in his pain as much as we could, breathing in the realness of his humanity and ours. Yes, sweet boy, this is too is part of life. And, yes, my friend and fellow human, this is how crappy change can feel.
Like our son’s binkie, we know that some addictions or patterns of self-comfort can do us harm in the short- or long-term. Having recently spent time with people exploring mindful change toward healthier lives, it is clear that letting go of reliably comforting habits (such as smoking, drinking alcohol, some eating behaviors, consuming certain media) evokes a similar range of uncomfortable feelings in adults (though not as freely expressed as our son’s screaming, crying and trying to remove a door).
Here are a few suggestions to help you take special care when asking your mind, body and spirit to let go of something that has provided relief, pleasure or peace.
If your candy dish or pack of cigarettes or binkie has been your go-to source of comfort, it is so important to think ahead about how else you might comfort yourself, as well as how you might celebrate your efforts to change. A surprisingly helpful approach to this is simply making a list. Pull out piece of paper, a sticky note or notecard and ask yourself, “What kindness and comfort can I give myself as I transition to life without a binkie?” If you can’t think of anything, ask someone who knows you well to help you get started. Keep the list with you, and read it from time to time, which helps with number 3.
Other people can be friends and family, and if that’s problematic, it can be support groups in your community or online. Others might even be an author you love to read, a spiritual teacher, the staff at your local coffee shop. It can be especially helpful to be around others who share your interest in finding new comforts.
If you’ve been using a binkie every single time you get uncomfortable for a couple of years, your brain has created a superhighway around that habit pattern. Our brains are first and foremost built for survival and efficiency, so when something we do satisfies the survival parts of our brain or activates the pleasure/reward receptors, the brain quickly builds a communication network that makes things automatic. Upset-binkie-satisfied; Sad-binkie-satisfied; Bored-binkie-satisfied. No energy required.
So letting go of comforting habits requires two things really: 1) repeatedly choosing not to get on the binkie superhighway, which will certainly get easier, and 2) beginning to build some new pathways for the brain to organize around, which takes us back to the priority of finding new ways to bring kindness and comfort to yourself.
Mindful practice can be very helpful in this respect. If you practice observing and liberating yourself from the automation of the brain, you begin to experience some space to choose and research shows more and more that other parts of the brain’s anatomy come on board to help. Mindful practices that can really help:
It’s worthy of note that certain comforts that give us trouble when we let them go have been actively creating an extreme experience in us for a long time. The effects of nicotine, drugs, sugar, some imagery, highly palatable food and more can activate chemicals and light up parts of our brains that offer extremes of pleasure. Adapting to new levels of satisfaction is a likely part of the transition when letting go of these comforts.
The struggles we share in letting go of comforting habits are so deeply human.
May you find your way to the satisfaction and pleasure you choose.