Posted by Lissa Carter, LPCA
Is there one habit you can’t seem to break, one lesson that you just can’t seem to learn? Is there a theme to your suffering?
Chances are, your problems started out as solutions. Something happened in your life that did not feel good, and you developed coping strategies to survive. These strategies served you for a while, but life changed and the strategies didn’t!
If you have fought hard without success to break your habits and change your behaviors, you are not alone. These behaviors and habits brought us pleasure once upon a time, and I have learned in my years as an addictions counselor that our brain’s pleasure center is an extremely powerful enemy!
But here’s the good news: it’s an even more powerful friend.
You can use pleasure to burn through your old habits and self-sabotaging behaviors, and to teach your brain that it no longer needs those old strategies to access joy.
Key #6, leveraging pleasure, may seem counterintuitive. Doesn’t change take hard work?
We tend to fight our bad habits and sabotaging behaviors with discipline, self-control, and stress. We mean well, but these conditions of self-denial just prime the brain to reach out for a source of pleasure in order to cope, and the nearest source of familiar pleasure is probably the very bad habit we were trying to change!
What if, instead of trying to change yourself through self-deprivation, you were to approach change from a sense of pleasure and delight? What if you showed your body, mind, and spirit that change can be deeply satisfying and pleasurable?
When you get your brain on your side and start building new pathways of pleasure, old habits are easily discarded because they are NO LONGER NECESSARY.
We will be learning how to do this one step at a time in our upcoming group, Sweet Relief. This series of six Monday evening gatherings will be a guided deep dive into uncovering how your old habits served you, creating a map forward to the life you want, and building new pleasure pathways to ensure that your brain is onboard with your transformation. If you know it’s time, and you are committed to ending the self-sabotage, you can sign up here.
I believe in this work, because I have watched it change my life and the lives of so many of my clients and friends.
If you are feeling called to do this work, and something is stopping you--financial considerations, fear, self-doubt, scheduling problems--please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, here is one of my favorite exercises for tapping into the power of pleasure.
Get out a journal and a pen, light a candle, and give yourself 10 minutes alone.
TRANSFORMING COMPLAINTS TO DESIRES
Activate your awareness. What have you been complaining about? What or who is bothering you? Take a few minutes, eyes closed, breathing deeply, to notice any stressful thoughts or emotions. Breathe deeply into any parts of your body that feel tight, clenched, or painful, and notice with a sense of curiosity what thoughts and feelings come up when you allow yourself to pay attention to these sensations. Open your eyes and take a few moments to write down what you’ve noticed. What are your complaints? What’s not working?
Figure out the feelings behind your complaints. For example, if I’ve noticed that the stressful thought “I’m overscheduled, there’s just never enough time” emerges when I pay attention, then my complaint is “I don’t have enough time”. Notice what feelings emerge in your body when you speak your complaint aloud. Then write down what those feelings are. Complaint: I don’t have enough time. Feelings: Tightness, stress, a sense of harriedness or rush.
Find the opposite feeling. Take a moment and notice these feelings in your body. Allow yourself to wonder what the opposite of these feelings would be. How would it feel if I believed I have enough time? Speak out the opposite of your complaint and notice the feelings that emerge. When I do this exercise, I notice that I have feelings of calm, spaciousness, and ease. Opposite feeling: calm, spaciousness, and ease.
State your opposite feeling as a desire. (I desire to feel spacious and calm.)
Find ways to meet your desire. Read your desire or speak it aloud. Settle into your body again and allow yourself to become curious. Where is this desire already met in your life? What are some healthy actions you could take in your life that would meet or nourish this desire?
Savor the good feelings. Any time throughout the day when you notice you are having the desired feelings or meeting your desire in any way, consciously notice this. Press pause for a moment and breathe in the good feelings, alerting your brain to the pleasure that you are feeling. Taking 15 to 20 seconds to savor pleasurable feelings increases our brain’s dopamine response, ensuring that it will take note of this source of pleasure next time.
You can repeat this process as necessary, for as many complaints as you wish. Every time you notice a new complaint surfacing into consciousness, jot it down!
Our complaints are fuel for transformation, once we learn and practice this process.
Feel free to read over the past blogs and learn about the other 5 keys to transforming suffering. In review, the six keys are:
1) Make portals to the sacred
3) Define your desires
4) Engage in creative digestion
5) Find your sweet spot
6) Leverage pleasure
Don't be afraid to reach out if you would like support and guidance in this process.
The counselors of this collective, and many other counselors around the world, offer free consultation so that you can see if counseling is a good fit for you.
I always love to hear from you! If you have any questions about this exercise, or want to share your results, feel free to comment below or email me at email@example.com.