Archive for December, 2012

How do you see yourself?

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Click here to listen to Audio version of this blog article

(12/18/12)

How do you see yourself behaving as a sober person? What do you visualize yourself doing as a sober person? I really want you to think about this. You don’t have to if you don’t want to. You can sit back and see what happens and unfolds in your life. But if you look into your own future and see how you will behave, what you will be doing and who you will be hanging out with you will have a better idea of what you want to do with your time. This is a great exercise to involve you as an active participant in making the best out of your sobriety—and it may just make staying sober a bit easier.

What I would like you to do is visualize the final outcome of an event and then work your way backwards to where you are right now. This is different than the more popular techniques of hanging pictures on your refrigerator, your dresser mirror or posting self affirmations on the bathroom mirror. Those things are all good and fine, especially the self affirmations which act as reminders. What I’m going to ask you to do will require thought and creativity. It puts your mind into action and you will see and feel forward movement. You have to see yourself in action—actually in the process of obtaining the goal or living the way you desire. This requires you to delve into your active memory and see what you are actually capable of doing. When you see yourself involved in action you can then focus on the actual behaviors and activities you have visualized—you will perform the actions you visualized and behave the way you saw yourself behaving.

Let me explain the difference between just looking at a picture of what you desire and graphically visualizing yourself involved in your desire. When you see yourself doing something or having something, you mentally become the owner of the event, condition or item. As the owner, you will then fight more and work harder to keep and protect what you already have as opposed to how much effort you would put in towards gaining something new. Through visualizing yourself in the event you unconsciously already have the item. In economics, psychology and neuroeconomics, protecting and fighting for what you already have is called “loss aversion.” I’m not making this shit up. The mind is very sneaky with itself and it can easily be fooled by itself. Sometimes that’s good; like talking yourself into taking a calculated risk, and sometimes that’s bad; like talking yourself into drinking.

I’m going to give you two examples of how to visualize backwards. One is for a materialistic goal and the other is for a non-materialistic goal.

Material Goal:

Let’s say you want a Ferrari F12berlinetta. Well, first off when or where will you drive it? What other items will you have to give up to own one? Even if you stole one, you’d have to keep it hidden in your garage and you couldn’t use it. In any case, of course it’s nice to dream about owning or simply driving a Ferrari. But putting pictures of one on your fridge isn’t going to put one in your garage. Seriously, the average person in America is not going to buy a Ferrari. Now that doesn’t mean that you’re less of a person because you can’t afford one.

So make your goal realistic. To go from a Kia to a Ferrari is a major upward shot. Wouldn’t it be more fun to go from a Kia to a Lexus, to a Porsche, to a Bentley and then to a Ferrari? Look at all the fun you would have along the way. So instead of a Ferrari, a Porsche or a BMW, how about something more realistic, more affordable and usable? If you want a cool little Sports car you can realistically plan to own a Scion FR-S or a Honda Civic Si. These are realistic goals. So let’s work our way backwards.

  • You see yourself driving this cool new car.
  • You see yourself going to Walmart Supercenter putting groceries in it.
  • You see the car in your garage or parking space.
  • Then you see yourself at a car dealership negotiating a great price, writing a check.
  • You see yourself test-driving cars and going over the brochures to pick out all the options and color you want.
  • You see yourself making deposits at your bank to build up your savings.
  • You see yourself making choices with your paycheck so you can afford to stash money away.
  • You see yourself at work, doing your job, being responsible and being paid.
  • You see and hear yourself telling your friends and family, “I’m going to save my money and buy a Scion FR-S. Have you seen these? They’re really cool cars and I’m going to get one in about 6 months.”

Non-materialistic goal:

  • You see yourself sitting on the bank of a river fishing with your kids.
  • You’re talking and enjoying each other’s company.
  • You’re having fun baiting hooks, playing with worms, laughing and goofing around.
  • You see yourself sitting with your child, going over their homework with them, reminding them to get it done so you can all go fishing this weekend.
  • You see yourself coming home from work and greeting your kids. (Ya, maybe they’re watching TV or playing video games. But you’re smarter than they are, so you begin asking them questions about their day at school or what game they’re playing. They start explaining it to you. You show interest.)
  • You see yourself heading home from work, looking forward to being with your family.
  • You see yourself going straight home, passing on invitations to stop for just one.
  • You see and hear yourself telling your friends, “I’m heading straight home to hang out with my kids. We’re going fishing this weekend and I want to make sure I don’t fuck anything up. My kids are counting on me.”

These are just examples to get you thinking on your own. The point is that you don’t just put a picture of a Ferrari or a happy couple up on your fridge and then sit back and wait for it to happen. I would like you to actually see yourself involved in your journey, to see what you must do and how you must behave to make these things happen and come into reality.

I am not giving any guarantees that by following this technique everything you visualize and want will happen. You’re probably not going to get everything you desire or wish for. Things won’t always pan out or go the way you visualize them. I’m not being a pessimist—I’m just being honest. If you expect too much out of sobriety or visualization techniques—and then it doesn’t happen—disenchantment can undermine your sobriety. “Aw, this is all bullshit. Nothing happened the way I wanted it to happen. Fuck it, I might as well drink.” Don’t relapse just because everything didn’t happen exactly as you planned or visualized. Let’s say you wanted to save $1000 for Christmas but only manage to save $500. Isn’t getting half way there better than not ever getting started at all? Be realistically optimistic. Without optimism you will lack hope.

Neither you nor I know how the future will unfold. But there are a few things you can count on. The future IS going to happen, regardless if you’re sober or sleeping off a hangover. If you don’t have a plan you will be at the mercy of whatever the future brings. You will react to the future and be pushed around by it.

Build probability to work in your favor. See what you want and see yourself in the process of achieving it, whether it’s maintaining sobriety, having a happy home life or acquiring some materialistic goal. These mental exercises can be fun. A lot of times your body will feel exhilaration while you’re in the midst of visualizing. It will boost your mental activity and energize you to want to take action. This is how visualization—seeing yourself—pushes you along more powerfully than just pictures or mantras and self-affirmations pasted on you fridge. See for yourself what you want to be, and then work towards it.

Mark Tuschel

Self-justification:

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

“Click here” to listen to audio version of this article.

Self-Justification: How it works against you and how you can make it work for you.

(12/05/12)

Have you ever bought a product like a car, motorcycle, latest cell phone, computer, etc. that you really didn’t need or couldn’t afford, but then found yourself telling everyone (including yourself), “How wonderful it is. What a great bargain you got. How safe it is. How much time it saves you,” whatever? If you were to analyze the facts and review whether you REALLY had to have this item, you would find that you probably could have just as easily gone without it, kept your old phone, bought a less expensive car, etc. THAT is self-justification.

This phenomenon doesn’t just occur with products that we buy. It happens with intangible things like who we vote for, who we marry, how we behave and what careers we choose. I don’t know about you, but I know that I have a tendency to come to a decision and then conjure up reasons and justifications to support my decision. I will build up all the reasons that I like and then downplay or ignore all the reasons that don’t fit in with my decision. This doesn’t mean that all of my decisions are bad or shallow. I just want to reinforce why I made a certain decision and this all begins as an unconscious desire—the desire to be right and feel good about my decision. Almost any researcher, scientist, doctor, lawyer—anyone who desires to find proof—will look for information that supports their claim. This isn’t always a bad thing.

On the other side of this conundrum, if you never self-justified you would never come to believe in yourself or any of your decisions. You would always be second-guessing yourself. It’s not mentally healthy to always second-guess yourself. It can spark you to question your own competence and self-worth. It’s a good idea to reevaluate your decisions. Make your decision and see if you need to change your course of action if or when new information is made evident.

We all self-justify, we have to otherwise we would never make a decision. And that’s part of self-justification; after a decision has been made, we then create the reasons to validate why we made the decision—even if it was clearly a bad decision. That’s when self-justification harms us. If we get so wrapped up in supporting, validating and justifying a bad decision we lose sight of reality. This type of self-justification has ruined countless friendships, relationships and marriages. Once a person has decided that “they are right” or “my actions were justifiable,” the person won’t back down. No matter how wrong they may be, they don’t want to admit they might have been wrong, apologize or try to make things better.

Self-justification can be highly problematic when it comes to alcohol overuse. It can get us drinking and keep us drinking. “I’m not as bad as Jim, now that guy is an alcoholic!” Or, “I might drink too much once in a while, but at least I haven’t lost my (job, car, house, spouse, limbs, life—insert anything here).” Instead of facing the behavior and acknowledging it, the behavior is validated by explaining it away. Self-justification also plays a role in relapsing or repeated relapses. “I had a bad thing happen. Anybody in my shoes would have had a couple of drinks.”

What I find interesting about myself is that the split-second after I have “made a decision” my mind begins creating all sorts of rationalizations to validate and support my decision. I imagine that’s what happens in a relapse. (I’ve never relapsed because I’ve always been able to catch my thinking before it gets carried away.) Once the thought of, “I can have one” enters the mind, the mind immediately goes to work validating the decision. “I had a hard day at work. I’ve been pretty good. That fucker pissed me off. Anybody in my position would think it’s no big deal…” and on and on.

When it comes to drinking, self-justification plays a powerful role both before and after the fact.

BEFORE:

We give, or tell ourselves reasons why it’s okay to drink, “Just this time.”

  • The kids are driving me crazy.
  • What a horrible day at work.
  • It’s the Holidays.
  • It’s someone’s Birthday.
  • It’s a special event.
  • I can’t believe this happened, I deserve a drink.
  • She’s a bitch.
  • He’s a prick.
  • Everyone else is having a drink.

AFTER:

We tell ourselves why it was OK this time.

  • Who wouldn’t have had a drink if they were in my spot?
  • I’m not that bad. Others have done worse.
  • I couldn’t help it. I’m weak. I have a disease.
  • If only he/she wouldn’t have (fill in the answer).

These all sound like good reasons to drink don’t they? But they’re all simple justifications to validate destructive thinking. Being responsible for your own thinking and thinking on your own behalf is more taxing than you may have imagined. It’s no wonder why people drink to escape. The escape isn’t necessarily hiding from some deep, dark problem. Having a few drinks helps the mind become distracted from the immediate issue at hand. But the issue is still there, waiting for you to get just drunk enough so it can rear its ugly head and unsettle you even more. And you know how easy it is to self-justify just about anything once you’ve got a few drinks in you.

But self-justification can also be used to help you. You can self-justify your reasons for staying sober especially in the face of letdowns, difficulties and disappointments—and there will be times when all that happens at once. Who knows what your reason or reasons for staying sober might be. Maybe it’s for your kids, your health, for financial reasons or to rekindle a relationship. Things won’t always go the way you want or turn out as you hope. That’s when you have to rely on self-justification to stay sober.

We have to self-justify or it would undermine our ability to ever make a decision, but be aware that this psychological process can also blind you to reality. I suggest that you reflect and reevaluate your decisions once in a while. Think about things a little. Consider how you might improve your decision making capabilities in the future. If you discover or are shown that you have made a blunder, go ahead and message your own mind by saying, “I made a mistake. At the time I thought I was making a good decision. I’ll learn from this and work on making better decisions in the future. And when I make another mistake, I’ll evaluate what I may have done wrong or what information I may have purposely closed my eyes to.”

Once in a while you need to STOP and ask yourself “Am I self-justifying? Am I ignoring or missing something? Am I making things up just to support my decision or my actions?” Think about what you’re thinking. Take command of bad self-justification and turn it around to self-justify staying sober.

Technology and the drunk.

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

“Click here” to listen to audio of this article.

(12/01/12)

Getting drunk really hasn’t changed much since the Egyptians made the first type of beer about 4,000 years ago and I think I remember something about drunkenness and wine being mentioned in the Old Testament. Booze in one form another has been around for quite a few years and getting drunk on it hasn’t changed that much. What has changed is technology along with society’s acceptance (or glamorization) towards drinking. Technology has changed our understanding and often our respect of alcohol.

I’m not going to go off on a diatribe against booze. Beer, wine and liquor are all part of human history. Alcohol and drinking have actually built huge industries giving countless individuals the opportunity to work and earn a living. But the excessive use of alcohol has also taken down countless individuals and has ruined powerful empires.

So technology hasn’t changed what alcohol does but it has changed how we are influenced by mass advertising and our peers. In the electronic age of being a drunk, you receive a text: “Dude, we’re at Jimmy’s bar, come hang out with us.” You may have had no intentions of getting drunk or maybe you had plans to do something else that night, but the next thing you know you’re out at Jimmy’s bar with your friends.

And just look at all the beer commercials on TV depicting cool young people doing cool fun things as a result of their drinking a particular beer. Some beer ads have branched out to show older, more mature men building their male bond by drinking beer and watching sports together. I like the commercial that shows a commuter train turning into a Disco—I’m sure your boss would be real happy to have you come to work half in the bag. And the FCC has recently allowed hard liquor ads to run during certain “adult” TV shows.

I’m not bitching about the ads or criticizing the companies for running their ads—they’re trying to sell a legal product. I’m just pointing out how technology is used in ways that can influence (or glamorize) drinking and I need to pay attention to my own actions and behaviors.

In fact, my Facebook page shows ads to me for bars and booze. The algorithm only sees that I post about booze—so it thinks that I drink—it doesn’t recognize that I’m a non-drinker. Do I get mad? No. I think it’s funny. To me it reflects the flaws and limitations of technology. But it also shows me how technology is used in a way that can influence people who may be in a weakened state or are highly impressionable.

Let’s say for instance that I just had a bad day at work and I go to my FB page to chat with a friend. Suddenly there’s a Vodka ad in the sidebar. Then another ad promoting craft beers at a local bar. Then I see some other person’s post scrolling down the side talking about going out to a bar to party. What if I have a relapse because one of those sidebar posts or ads triggered me to drink? (Which they won’t.) Could I sue FB? Or what if I was watching a football game on TV and one of the beer ads triggered me to drink? Could I sue them or blame them? No. Legally they are not responsible for my own behavior and I would be blaming someone else which would reflect on my own character and ability to choose.

Whether you like it or not, both booze and technology are part of our life. Here’s an email that a friend sent me:

Mark, every time I drink I drink way beyond excess and I turn into a moron. I run my mouth, alienate myself from people I love, say things I don’t mean, or if I do mean them I say them too bluntly, too repetitively, and too emotionally. Now in the age of technology my drunken spews are easily spread to everyone I ever knew since kindergarten on my or their FB wall. I’m tired of having to do damage control the next morning, apologizing to people. I’m taking control of this madness and I’m putting the plug in the jug. Now if I could just get some of those pictures and rants back…

This made me realize that what many had once thought was their own personal secret, now gets spread around the world in seconds. I see people’s FB pages that have pictures of them in bars, clubs, at parties. Some pictures are taken by others and spread around on their FB page. Family, friends, employers and enemies can see more of your secrets than you realize. I’m not being an alarmist. I’m just saying that when you post pictures and talk about “how wasted I got” on your FB page, more people than you would imagine can see it.

You might be thinking, “No. All my stuff on FB is private. Only my friends can see my page.” Really? Do you really believe that? Let’s do some simple math. Let’s say you have 200 “friends” and each of your friends has 200 “friends.” Know what that comes to?

200 X 200 = 40,000

Yes, 40,000 people can somehow sneak in and see your page. Of that 40,000 people don’t you think I could get just one of them to let me take a look?

I’m not a stalker, but I find it an interesting study in human behavior to follow the progress of some people’s posts:

October 18th: “I can’t believe how shitty men can be. How come every man I meet eventually turns out to be a liar and a loser? Men suck.”

October 20th: “I’ve had it with men. None of you know how good you’ve had it until I’m gone.”

October 21st: “Alcohol and tobacco will NEVER pass this girl’s lips ever again! I’m through with all this bullshit!”

Over the next few days some random posts quoting scripture and a few pictures of Jesus.

October 29th: “Big Halloween bash at Jerry’s Bar tonight. See if you can guess who I am in my costume. See you there.”

Followed the next day with hangover reminiscing and more man bashing. If I was a prospective employer or a new guy that just met her and I saw this trail do you think I would call her?

You think I’m kidding about this? I’m sure you’ve seen similar trails. “He did this… she did that… more problems and drama… I can’t believe this happened… what a scumbag… blah, blah, blah.” The person wonders why their life is such a mess? All they need to do is step back and read their own trail of posts. As I like to say, “If you play with dog shit you’re bound to get some on your hands.” If all of your friends and activities bring you drunken problems and drunken drama you can stop the drama.

I happen to be well aware that whatever I post may spread like wildfire. I know that shit will get around. I know that someone somewhere will say, “Did you see what he wrote? Did you see that picture? What an asshole.” That’s why I don’t even try to hide my shit. I make it public because I know that once it’s out there I can’t control where it goes or who sees it. And that’s also why I spend a few moments to clearly think before I hit send or post.

And don’t document your stupidity. Don’t text pictures of your junk, don’t let people take pictures of your boobs unless you want those pictures getting around because they will last for eternity (the pictures, not your perky boobs). It’s not easy to control yourself before you send that drunken text, picture or make that drunken phone call—but it is easier to control the impulse when you’re sober.

If you’re serious about your sobriety you will likely have to take some drastic measures. You might have to ignore invitations and not even respond to texts. You may have to block certain numbers or email addresses.

“Ya, but they’re my friends and I don’t want to lose them.” If they were really your friends would they be tempting you to drink and ignoring your request for their help and support? I’ve had to face up and accept this heart wrenching reality myself. No—some people AREN’T my friend even though they say they are, and NO, they truly don’t love me. It hurts. But my sobriety is too important to me to let any hurt point me towards a relapse.

Technology is a wonderful product. It can open up a world that you never imagined. But you have to pay attention to it, think about how it affects you and how it may influence your drinking behavior. And just like booze, sometimes you may have to abstain from certain types of technology. Do whatever you must to protect your own sobriety.