Thursday, January 9, 2014

Making the Impossible, Possible

Have you ever said to yourself, "I could never do that!" or "That would be impossible to endure or go through." I have in several areas of my life. I've had to work on training my brain to stop saying, "I can't or couldn't" and think in more smaller, confident-building bites.

Do I really believe that if God leads me to something, then surely He will provide the means, the strength, and the wisdom to fulfill it? The Israelites questioned God quite often and moaned and groaned to Moses, saying (paraphrase), "Things were better in Egypt! Why did God lead us out here only to die and struggle so much." Sadly, they weren't much different than many of us. I know I've done my share of "whining" to the Lord.

If you would have told Amy and I that we would go through such a tragedy in our marriage and come through it closer, stronger and share a message of hope with others a couple of years into it, we both would have said, "There's no way!" I am sure many people have thought, "I could never survive something like that! I can't imagine still being married after such betrayal." I don't blame anyone if they think or say that. None of us really know how we would react or what we could endure until we find ourselves in certain situations, whatever it may be. I know I don't deserve to still be married and thriving in my marriage. I also know Amy and I could not have survived it without God's help and others walking with us.

I read an article recently about doing "impossible things" (see below). It has stories of three people who faced their fears and did what seemed to be impossible. It's not related to recovery, but it has some great insights about how our brains can "sabotage" our change if we don't understand what's happening. We are all constantly torn between wanting to change but giving up on change out of fear, bad habits, instant gratification, etc. Check out the article below. It's long, but I pray it gives you some good insight for your situation and you can see the benefit of making positive changes in your life, one small step at a time.

Paul struggled with such feelings of being torn between doing good yet still doing that which he didn't want to do. We all can relate for sure:
Romans 7:14-21, (HCSB)
14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am made out of flesh,[a] sold into sin’s power. 15 For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. 19 For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. 21 So I discover this principle:[b] When I want to do what is good, evil is with me.

We often choose ineffective strategies because we misunderstand how the mind really works. You often hear human beings are “creatures of habit.” Now it’s certainly true that we spend a good portion of the average day engaged in habitual behaviors—brushing our teeth or driving to work. It can take a certain amount of effort and perseverance to wipe out bad habits (like cracking your knuckles) and instill good ones (like flossing). But the kind of life change Duffy accomplished is an order of magnitude more difficult than merely changing a habit. You don’t smoke or eat too much or skip exercise out of habit; you do those things because you want to do them. You also want to not do them. There’s a collision of desires within your brain.
Psychologists who study self-control have long puzzled over why we should find ourselves in this kind of struggle. After all, if someone perceives a course of action as being in his own best interest, why shouldn’t he be able to just do it?
Back in the late ’60s, psychiatrist George Ainslie was conducting research into pigeon behavior and noticed a funny thing about the way the birds make decisions. He set up an experiment in which he gave pigeons the choice between a button that would reward them with 4 ounces of grain in 14 seconds and a button that would give them 1 ounce of grain in 10 seconds. Both rewards were off in what to a pigeon seemed like the distant future, so they preferred the reward that was bigger in absolute terms, the 4 ounces of grain. But if they had to wait eight seconds for the 4 ounces and only two seconds for the 1 ounce, they now had six seconds more to wait for the 4 ounces, so they then preferred the smaller amount.

Ainslie called this tendency to prefer immediate payoffs “hyperbolic discounting,” and it isn’t limited to pigeons. It’s something all animals do, including human beings. When we think about two future rewards, one big (like being healthy) and one small (like the pleasure of sitting on the sofa), we want the greater one right up until the moment the smaller one is right in front of us. Our subconscious reward-processing center flips its preference, willy-nilly.

“We all overvalue the present,” says Ainslie. “That’s what original sin is.” This tendency to cave to temptation is annoying, but it’s not dysfunctional. It’s simply how we’re wired.

People are different from other animals, though. We can override impulse and choose what’s good for us in the long run, at least some of the time. That’s because we can imagine the future. When a smoker thinks about quitting, he can perceive a trade off between having a cigarette right now versus a longer, healthier life in the future. A dieter can pass up the sundae, thinking about the thrill of wearing a bikini this summer.

Yet fighting temptation is always a struggle. Why? Here’s where Ainslie hit upon a really remarkable insight. He suggests that, subconsciously, you can’t add up all those future benefits unless you really think you’re going to stick to the program. If you trust yourself absolutely—if you know 100 percent for certain that you won’t give in and have that cigarette tomorrow or the day after—then choosing not to smoke will be effortless. But if you don’t trust yourself, if you know in your heart of hearts that you’re going to give in and smoke tomorrow anyway, then you can’t count on the future reward of good health, because it will never arrive.

It’s a vicious circle, or as Ainslie calls it, “recursive self-prediction.” If you have faith in yourself, you know you’ll be able to turn down that cigarette in the future, and that makes it easier to turn it down now. If you don’t have faith, it will be very hard to resist temptation right now, and you’ll fail. Either way, your prediction about your future behavior becomes self-fulfilling. And so this is why change can seem impossible. When we’re trying to quit smoking, or eat better, or start exercising, we’re trying to leap from a state of disbelief to a state of faith, despite all prior evidence to the contrary.

In desperation, we often make grandiose declarations that from now on, we’ll make a radical change for the better. Think of all those grand resolutions that get made every Dec. 31. The problem is that the next time temptation comes around, the subconscious doubt is still there, and we give in to the urge, destroying our credibility all over again. By the second week of January, the gyms are empty and the bars are full again.

So how do we climb our way to self-faith? The answer, as Gerry Duffy discovered, is little by little. His breakthrough came when he decided to put aside ambitious resolutions and focus on a goal he knew he could accomplish. Every time he walked, he earned himself a bit more internal credibility. After a few weeks, the personal rule “I will walk every night” was something he knew he would abide by indefinitely. And that belief meant he could count on its long-term benefits. The alternative—vegging out in front of the TV—didn’t seem so compelling anymore. In fact, giving in to the lazy option would mean throwing away all the self-faith he’d spent so much effort accumulating, and that wasn’t appealing at all.
There's more in the article, so click on the title above to go to the link if you want to read more.

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