Anne Davin is an incredible woman! She spent several years living on a Native American reservation in New Mexico, and her later work with Southeast Asian Indo-Chinese refugees inspired her exploration of the intersection of psyche, culture, and the marginalized voice of the feminine. She is a licensed psychotherapist and the cofounder of the Imagin-NATION Academy, offering a pathway to wisdom and healing using the ancient tools and practices of earth-based indigenous cultures.
Anne taught me an exercise that worked for her when she quit smoking. It’s a way to get into agreement with any addiction—social media, drugs, alcohol, complaining…anything—ultimately accepting that you’re not in control.
Draw a simple picture of your habit.
- I chose to draw a cookie, representing my periodic sugar problem.
- I wrote the words “cookie/sugar” and added how it made me feel: fat and weak.
Turn the page over and draw two columns. Label them + and –
Under the minus sign, write eleven reasons this habit is a problem.
- weight gain
- trouble sleeping (if eaten in the evening)
- form of aversion
- zits (poor complexion)
- feelings of shame
- high blood pressure
- increased uric acid levels (which have already been an issue for me since my early twenties, when I was diagnosed with gout due to my drinking)
- bad for my teeth
- potential for diabetes
- like many things in this world, increased chances of cancer
That wasn’t so bad.
Under the plus sign, write eleven positive consequences of the habit.
WTF? This was harder than a double kickflip on a skateboard with lousing bearings. I finally listed four:
- temporary relief (from whatever stress or emotion I was trying to escape)
- a temporary rush of pleasure
Look at the positive aspects, your reasons for the habit every time you engage it.
As I sat and contemplated this practice, I began to think about how it might work better for some habits, like cigarettes and sugar, than others, like alcohol and speedballs, but even so, it’s powerful to see why we literally love our habits. That’s my two cents, at least.
One of the positives or payoffs for Anne when she did this exercise in regard to her smoking habit was she realized it connected her to her father, who had passed away. “We had a very conflicted relationship, and one of the few ways that we could have loving contact was that we shared the habit of smoking. Not that he smoked with me or that he supported my habit, but he smoked, and therefore I smoked. There was an unconscious agreement that I could be tethered to my father through this habit. We were from that village of smokers.
“I decided to partner with my addiction in a new way, which was to bring gratitude to it. I didn’t try to stop. I didn’t try to change it. Every time I smoked, my first inhale was dedicated to my father. I would say, ‘This one’s for you.’ I was saying that a lot throughout the day. Gradually it began to change my behavior toward smoking, until I didn’t smoke anymore.
“That approach worked in that instance and that context for me because I was working on the relational part of how I was associating to smoking. There was a physiological addiction that was going on as well, and it would draw on things that happened subtly over a period of time, but the hook for me was that relationship. Now, that can be true across many habits, whether it’s drinking, drugging, overspending, sexcapades.”
This ultimately puts us back in control. “By accepting that the ad- diction is what it is—not good, bad, or neutral, it just is—there’s a level of approval that begins to permeate the situation. You’re not trying to run away from it. You’re not trying to stop it. You’re not trying to do anything. It’s more like a curiosity, like ‘Whoa, I’m addicted to cigarettes. That’s fascinating. What’s up with that? God, that’s brilliant. It’s providing this connection to my father. My unconscious is genius!’”
I too found this to be a relatable exploration of why I engage in certain behaviors, what the “payoffs” are as opposed to the harm caused and have since used the “Thank Your Habit” practice to become increasingly mindful of the reasons when I act out like this. Sure, it hasn’t cured me of my sugar “appreciation” but it has helped me look at the behavior in real time as it’s happening (incidents of which have increasingly diminished) and be honest with myself about what I’m doing in those moments and why.
Try it—it’s powerful.