Whether it’s cutting out sugar, negative thinking, or your cell phone, we come to our resolutions (New Year’s or otherwise) full of hope, firm deadlines, and willpower. But the idea of quitting something—be it a behavior or a substance—often dooms potential behavior changes from the start, says LA-based Dr. Carder Stout; a brilliant depth psychologist, he focuses on exploring the unconscious side of the psyche, where we store negative beliefs and self-destructive tendencies, in order to heal. Stout explains that most resolutions centered around giving something up are destined for failure because the psyche is not bound by deadlines and doesn’t work on shortcuts. The process of quitting needs to be a long game, he says, one best approached with self-love as opposed to self-loathing. Here, he shares his simple, ingenious techniques for addressing five common “this year I’m really stopping” resolutions.
The Psychology of Quitting
New Year’s Eve has come and gone: Many of us set noble intentions—resolutions that seemed clear as a bell at the end of 2016—but now, how to do we stick to them?
Less than ten percent of all New Year’s resolutions—many of which tend to revolve around behaviors we want to quit—are actually kept. Most people set themselves up for failure when they are trying to give things up. Setting a date and trying to use the cold turkey method is arguably the worst way to proceed. The psyche is not bound or influenced by the parameters of time, so putting a stop date on a feeling will never yield positive results. Imagine setting a date for falling in love, ending the grieving process, or healing from an addiction. Our tendencies and habits do not live in a world influenced by clocks or deadlines. The psyche will scoff at any attempt to contain its dysfunction by adhering to a calendar. We may live in a world that is dominated by quick fixes and shortcuts, but this manner of thinking does not apply to the human psyche. Healing is a slow process that requires commitment and determination. The same approach is needed to change our negative behaviors and alter our harmful beliefs.
In short: Quitting is a slow burn. Dramatic shifts in your personal life are the product of methodical and deliberate attention to proclivities over an extended period of time. In the field of depth psychology, we attempt to find the origins of the emotional disruption and treat it with kindness, compassion, and empathy. Once the healing begins to take place, the symptoms become more manageable, leading to the possibility of a shift in perception. Psyche is an overflowing fountain of creativity, so non-traditional and colorful approaches to healing are often the most effective. I have found that amazing transformation occurs when people are willing to stretch their imaginations to consider alternative routes to change.
Let’s consider five resolutions (ones I hear often) and a few unorthodox ways to begin to address them (remember, healing can be whimsical, artistic, and fun):
- No more negative self-talk
- Cut back on sugar and/or drink less
- Spend less time on my phone
- Less time at work and more time with friends/family
- Stop arguing with partner/the kids
No more negative self-talk
Negative self-talk usually happens when we identify with the judgmental side of ourselves. We compare ourselves to others and may feel inferior and disconnected. One of the best ways to improve our self-esteem is through the process of saying affirmations—positive statements that have the ability to change how we feel about ourselves. When thoughts in our head are transferred into spoken words, a transformation can occur that can actually change the chemistry in our brains, and alter the cells in our body. These changes can help us to heal on both a physical and psychological level.
Practice the below exercise each morning from now until next New Year’s Eve:
Cut back on sugar/ drink less
We live in a culture of addiction: We tend to think of addicts as people who cannot control their drinking or who have a drug problem, but numerous other types of addiction have become normalized in society. Many of us struggle with addictions to work, exercise, social media, surgical procedures, sex. Addiction is an energy that touches all of us, and a tendency that we access at different times in life. To treat addiction effectively we need to change the stigma we place upon it; because it is a part of us, we should handle it with love and compassion. It is palpable and electric and alive: When it begins to dominate your life, it is simply asking for your attention.
This exercise can help you with many kinds of addictions:
Spend less time on my phone
Also related to addiction, many of us have developed unnatural relationships to our cell phones. It can seem that your phone rules your life: It sits in your pocket, buzzes, dings, vibrates, and gives you pleasure. It may have taken precedence over a face-to-face conversation, and become your preferred method of communication. Do you sit and stare at the screen for hours each day, and feel naked if you have lost battery power? If so, it’s time to take away the power you have bestowed on your phone.
This exercise will help take your phone off its pedestal:
Less time at work and more time with friends/family
This is helpful if you find you have a self-centered relationship with your job: Repeat the below exercise—designed to help you take your work (and yourself) a bit less seriously—every other month if you can.
Stop arguing with partner/the kids
Yelling at your children and barking at your spouse/partner are often a direct result of untreated anger. Many people become angry when their ego spirals out of balance. When we’re stuck in ego, it is hard to see anyone else’s perspective. We believe that we are always right, and are susceptible to becoming frustrated by the little things. One of the most effective ways to restore a healthy ego is to invite humility back from its exile. Humility is one of the most beautiful qualities that exists in humankind, yet so few of us exhibit it or really even understand it. Humility is the quality that is shown through a complete acceptance of self—it’s an ability to be completely present and non-judgmental with others. It is rare. It is something to strive for and paramount in having better relationships with loved ones. One of the best ways to find humility is through practicing the art of listening.
I recommend doing this exercise once a week from now…until forever:
Remember: it’s a process
Quitting is not as daunting if you approach it with patience and understanding—and see it as an incremental (not cold-turkey) process. I have found that success often revolves around a willingness to lower our pulse rate and redefine our expectations. Set small goals and track your progress over several months. Come up with a few creative exercises (in addition to the ones above) that will help you. Give yourself a pat on the back as you take small steps toward progress—and find reasons and time to rejoice along the way.
Carder Stout, Ph.D. is a Los Angeles-based depth psychologist and therapist with a private practice in Brentwood, where he treats clients for anxiety, depression, addiction, and trauma. As a specialist in relationships, he is adept at helping clients become more truthful with themselves and their partners.