As a kid, the most common answer to the question “Why?” was a simple “I don’t know.”
I would always say the same thing.
Why’d you do it?
“I don’t know.”
I would look away with a lost expression on my face. I remember the time I threw a rock that unintentionally hit a car window. I was about seven or maybe eight at the time. I ran away but someone told on me. And sure as hell, I was asked “Why’d you do that?” to which I replied, “I don’t know.”
There are things that I’ve done or haven’t done and there are times when I’ve been asked why, to which I say the same thing. “I don’t know.”
Deep down, perhaps below the surface level or maybe deep in the subconscious part of my thinking, there is a reason behind everything. Then again, there is also a motivation at the surface level. The trick is do we want to see this, or better yet, do we want to admit to it?
I have met people that smoke cigarettes for decades. They talk about quitting all the time. If asked, “Then why don’t you?” perhaps they’ll come up with a reply. Maybe they’ll say, “I have tried, but I just can’t quit.”
Maybe they’ll say I’ve tried everything but nothing works. Or maybe it’s the addiction. Maybe its the anxiety that comes of not having the companionship of a habit. This habit, by the way, is something that takes years or even decades to perfect.
I say this with intention because smokers (and I use this only as an example) have created a routine. There is ritual to the way people open up a fresh pack of cigarettes. There is a way people light up their smoke and the way they take the first drag and then exhale. There are different occasions that result with a cigarette. There is the first one in the morning and the last one before bedtime. To believe this is anything but a trained behaviors is simply inaccurate. Next, there is the physical need that comes with the addiction to nicotine.
Meanwhile, smoking is an acquired habit. Most people will pick it up from a social influence. There is literally no redeeming quality from cigarettes. It is seen as a thing to do.
It’s social. Smoking becomes part of our behavior. This becomes part of our identity. This is both an action and reaction.
Initially, this action is done to honor a desire. In the beginning, perhaps smoking is done to honor a curiosity. But the question is why?
Most people don’t really enjoy their first cigarette. Many are lightheaded and some even vomit. But yet, people will stick to it until smoking becomes tolerable to the body. Then the action becomes a socially taught response. After a meal, smoke a cigarette. Have sex? You finish, you smoke a cigarette. Sitting at the bar, what do you do? You smoke a cigarette? Want to look cool or seem like a badass because doing bad things (for some reason) makes you look or seem like a rock star? You smoke a cigarette.
Most people know why they started. However, ask why they stuck with it and often, people shake their head and say, “I don’t know.”
But they do know.
We live in a world of shortcuts and easy fixes. We are always looking for something outside of ourselves to settle an internal curiosity. We are always looking to honor an idea, thought, need, or a want.
Our habits and routines become part of us. This is our personality. To change this is as uncomfortable as the physical dilemmas that come from withdrawal symptoms.
In the case of cigarettes, withdrawal symptoms are as follows: depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, can’t sleep, increased appetite, and weight gain.
When you can’t sleep, can’t relax, can’t calm the mind, what do we do?
We look for something to solve the dilemma.
The discomforts of withdrawal are enough to keep people stuck. The concerns of “What now,” or “What comes next,” are uncomfortable. In fact, the anticipation of the new change alone can be monstrous. This is why people cheat, or go back.
The same thing goes for food and eating. The action triggers something. This honors a want or a need. Yet, meanwhile, the surface level is aware of the weight gain and the health risks.
Below the surface is a need that we honor because the foods we want satisfy the reward machine and satisfies a need like an infant with a pacifier.
There are people that talk about the gateway drugs. And some say the drug is marijuana. Some say alcohol. Some might suggest cigarettes. But I say yes to them all.
I have explained this in many of my presentations. I have talked about the pacifier, which is what?
The pacifier is what we give babies to satisfy them. If they’re crying, give them a pacifier. If they can’t sleep, give them a pacifier.
Since children do not have the language or the words to tell us their needs, what do they do? They cry. And what do we do? We try to satisfy them with a pacifier.
Pacifier [ pas–uh-fahy-er ]
a person or thing that pacifies.
a rubber or plastic device, often shaped into a nipple, for a baby to suck or bite on.
This is the definition for pacifier.
There are times when we feel uncomfortable. There are times when we are socially uncomfortable or anxious. There are times when we are afraid or awkward or vulnerable and like a child, there are times when we lack the language to say what we need, think, or feel. So what do we do? We look for a pacifier, which has certainly changed over the years.
Not all habits and routines are bad. Some habits are lifesaving and empowering. Others habits can be personally and physically degrading; and yet, we can’t give them up because why?
“I don’t know!”
The truth is we do know. We have to understand the need. We have to understand what we are honoring. This is not about good or bad, right or wring.
No, this is about a neural pathway. This is the pathway of our thoughts that we connect to ideas, thoughts, memories, experiences, physical sensations, and emotions. This becomes a repeated action; in which case our habits become “Us” without needing any input from the mind.
To pacify means to restore peace; to appease, to calm, and reduce to a state of submission, in which case, the reward machine in the brain can fixate on the quick satisfaction, which, by the way, only comes with a short return.
After a while, the benefit of return is shorter until the action eventually becomes unrewarding at best. After a while, there is no return at all. Instead, people maintain their habits to keep from the withdrawal.
They keep their behaviors to satisfy the anxiety. Even if the act results in the feeling of shame or degradation and and even when at risk to health, the action is embossed in the mind as the only way to feel better.
In addition, the worse we feel, the more we repeat the action. And why is that? It’s because we want to feel better. We want to honor something and satisfy the urge.
Think about this for a second. Think about a child. Why do children have teddy bears to hold when they go to sleep? For comfort, right?
Why do kids have special pillows or special blankets?
For comfort, right? What does this do? This pacifies a need, which, since birth and early childhood, we are taught to find something external to satisfy an internal need.
The truth is we are all equipped with everything we need to be successful. However, emotionally, our plans and ideas are influenced by anxiety and the fears that we will not succeed; hence, this brings on a feeling of internal rejection or resulting in a sense of lower personal worth.
This is why people don’t quit their bad habits. Aside from the uphill climb, which, at the bottom seems insurmountable and unrealistic; until we learn to solve our dilemmas internally or gain the voice and learn a language to satisfy our concerns, we are going to habitually look for something external to make us right.
The gateway drug is more than what we talk about. All we want is something to pacify the mind. This can happen without the use of an external source. Remember, physical exercise creates a physiological change. Creating change creates new thought patterns; therefore, by unplugging from old habits, we can generate new habits that equally pacify us on a long-term basis.
- Step one: Start working on your belief system (If you don’t believe you can do it, then how can you?)
- Step two: create habits and patterns of behavior (Replace troublesome thought with a beneficial action)
- Step three: Find a healthy outlet (Exercise, writing, therapy, create a hobby, or put simply, give yourself something to do to avoid old habitual mindsets)
- Step four: Be mindful of the internal voice and self-talk. Do not interact with old ideas. The more we interact with this, the easier it is to unravel. (See step two)
- Step five: Stay loyal to your process. Hold yourself accountable and repeat your new choices daily. Continue to practice your new way of living. And remember, your level of commitment dictates your level of success.
- Step six: Look for ways of personal empowerment. Fear-based and shame-based thinking lead to regret, doubt, blame, and furthermore, al roads lead back to the rejection machine. And that’s the last place anyone wants to be.
- Step seven: understand your resources and helpful circles of influence.
- Step eight: Avoid triggers. Understand that people, places and things can lead us back to old, default settings. When faced with an old surrounding, learn new and positive ways to pacify the needs, thoughts, and ideas that come up when urges arise
- Step nine: Take care of yourself. Be mindful of your physical and mental health. Self-care cannot be avoided. If we do, there is a reason why.
- Step ten: Stop saying “I don’t know.” Do not allow this to become your mantra. Give yourself the permission to change and become the person you choose to be instead of being the person you’ve been trained to be.
Please note there is a way to achieve personal balance without the use of something external. And for the record, I don’t say this is easy for everyone. I’m only saying this is possible.