Updated: May 16, 2019
When I feel tired, angry, emotionally hurt, or otherwise bothered, I have some pretty bad tendencies. I used to drink alcohol to numb the emotions. I learned over time that this was the worst thing I could do, so I took the brutal but necessary steps to eliminate alcohol from my life. However, that does not make me a saint. I still tend to go straight to the cupboard or feel the urge to pull into a Taco Bell drive thru for the instant pleasure my brain is craving. Sometimes my brain tells me to lie in bed and scroll through my instagram feed to block out the reality of what is happening in my life. There are dozens of defense mechanisms my brain has developed to avoid the pain of dealing with, well, pain.
I bet you have some self destructive ways of dealing with pain too. In fact, we all do. Although we have different coping strategies, we all have human brains that developed defense mechanisms to avoid pain and suffering. Its ok, it means you are human. How do the most successful people deal with their inevitable urges, pain, and human brains? They develop strategies.
-Step 1: Recognize your urge to indulge
When you can take a step back and understand what is happening in your brain, it can help take the emotions out of it.
Example: You had a rough day. You slept 4 hours last night, your boss is on your case about a project that is being held up because of someone else, and you missed your last two workouts. Driving home from work you see an ad for a Whopper from Burger King. You haven't eaten fast food in months yet your brain starts telling you, "Man, that looks delicious and will make me feel instantly better. You have been so good lately its ok to indulge today and do this for you."
If you can catch that thought and identify why its sneaking into your brain, you might take a step back and say, "WHY?" You realize your brain and body are in a stressed state and that this is not the real you talking.
-Step 2: Do not judge your thoughts
This quote always helps me stay grounded and not get too hard on myself:
"Urges do not matter. Only Actions do. A warrior is as a warrior does."
- Dan Millman in The Way of The Peaceful Warrior
You are human, just like everyone else. You have a 2 million year old brain and live in a modern society. Its ok to feel urges. Just be strong enough to identify them as such, overcome them, and move forward with your day.
-Step 3: Respond to the urge with a counter assault
While every person is different, there are some strategies that have been proven to be helpful ways to deal with physical and emotional stress for all people. Some may work better than others for you, but give these a shot next time you recognize yourself feeling the urge for instant pleasure:
If you are looking for instant pleasure, your body is looking for a dopamine hit. Exercise releases endorphins that provide this mood boosting sensation without any negative side effects. Its the best drug out there!
Getting into a flow of breath and focused thinking will take your mind off of the matter at hand and help you think clearly again. Get back to the real you, not the 2 million year old you!
3. Call someone you care about and ask about THEM
Talking to someone you love and trust will help take your focus off of yourself. Ask about them and see how you can help improve their life. You will feel better and start a new train of thought that does not involve destruction!
4. Deploy Gratitude and Generosity
This is an answer to any adverse situation. When we give, we get so much more. As humans we are wired to be compassionate beings. When you help someone, your brain will remind you that you are a good person and you will feel instantly better!
**If you find yourself giving into your urges consistently and are looking for a change, there is help out there. Most of it is free. All it takes is you reaching out to someone. If you think you or a loved one need help, follow the link here to find out more. I personally have used one of these programs to change my life for the better. The helps out there, so be vulnerable and put your life back in your own hands!