For those of you who read this post because of the title, you were probably like me, someone who had tried to overcome certain bad habits and addictions for years. The words “defeat” and “overcome” indicate a belief in our willpower and a desire to eliminate our vices.
Such mindset is intuitive, but counter-productive. Our willpower is the best fuel to the vicious cycle of defeat-guilt-regret-struggle-defeat. The more we feel we need to stop doing something, the more we’re reminded of that something. The more we do what we resisted , the more we feel bad, and the more we feel bad, the more our mind and body crave pleasures that make us feel good again.
Unresolved guilt is a major factor that disables and controls many people. It has contributed to all kinds of physical diseases, and psychological conditions. It takes away our focus and reminds us of our faults, and as a result, images and memories of our faults replay themselves in our minds, increasing the chances for us to commit them again.
The bondage is three-fold – spiritual, mental, and physical.
A personal example of how I fell into the cycle of addiction
I was a perfectionist and had a tendency to be legalistic. I would unconsciously, habitually set up standards for myself. These standards look reasonable to me and I seldom think outside of such mindset.
Computer games started becoming popular in my generation. I became mildly attracted to them but there were these arguments in my head that caused me to declare battles against all digital games:
1. It takes away the time for real achievements. 2. It causes strains and diseases to the eyes. 3. I will regret in the future if I look back and think of the hours I wasted on games.4. If I waste my time and fail to achieve, I won’t get the “dream girl” because I don’t deserve her.
Because of these arguments, whenever I got attracted by games and played just a little, the guilt would gush out and the arguments in my head would intensify.
Forbidden pleasures were strangely seducing. The more I thought about the bad consequences of gaming, the more my mind formed images and sounds that made it all the more attractive.
It was stressful to fight against impulse. When the battles entered the stage of fighting impulses and fantasies of the mind, the battle was already lost.
When the forbidden act was committed, emptiness and regret would fill my mind. They were mind shattering. I couldn’t move on to productive activities right away because of the condemnations in the head that caused me to feel defeated and disoriented. As a result of one single defeat, a good chunk of my day was wasted and I would lose the motivation to live the rest of the day to its fullest.
Another motivation to resist gaming was health concerns.
During a very stressful year when I was 16, I started to have double vision in my eyes. I had to wear strong glasses for astigmatism. My eyes got tired and dry easily. My vision was clouded by half-transparent, permanent stains and flowing particles – itwas a kaleidoscope.
This rapid deterioration in my eyes’ health caused me to worry a lot. I would often cover each of my eyes to check if the vision of another got worst. Fear of blindness was my primary reason to protect my eyes from strenuous activities.
The constant worry of my health, the obsession over quitting bad habits, the guilt/regret/confusion resulting from each defeat, only reinforce the vicious cycle of defeat-guilt-regret-struggle-defeat. It had been that way for me for 8 years. I started from being mildly attracted to gaming to becoming an addict.
The process fed on itself, so it was actually better for me to let go of all worries and attempt to stop gaming from the beginning. But it would’t work in the long run because obviously a spineless person will end up with many destructive bad habits.
There is a balance between offense and defense.
Maybe you want to reduce body weight, time spent on TV, surfing the Web, or overspending. Whatever it is in your case, the principles are the same.
Break the vicious cycle first
Fear of pain and desire for pleasure are two major motivations behind everything we do. Reminding yourself of the bad consequences of an addiction, and benefits from getting rid of it, is a crucial step to change, but don’t overdo it to a point that you become obsessive.
Our subconscious is easy to mis-program. If you rehearse a vice in your mind several times, the temptation to do it will only get stronger. It doesn’t matter if you are thinking, “I am not going to eat this ice-cream”. The only message that your subconscious gets is “ice-cream”.
To do or not to do, the object of your focus will breed actions.
So if you want to escape from the cycle, you need to relax first. Make up your mind, with a clear picture of benefits and pains, and then leave it to your subconscious and God. No need to reinforce the arguments in your head all the time.
It’s like learning to swim. If you struggle, you sink. If you relax the muscles and follow certain rhythms of body movement and breathing, you become able to swim.
To relax is only the beginning. It’s very difficult to relax if you encounter defeat and the stake of the battle is high – the stakes can be relationships, finance, health, achievements, inner peace, or others. To relax you have to learn how to forgive yourself.
In fact, you will probably have to forgive yourself many times. Be prepared.
You have to understand that you are not in total control of yourself. It’s very easy for us to deny that a 120% of our willpower can’t do a thing to save us from our own vices. If you pay attention to how you are defeated every time, you will see that even though your intention is good, you still end up doing what you hate to do.
It’s like you suddenly become another person, a stranger, when you commit that awful act.
What else can we do then?
You and I are going to need a lot of help.
I used to underestimate the difficulties I had to face, and I thought spending more than a month to overcome a bad habit was too long. Now I know better.
It takes strategies, mindset, ongoing support and reminders from others in order to win the battles – Yes, battle with an ‘s’, because winning once or twice is not enough, there are many more battles ahead. It may be easy to win once or twice, but the more battles you engage in, the more confusing it becomes and it will spread your effort thin.
A benefit of seeing it as a long series of battles is that, it turns your mindset from an “all or nothing” mode to a more dynamic “continuum” mode. With the all-or-nothing mode, every single defeat can trigger loads of negative emotions, which is like a black hole that sucks you in, depleting your energy and willpower. But with the continuum mode, a setback doesn’t make you feel like everything has to be started from scratch again – it’s easier to get back to where you’ve backslid from than starting over again.