A good friend of mine recently decided to quit smoking.
She’d quit before, which obviously means that the quitting didn’t quite “take.” So this time, she decided to quit differently.
First, she’s investing money in the deal. For them amongst us what is on the cheap side, money can be a powerful motivator. As my friend said, “I’ll be damned if I’ll spend this much and not quit.”
Second, she’s spending it on hypnotherapy. I quit the cheap way, but I’d raved to her about my experience with using hypnotherapy to get back on the diet for my Crohn’s last fall: one session, one recording that I listened to for about two weeks, and done. I still look at potatoes or rice or a McDonald’s drive-thru sign with longing, but the impetus to go for it is gone. It was a singular and fascinating experience which I’ve not shut up about since.
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Hypnotherapy done right is part of a larger self-excavation process: getting at the “why” sandwiched between the smart, true part of you that doesn’t want to smoke or eat or do crack and the part of you that has, until now, reached for a cigarette or french fry or crack pipe regardless. My friend’s “why” is her business, but anyone old enough to want to read this blog has more than a passing familiarity with the many, many shapes and sizes a “why” can take. “Less-than” Why. “Angry” Why. “Social Anxiety” Why. “Why, Oh” Why, a.k.a. “Woe Is Me” Why.
If any of these look like variants on “Fear” Why, it’s because they are, of course, every last damned one of them. My god, what won’t fear stop us from doing? Or keep us doing, depending on whether the action is salubrious or not. Based on my own experience in talk therapy and reading eighty bajillion self-help books, it’s pretty clear that fear is the biggest “why” there is. Fear lies underneath feeling less-than, underneath social anxiety and anger and woe. If there’s one thing I’d like to impart about fear, it’s that if you scratch pretty much any kind of yuck, you’ll find fear under there somewhere.1
My friend knows from fear. She’s lived long enough to experience several expedient fear delivery systems, plus she’s done time on the couch. She gets it. But when you start looking at your fear through the finely-ground lens of doing one monumental thing, when you slow down and take the long way home, you learn a few things you didn’t know. The depth of your fear, for starters, and a peek under the tent at a few other ways fear might be stopping you that you didn’t even realize. It’s fascinating stuff, this just paying attention. And an excellent value proposition, so much more bang for your buck.
Even if it is painful and dull and embarrassing. Which, if you’re spending a significant amount of time and money, there’s a very good chance it will be.
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There is a very strict order of steps involved in quitting smoking this particular way. There’s no jumping ahead, no skipping steps. Instead, there is an intake date, an agreed-upon quit date (or “start of your smoke-free life” date for you optimists) and a whole lot of exercises between. A lot of looking, a lot of thinking, a lot of noticing. My friend said she was ready to quit a week early. Her hypnotherapist said sorry, but she was not.
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Which brings me around to the title of this here piece. My favorite quote and main mantra for the past four or so years, well, other than THAT one, has been this one:
There are no short cuts to any place worth going.
It is attributed to the American opera singer Beverly Sills, and if the “opera singer” part of that last phrase wasn’t enough, read a bit of her history and you’ll know that the lady knew whereof she spoke. Whether the ass-end of your proposed journey is being healthier, happier, wealthier or wiser, there’s no getting there faster. 10,000 hours. Rinse/repeat. Park your ass under the Bodhi tree, bub, and make sure you do plenty of wandering first.
If it feels a little grim, I assure you that it is far less so than the mood I’m usually in when I conjure up this line. Remember: practice is painful. Change is excruciating. Feeling stupid feels awful. (To me. Although if they didn’t to you, you’d probably have clicked away long ago to see what was happening on Facebook.) Sure, I could find a happy-happy saying full of cheer and sunshine and optimism. But you know what using it under those circumstances would entail?
On the other hand, when you resign yourself to this way of thinking, or rather, when you surrender to it, the way women of grace do with time and gravity, you bring yourself back to plumb pretty quickly. Of course I feel this way, you realize. That is what feeling is! The depictions of change we see in movies and books blip over a lot of this stuff, or make it look sort of sexy-frustrating, with lavishly-produced montages or deftly-condensed metaphors which are, wait for it, boring and time-consuming to produce, at least for long stretches. As I said in last month’s newsletter2, when you see something good, you’re not seeing the mountain of shit someone shoveled to uncover it.
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My friend Brooks3, who calls himself a clutter-buster, uses the simplest process possible to help his clients to let go of things that may once have served them well but now are serving only as impediments. He has them hold up one item at a time and asks the same question of each one: “Do you need to keep this, or can we let this go?”
This is how you went from being a person who’d never experienced smoking to one who could not imagine life without cigarettes. This is how you get from “good” to “bad” and back again. (And for the record, “back again” isn’t necessarily better, but done thoughtfully, it’s far richer.)
Look, I am doing this. Why am I doing this?
Can I let this go?
1With “and EVERYONE is scared about something, even people you’d never dream of.” For more cogent and inspirational stuff around this, read Krishnamurti and my friend Ishita’s monthly magazine.
2It’s not up on the archives page yet, but if you subscribe, the nice Emma robot will automatically send you a copy.
3Brooks has a really good post up today on how he clutter-busts over the phone.
Image by mariachily via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.