Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Shame We Believe In

"I can't do that," she said. 

I had been telling her about some of my healthy eating practices (she asked; I did not volunteer), but she was shaking her head in the negative. 

I already know from my own experience that when I have decided I "can't" do something, then I don't even bother to try. It's called "limiting beliefs," a term I heard from Esti Hamilton (she's got a series on the topic, check 'em all out). 

Many moons later I see this gal. "By the way," she grins happily, "I've been doing what you told me about." She looks great, if I may say so myself. 

According to scientists, addiction is not an illness like schizophrenia and cancer. There IS choice involved. I have just finished reading Charles Duhigg's fascinating The Power of Habit, and one chapter deals with addiction, specifically gambling. In "Can Shame Be Useful?", the authors address gambling addictions, but use the same term: habit. 

Whenever I read stories of addicts who turned their lives around, it was usually kick-started by a light bulb moment: I can't go one like this. I can be better. I'm letting my family down. I can't believe I did THAT to feed this addiction. 
It's rarely from a place of back-patting. 
So under what conditions does shame end up prodding people into correcting their course? Alternatively, when does intense self-criticism make matters worse by further fueling an addiction (for example, drinking even more to mute the pain of those shameful feelings)?
An important influence appears to be whether people buy into the notion that a habit is under or out of their control. . . 
They found that study participants who were vulnerable to experiencing shame were less inclined to engage in corrective actions when they believed their mistakes were not fixable, such as when they had no opportunity to apologize to someone they’d offended. In contrast, participants were more inclined to engage in positive behaviors when they thought their errors could be repaired.
The lesson is that shame can act as a spur to amend self-inflicted damage when people perceive that damage is fixable and manageable. In light of this finding, comparing addiction to a purely biological disorder, like cancer, might backfire, leading people to see their habits as unalterable.
I have said "I can't do that" plenty of times. Then years later, waddya know, I AM doing it. Not with effort and thought, but mindlessly and automatically. A good habit.  

Can I alter the Earth's axis? No. Can I insist that someone like me? No. Can I prevent the haze of humidity that is supposed to hit this week? No. 

Can I be more thoughtful? Act deliberately, not instinctively? Can I change my bad habits? 
With some elbow grease and "can"s, yup.     

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