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  • Donald Altman

2 Words Stop Dependency

Forget those frustrating resolutions; there's a new way to change habits.

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  • A mechanical-replacement model of change works great for cars but not humans with emotions.

  • An acceptance-and-commitment model of change allows for growth and is more forgiving.

  • Three steps define a mindful change practice.

I'd like to start this blog with a few of my favorite quotes about quitting food or addictions:

“Lead me not into temptation; I can find the way myself”–Rita Mae Brown

“My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people.”–Orson Welles

It’s been said that any journey begins with the first step. Anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution knows that setting the resolution might be the easiest step to take. Before you take that fateful step come January 1, I want to give you two words that will have you rethink how to be successful at your goal of changing or stopping an addiction. Drum roll, please!

And the words are: mindful acceptance/commitment. Okay, maybe that's three words, or two with a slash. Either way, mindful acceptance/commitment is a proven and potent tool for changing habits.

Even if you have a history of finding it difficult to incorporate new changes into your lifestyle—whether related to diet, exercise or increasing your social network—you’ll be glad to discover this path to making behavioral change stick.

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Old Mechanical - Replacement Model of Change

Did you ever leave the doctor’s office with a prescription for a pill that was supposed to fix your problem. If so, then you experienced the mechanical-replacement model of change. It's based on the idea that the body can be treated like a mechanical object, such as car or computer, in which any defective part can be quickly diagnosed and repaired. The expectation around this approach is that change is rapid and often highly successful.

But as you can guess, there is one big problem with this model: You are not a machine. Also, consider that this model puts someone else in charge. For example, this model:

  • Requires input from an expert who diagnoses the problem.

  • Defines success primarily by the outcome of fixing what is defective or not working.

  • Views things as good vs. bad—good parts replace what is defective.

  • Bases the outcome on being a success or failure

Benefits of the Mindful Acceptance / Commitment Model of Change

Stanford University researchers conducted one of the longest and biggest head-to-head studies of several popular diets and concluded, "Weight loss was not statistically different among the Zone, LEARN, and Ornish groups." Most subjects regained any lost weight—which was only about five pounds, at the end of a year.

Diets tend to create a success-vs.-failure mentality, as well as create an obsession around a number (pounds lost), as opposed to looking at the whole person. To deal with such issues, the mindful acceptance/commitment model embraces the following concepts:

  • Change is collaborative. You determine what you want to change.

  • Learning from mistakes is valued and accepted as part of the process.

  • Success is defined as experiencing the process.

  • Acceptance is not resignation or failure; acceptance is willingness to accept and recognize current stressors in your life.

  • Awareness of the conditions that increase the tendency to return to old habits is good.

  • Commitment to learning, practicing and mastering new skills takes time.

  • Change is process-based; change doesn’t happen all at once and the focus is on each day—rather than on some future outcome.

Do you see how radically different this approach is? For one thing, you don’t have to be perfect at making your change plans work. If your plan goes awry one day, there’s no need to freak out and view that as a failure. Rather, it’s an opportunity to understand what happened and to revise your plan so that you can be more skillful in the future. There’s no shame and no blame here.

While this model is more accepting, it also requires greater patience and long-term commitment. You'll need to put in persistent effort to change, Personally, what I like about this approach is that it's gentle and forgiving

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Three-Step Mindful Acceptance / Commitment Practice

  1. Write down one small behavior you want to change or start. You might want to make this a baby step of a larger goal. For example, if you want to start exercising, a baby step might mean walking down your hallway or driveway, or just walking for one minute.

  2. Set a time of day and length of practice. One way to make your baby step successful is to be specific about when and how you will practice your new skill. Again, if you're going to exercise, set the time of day and for how long you will do this activity--such as every day for a five minutes for the next week. You can get support by sharing the information with someone who can act as your accountability coach.

  3. If you don't complete your activity, try and understand why. What caused you to deviate from your plan? Be kind with yourself. This is not a time for blame or shame. Instead, think about how you can revise the plan so you can successfully complete your baby step. If you need to change the baby step, then go ahead and do so.

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Sometimes you will need to dig down and notice why you couldn't maintain your plan. There might be thoughts, beliefs, or other ideas that are blocking you. Don't give up. Keep in mind that mindful acceptance/commitment is a well-known therapeutic approach to change. You can always find a workbook or someone to work with you.

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