By Margôt Tesch…
A note from me (Marc):
This self-trust thing….it’s like a hardy weed. It keeps spreading, and now it’s bursting out in all kinds of places. Margôt Tesch, a member of this blog community, trusted her future self to help her curb her drinking. And it worked. This post is her description of the process she used and the impact it’s having on her life. The only thing I can add is that it makes me very happy…that an idea that emerged from my reflections on my own life can become a method for helping others. The rest is Margôt’s account:
I read Marc’s blog on Self Trust some weeks ago. At the time I read it, it resonated profoundly and sparked some immediate actions and changes in my life. Marc talked about the need to let the future self take control. It seemed to be exactly what I needed to hear at just the right time.
I have been aware of my addiction to alcohol for many years now. I try to be honest in my self-talk, i.e. acknowledge that I do have an addiction even though I manage it by constraining my indulgence so that I do not behave anti-socially. But drinking is something I do every day. That’s an addiction.
I have wanted to change my dependence on alcohol for a very long time and had even been thinking recently about my lack of self-trust in this area. You know, how you have a big night and a hangover and you decide “That’s it” … until about 5 the next day. Many of you will know the cycle. It’s ridiculous, but we act it out over and over again. Just as Marc points out, it erodes our self-trust.
I lead quite a disciplined life. I eat well, exercise regularly etc. As well, I have created a habit of goal setting and know how to push myself through to achieve things; for example, challenging adventure hikes, long distance running — the list goes on. Further, many years ago I overcame a serious food addiction which lasted over a decade. I also gave up smoking, though that was some 30 years ago now. So I have reason to trust myself. I have a sense of confidence that I can do difficult things if I set my mind to it.
I’ve always known that I could stop drinking and actually believed that I would stop. I’ve just been waiting for the right impetus, the right motivation to give me the reason to stop. Knowing that drinking habitually has health implications has not been enough. I guess I’ve been waiting for the health crisis. But when you stop and think about it, that’s pretty crazy. Why wait for the health impact to eventuate. Why not stop now and prevent it?
These thoughts had been going around and around in my head, but still I persisted to drink daily. When I read Marc’s blog in preparation for his TED talk, all this thinking came together in a moment of clarity. Suddenly I perceived “my future self” as an identity that could take control…now! I had always believed that this was possible, that my “future self” would one day do it, but Marc’s words made me realise I didn’t need to wait. My future self was actually inside me. I already believed in her. So I was able to merge the perception of my future self with the perception of who I am now, today. I/we became one. This simple shift in thinking gave me the sense of self-trust I needed to take control in a matter-of-fact way.
It worked. I had my first drink-free night for a long time. My husband even poured me a drink; I accepted it but couldn’t drink it. My future self was in control and was able to think clearly about the benefits of stopping (short term pain for long term gain).
In a way it was a relief — no more cognitive dissonance.
It’s been several weeks now. My husband also read the post and decided to join me, and I have to admit, that’s made it easier. We have achieved what we set out to do so far, no drinking during the week, and we are working to limit our weekend consumption to “reasonable” amounts (which means no hangover). So far that has probably been the greatest challenge. The first night after a period of abstinence is high risk as there is some compulsion in giving yourself permission to drink again, to over-indulge. But we are working on it.
My plan is to make this behaviour part of our routine so that it just feels “normal” not to drink every day; let a new set of habits and behaviours emerge. Already we have noticed we are more alert in the early evening and able to use the regained time for more cognitive activities, rather than just watching the TV.
We aren’t there yet and a trip overseas visiting family has set us back a bit. But now that we are home, the work begins anew.
Here are some notes that I refer to when I need to regain the initial impetus:
- Future health gets sacrificed for immediate gratification (i.e. too much dopamine production).
- Believe in my capacity for self-control (reduces ego depletion).
- Maintain a dialogue between my future self and me.
- Things will get better.
I really appreciate Marc’s thinking and theory in this area. It has helped to change my life.
Note (from Marc): Please see the new blog by Ken Anderson in Psychology Today. Ken is the founder of HAMS, a group that supports “Harm Reduction” approaches. Margot’s self-styled method is a great example of Harm Reduction.