The second idea is that you should take consistent action based on the suggestions that you get in alcoholism or addiction recovery.
This is a simple idea and it is also very simple to implement it into your life.
And on top of that this is also a very, very effective technique. It is powerful.
However, there is a catch.
A big catch.
No one really wants to do it!
The quickest way to destroy your ego
Your addiction runs on pure ego.
This is why you drink or use drugs. You are doing so to self medicate. Your ego is demanding this relief. It wants to be medicated.
The way to overcome an addiction is to overcome this ego problem. You must find a way to squash your ego, because that is what will really lead you to relapse if you are not careful. It is the ego that talks you back into a drink after you have been sober. It is the ego that is scared and afraid of sobriety. The ego is a big part of the problem.
So how do we overcome the ego?
We get out of our own way. We ignore the ego. We start by ignoring our own ideas about what will make us happy in life.
Now this is a very interesting subject, because you would think that every individual is going to be an expert at what will make him or her happy, right?
I mean, we all know best about what would truly make us happy in this life, correct?
You would think that this is the case. You would think that you, yourself, would know better than everyone else exactly what it will take in order to make you happy in this life.
Who could possibly be more qualified to direct you towards happiness other than…..you?
And that is why this is so tricky.
Because most of us, believe it or not, are very poor predictors of what will make us happy in this life.
We want certain things and we yearn for certain things and we believe that those things will make us happy. And then sometimes we achieve those goals and we look back and realize that achieving those things did not really create happiness for us. And so we start all over again, and start looking for the next thing that might make us happy. And the search continues. We are constantly seeking happiness and we are consistently disappointed with our results.
Why can’t we just enjoy life and be content? Why can’t we be at peace with ourselves?
The problem has to do with the ego. The ego is what is driving this lack of satisfaction.
And the way to get over this is to listen to someone else for a while.
Like I said, no one really wants to do this though.
No one wants to push their own ideas to the side and listen to the advice of other people.
But in doing so you can find true peace and contentment.
Why is this? Why does it work so well to listen to other people’s ideas and ignore our own?
A couple of key reasons:
* When you first get sober you don’t know what will make you happy. Your current idea of happiness is instant gratification through drugs or alcohol. That old model no longer works for you, and you have no idea how to replace it. If you go by your own ideas then you are just building on this old mindset that no longer works for you. You need a new approach.
* When you listen to other people’s ideas about how you should live, you get to cherry pick the nuggets of real wisdom. You can listen to people who have many years or even decades of sobriety. You can zero in on the advice that comes from people who are genuinely happy. In other words, you don’t have to take bad advice. It is easy to go to a few AA meetings (for example) and find good advice from people who are actually “walking the walk.” So if you see people who are happy and living a good life, then you just follow their advice in order to get the same results for yourself. Does that sound simple? It is simple, but as I also pointed out–no one wants to do it! Because it is hard work and you have to kill your ego in order to do it. Not easy. Simple, but not easy to do.
Why getting out of your own way and freeing up mental energy is so important for recovery
There is another huge benefit to this idea of taking advice from others in recovery, and that is that you get to free up a whole lot of mental energy.
There are two parts to every decision. The deciding, and then the doing.
They have a parable of sorts in AA about the third step and what it means to make a decision. The parable is essentially: Three frogs sat on a log and 2 decided to jump off, how many are left on the log? And the answer is “all three, because even though they made a decision, they did not necessarily follow up that decision by taking action.”
Sort of a silly little joke, but the point remains: There are at least two parts to every decision. The moment that you decide and commit to something, and then the actual follow through.
Now here is the thing that most people don’t realize about this: It takes mental energy to do both of these things.
Of course we all know that it takes energy to follow through and do the real work. But it also takes real energy to make the decision itself. Sometimes quite a bit of mental energy.
And when you get your own ego out of the way and take advice from other people instead, you free up a great deal of mental energy so that you no longer have to worry about the actual deciding.
This is huge. All you have to worry about now is the follow through.
You just have to execute.
I experienced this a great deal when I went to rehab.
I checked into treatment, went through the detox process, and then started following directions.
I was essentially saying to the counselors, therapists, sponsors, and peers there:
“I don’t know how to live. Please show me what to do and how to live my life.”
And then I listened, and I executed. I followed through. I took suggestions and I took massive action.
I moved into long term rehab (based on their advice) and I started taking even more suggestions. And taking more action.
I wasn’t deliberating. I wasn’t hemming and hawing over every single decision. I was letting other people dictate my life for me, and then I was taking action and doing the work. They had the map, and I drove the car. They told me where to go and I went.
This is how I took massive action in early recovery. By getting out of my own way.
If I had to agonize over every single little decision it would have tied me up a great deal. It would have froze me into analysis paralysis. I would have been much less effective.
But instead I made a decision that I was going to effectively “kill my ego.” I decided that I would ignore my own advice and only listen to other people’s advice instead. I would follow their suggestions and put the ideas into action. I would execute on the advice rather than to debate it and second guess it all day long.
This actually works. The problem is, people generally don’t want to do it. They don’t want to stand down and let others do the thinking for them.
If you go to AA meetings they will tell you that recovery is not about willpower.
They will tell you that if you work through the twelve steps that you do not need any willpower in order to quit drinking. They will try to remove the idea of “willpower” from the discussion, telling you that the AA program absolves the need for any willpower whatsoever.
They are wrong.
Well, they are partially right. But they are still wrong.
Because it takes willpower to go to AA meetings every day. It takes an act of will to adopt and follow and embrace the program of AA. Yes, doing so is clearly an act of will. No one can force you to embrace AA and the steps. You must do so for yourself and this is a direct act of will.
Now let’s say that you get sober in some other way without using AA. You may have some sort of program or system of recovery, but whatever it is, the same concept applies–there is going to be some act of will involved. You can’t just press a magic button and get sobriety in your life. No matter how you go about finding recovery it is going to take some personal effort.
In other words, you may not be using your willpower directly in terms of declining alcoholic beverages, but you are most definitely using willpower in order to work a program of recovery. You are using willpower directly in order to change your life.
That is why they are “wrong” in AA when they say that it doesn’t require any willpower. That is not true. It does take willpower to change your life. What they are really saying is that you don’t have to apply that willpower directly to avoiding alcohol. You can instead use it to build a new life, form a relationship with a higher power, and so on.
So now that we have established that it takes willpower in order to turn your life around, let’s move on to a recent bit of research that has uncovered a very interesting truth:
You have a finite amount of willpower.
That’s right, they have proven (quite recently) through a series of studies that humans only have a finite amount of willpower to work with in a given day.
So by testing this in various ways, they were able to show that if you use up your willpower earlier in the day, then you will be much more likely to “cave in” later on and succumb to a desire or craving for something.
This has been proven. Your willpower is finite and limited.
Therefore, if you can conserve it in any way then it will make your recovery that much stronger.
And this all comes back to the idea of killing your ego and taking suggestions from other people.
So when you make the decision to kill your ego and simply take suggestions from others, what you are really doing is freeing up willpower. And you are taking a chance, and thinking to yourself: “Well, I don’t really know if this will make me happy, and I kind of doubt that it will because it is not my idea, but if I listen to others for a while then I don’t have to worry or decide things for myself, so I will just try it and see what happens.”
And so you do it. You go through with it, and you start to take suggestions from other people, and you start to take positive action in your life based on these suggestions.
And before a month is up you will probably be amazed.
I can remember the exact feeling of wonderment when I did this little experiment for myself in early recovery. I was amazed. And I felt like I had found a secret, like I was somehow cheating or getting away with something incredible, because I had found this shortcut to happiness. All I had to do was get out of my own way. All I had to do was take the advice of others, take suggestions from people who were already happy and successful in sobriety. I just had to kill my ego, keep it pushed down inside, and listen to the suggestions from other people instead. It was almost too easy. It was like cheating the system. Because instead of having to figure everything out for myself and make all of these natural sort of mistakes, I was learning directly from the experience of others and the mistakes that they had made in the past. This was so much better. I got to get right to the peace, the contentment, the happiness. I got to bypass a whole lot of misery and frustration that I watched some other people experiencing. Simply because I was willing to listen and to get out of my own way. I was willing to execute on these ideas that were not mine to begin with.
So if you start doing this then you will eventually notice a few things. One, you will have a massive amount of willpower in your life, because you are essentially conserving your will because you are not using it as much. Once you remove the problem of having to decide everything for yourself, you free up a ton of extra willpower. This is amazing and you cannot possibly appreciate it until you try it. They even use this idea to help the president of the U.S., by outsourcing nearly all of his basic decisions for him in order to give him more clarity and focus on the truly important decisions that he must make each day. If it is a good enough strategy to help the president of the U.S. to conserve willpower, then you should use the same basic concept to help you to quit drinking! Why not take advantage of this simple principle? Let others make decisions for you for a while, and simply worry about execution. We are poor predictors of our own happiness anyway, and others will not generally steer us wrong. This is doubly true if you look up to the successful people in sobriety and take advice from those who have a good life in recovery. It really is pretty simple. Don’t take advice from people who just relapsed. Take advice from the person with several years or decades sober who seems genuinely happy. Do what that person tells you to do.
Two, you will notice that you are also building up a huge amount of discipline if you are following my advice here.
So not only will you be making progress and taking positive action, but you will also be becoming a stronger person in terms of discipline. For example, someone suggested that I start exercising every day, and eventually I took that suggestion (took me a few years, but I finally did it!).
And as I took that advice, I got out of my own way. I did not wonder why I was doing it, or if I should be doing it, or what the value of it was. I pushed all of those “why questions” to the side, and said to myself: “I trust my sponsor and I trust my family, and they are telling me to exercise every day, and so I am going to simply do it, stop wondering about the validity of the decision, I am just going to trust that it is the right thing to do, and I am going to follow through on this and execute on it.”
And so I did that, I started exercising every day, and in doing so I started to build an amazing amount of discipline. And I realized at some point that this was power. That I could take this new discipline and that I could change other habits in my life using the same approach, using the same basic mindset. One example of this was with quitting smoking. I don’t think I could have followed through with that if I had not first built the discipline that I did through daily exercise.
In this way, one success in my life allowed me to build a bridge to another kind of success. I used the discipline that I gained in one experiment to be able to tackle new goals.
Building a better life through consistent action
Of course, none of this really matters if you are not consistent with it.
I think we all know that based on the struggle that we have in addiction and alcoholism. If you are not consistent with sobriety then you know what kind of results that leads to. You are either stuck in addiction or you are sober–there isn’t much room in between those two extremes. And so if you lack consistency in sobriety then you aren’t really sober at all. Your life devolves into chaos and becomes a complete mess.
Therefore it is important to be consistent when we are talking about making these sort of positive changes in your life. The consistency is a huge part of where the success will come from. How else do you think it would build any sort of discipline in your life if you were not doing things consistently? Without the consistent follow through it is questionable if you are really building up anything of value at all in your life. The value comes from the consistency and the persistence.
Of course, there will be some suggestions that you take in early recovery that do not pan out for you.
This is fine, and is to be expected. I have taken suggestions from people, tested them out for a while, and decided that they were not for me. This happened to me with seated meditation, which I experimented with for a couple of months. I eventually moved on to distance running and found that to be superior (for me personally, this will vary of course).
And so part of the key is to keep an open mind and experiment. But don’t get hung up on the initial decisions. Avoid that drain of your willpower by outsourcing this part. Simply ask other people in recovery that you trust and look up to what you should be doing with your life right now. The answers will vary so keep asking the question. And keep taking action based on the suggestions. Doing this over and over again will result in consistent personal growth.
What about you, have you been able to take consistent action based on the suggestions that you get in recovery? Do you like taking advice from others? Have you found a way to sidestep your own ego? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!