You are listening to the *Take a Break* podcast with Rachel Hart, episode 28.
Welcome to the *Take a Break* podcast with Rachel Hart. If you’re an alcoholic or an addict, this is not the show for you, but if you are someone who has a highly functioning life, doing very well but just drinking a bit too much and wants to take a break, then welcome to the show. Let’s get started.
Hey everybody, how are you? I’m great, I’m getting ready to head home to Connecticut tomorrow, which means I will be going to SFO and flying cross country for the third time in three months. And I have to tell you, flying used to be incredibly stressful for me. In my late 20s I started a job that had me on the road all of the time. I really went from someone who got on a plane, you know, once in a blue moon to flying overseas once, sometimes twice in a month.
And looking back on it, I can’t believe, really, I can’t even imagine how much time I was spending in airports. And I got to go to all of these incredible places, but I will tell you, I hated – I hated the logistics of it. I hated figuring out what to pack and the drive to the airport and worrying about traffic.
I remember all the time sitting in bumper to bumper traffic, trying to get into the Lincoln tunnel in New York City on my way to Newark, and just being frantic about whether or not I was going to get to the airport on time. And then I would get to the airport and it wouldn’t be any better, right, because then I was waiting in these crazy long lines and going through security checkpoints and just feeling like I was constantly rushing to wait.
And this was all before I got on the plane, before I had to worry about squeezing my bag on board and what kind of legroom I was going to have and who I was going to be sitting next to. It was so stressful, but you know what, I always had a treat waiting for me, always. I always had a very mediocre glass of wine that I would give to myself once I made it through security. It was my reward.
And that glass of wine would take the edge off all of the stress and all of the frustration and all of the anxiety and annoyance of air travel. And because I was on the road all of the time, this just became my routine; it became my habit. Braving the airport meant looking forward to that moment when I could finally sit down and finally order that glass of wine and just give myself a little relief from the stress of travelling, by giving my brain an influx of dopamine.
Now, tomorrow when I head to the airport, there will be all the same unpredictable traffic and the same long lines and all of the rushing to wait, and the potential for delays, and inclement weather and lots and lots and lots of cranky people. But you know what? Going to the airport doesn’t stress me out anymore.
And the reason it doesn’t stress me out anymore is because of the think, feel, act cycle. But there’s something even better; because it doesn’t stress me out anymore, because I am no longer swimming in anxiety, stress and annoyance, I am also no longer constantly on the hunt to find relief.
That’s what drinking was for me. It was a relief from how I was feeling. And this is what I want to talk to you about today; I want to talk about the idea of relief because that is what the habit of drinking can so easily turn into. Relief from your day, relief from how you feel, relief from stress, from anxiety.
But more importantly than this, I really want you to understand why, why you continually feel like you need something to lessen the discomfort of your life. Now, you may not be travelling to the airport, you may not be travelling at all, but I know that most of you have something in your life that you feel like you consistently need relief from. It might be your commute or your job or your boss or your kids or your spouse or your family or your home or your to-do list; there is something there.
There is something there that you can readily point to, some part of your life that you feel like, I just need a little relief, I just need to be able to take the edge off. And I will tell you that most of you are putting a lot of mental energy into trying to fix these things. How can I fix my commute, how can I fix my job, how can I fix my husband or my kids or my house or my to-do list? How can I fix all of these things that are stressing me out? And what I want you to know is this; this is the wrong place to direct your energy.
You want to direct your energy to that which you can control, and these things are outside of your control. And what I mean by control is this; it’s like trying to fix the airport so that you won’t be stressed when you travel. And, you know, as soon as I say that, you know that would be ridiculous, right? Yet so many of us do this, instead of focusing on what is happening, we end up fixated on how things should be happening.
There shouldn’t be lines, there shouldn’t be delays, there shouldn’t be bad weather or baggage restrictions or cranky people or rude flight attendants or rude passengers or rude anyone, right? So many of us, essentially, walk around saying, I can’t have a good travel experience until everything changes to my liking; the airlines and the TSA and the planes and the people, they all need to improve in order for me to have a stress-free travel experience.
And you know what? You might be justified in thinking this way. You might have a lot of evidence to support these conclusions, but good luck with that. Good luck with getting everything at the airport to work the way you think it should. And this is what most of us are doing with our lives, right. What we’re telling ourselves is, well I can’t feel better until everything and everyone in my life changes, until it all works the way it’s supposed to.
I thought this forever, and it kept me so stuck, because guess what, I couldn’t control those things. The only thing that I really could focus on trying to control, right, was me. That was within my control, but all of my focus was external. So now, I’ll tell you, I really love using the example of airports with my clients, because it’s such a perfect, perfect example of where we are really not in charge, right. It’s so clear from the get go that we are not in the driver’s seat when we fly.
We are not in charge of the traffic or the weather or the lines or the TSA or the airlines, really anything. All we can be in charge of at the airport is ourselves. We can be in charge of what’s happening in our mind. What are we thinking, what is our brain focusing on, where is our mental energy? Everything else, everything else outside of us is outside of our control.
But guess what, if you focus on what is in your control, if you focus on the think, feel, act cycle, then you can start to turn down the volume on your stress and your anxiety and your frustration. And here’s the thing, if you are able to feel less stress, less anxiety, less frustration, then guess what? You will need less relief from external things.
You will need less relief from that glass of wine. You will not be so in need of that influx of dopamine to try to cover up how you actually feel. Now listen, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a drink to take the edge off of how you feel. There is nothing wrong with it, so I really want to be clear. And I say this all the time, the only thing that matters is this; do you like the results you are getting?
I promise you, if having a drink has become your go to solution to feel better at the end of the day, to take the edge off, right, if that has become your go to solution, you are going to quickly notice that all your stress and all your anxiety and all your frustration, it doesn’t seem to go away, right? It just seems to pop back up the next day, it doesn’t let up.
And so the pull to drink, the pull to give your brain an influx of dopamine in order to try to cover up how- you feel, it just grows and grows. And this, this is the bind that you are in, because you are in a bind. You already know you want to change your drinking, but changing your drinking, not having that go to of relief, what it feels like to most people is just opening up the door to feeling more and more negative emotions.
And here’s what I will tell you, you are opening up the door to feeling more of your negative emotions, unless, this is really important, unless you learn how to use the think, feel, act cycle. Without this cycle, you are just giving up a little bit of relief and then having to sit there with negative emotions that you don’t know how to change other than putting all your energy into getting the world to function the way you want to, the way you think it should.
So here’s what we’re going to talk about today; we’re going to talk about three important pieces of this; number one, why drinking to take the edge off isn’t sustainable in the long run. Number two, what is really creating all of your negative emotions? And number three, what you can start to do right now to change this cycle so that you will not constantly need to look in your external environment for relief. You can start to change the cycle on your own
Okay, so let’s start with number one; why drinking to take the edge off of how you feel is not sustainable. So when I talk about this idea with people for the first time, the idea that having a drink is really a quick and easy fix to change how we feel, right, to feel less insecure or awkward or stressed or anxious or frustrated or bored, whatever it is, a lot of people will say to me, well if it works, who cares?
And it’s a reasonable question, it really is. You’ve heard me say, and I will say this over and over again, the only thing that matters is whether you like the results that you’re getting from your drinking, right. So if you like the results that you’re getting, who cares, right? But I will tell you that there is a piece of this to consider. I want you to think about the idea of a negative emotion.
So stress or anxiety or frustration or insecurity or awkwardness or boredom, whatever it is, whatever you are taking the edge off of, I want you to think about it as a physical part of your body. I want you to imagine that it’s like you broke your leg and the only treatment that you sought out, the only thing you did to make it better was to take a pill every time you felt the pain, right? Every time you felt the pain, maybe you took Vicodin.
Now here’s the thing, taking that pill would work. That pill would lessen the pain of a broken leg, but you would never get to the root cause and really fix what was really wrong; which is a broken bone, right. What would end up happening is you would have to indefinitely keep taking these pills, right, keep taking pain relief in order to take the edge off this bum leg of yours, right.
If you never look at the root cause, you can’t ever start down the path of actually healing your leg because you’re not actually looking at what’s wrong with it, you’re not actually looking at what’s broken; you’re just continually trying to dull the pain. And I will tell you, it is not sustainable. Eventually your body will start getting used to the pain relief, it will get used to the Vicodin. And you’ll find that it will take more and more and more to make what you’re feeling go away.
So think about it this way, right. Think about your negative emotions this way; if you are just taking the edge off all the time, you are not getting to the root cause of why you’re creating it, why you feel this way in the first place. And that is why drinking to take the edge off how you feel, drinking as your sort of go to way to cope with a negative emotion isn’t really sustainable.
If every day you are coming home and you are feeling stressed out and anxious and frustrated, right, and you are making a B-line to the kitchen to grab a bottle of wine and open that up so that you can get a little relief and feel better, it will give you a little relief in that moment. But you aren’t dealing with the underlying problem, which is why you feel the way you do. Not only that, you will find yourself starting with one glass and then maybe pouring another, and then, as your brain starts to get used to this level of dopamine, maybe you pour a third. Then what used to be one glass to take the edge off can easily turn into two and then tree and then, maybe before you even know it, the bottle.
So many people say, I don’t even know how I drank the whole bottle, it just happened, I didn’t start out that way. And meanwhile, you never get to the root cause of your pain; you just keep covering it up. And this is where the think, feel, act cycle comes in. your thought are always the root cause. This is where you are creating your pain and this is also where you can start to change it.
Understanding the think, fee, act cycle and understanding how to use it is the one place where you can focus, you can be in control and you can start to practice something different.
So this brings me to point number two; what is really stressing you out? And I will tell you what is really stressing you out is always your thinking. Now, a lot of you are hearing me say this and you don’t like hearing it, and it doesn’t sound like good news, right. It sounds like okay, so this is all my fault? So I’m to blame for this?
Right, but the truth is, number one, no one has ever shown you this cycle and how it works and how to understand it and how to use it. But two is actually really fantastic news, because what it means, if what is really stressing you out is your thinking, if what is really creating your negative emotions is your thoughts, then it means you can start to notice what you are thinking. You can star to understand how these thoughts are making you feel, what emotions they are creating and, by extension, how it’s making you act, what you are doing when you feel this way. And then decide, okay I understand this cycle, I can see it at work, now do I want to start changing it?
No please, please do not hear me as saying that you can just snap your fingers and think new thoughts, it doesn’t work like that. This is a skill that you have to learn, you have to practice; you have to master it, right. Like any skill, you do not just hop on a bike for the very first time and ride away, you will fall off, right. You might need training wheels at first. You have to keep getting back on the bike and trying, that’s how you learn a new skill.
So do not hear me as if this is just slapping on positive thinking, right. And I will tell you this, positive thinking won’t work because your brain will reject it. It will feel false. And if it feels false, if it feels unbelievable, it is not going to create a different emotion for you. But seriously, learning the think, feel, act cycle, it’s truly why airports no longer stress me out.
Airports have not changed one bit, right? In fact, you can pick up any newspaper or turn on the TV or go online and you will find tons and tons of reports of how air travel is getting worse. I mean, how many YouTube videos have you watched of terrible things happening in airports or on airplanes. Yet somehow, I feel better. How is that? How is it that airports seem to be getting worse? That’s all the information that we’re getting, air travel is just getting more and more difficult, yet somehow I have gone from feeling stressed and anxious and annoyed and kind of frantic every time I was travelling, to feeling so much better.
I will tell you, the only thing that changed was me. I was what changed; my understanding of how my own think, feel, act cycle was creating all this stress for me. Seeing it in action, noticing that I was walking around thinking, oh I hate this, this is so annoying, these people are so rude, I’m going to miss my flight, what am I going to do, what about my connection? Am I really sitting next to this person? All of that was creating so much emotional distress for me.
And I was creating all that emotional distress and then turning around and being like, jeez I could really use a glass of wine. I really need to take the edge off, right. I would get through security and just B-line for the first place where I could get a drink.
Listen, I know that what I am telling you goes against everything you have been conditioned to believe, I know that. That is why I think airports are such a great example for you to really think about this with, because you would have zero problem rounding up scores of people who would agree with you that yes, airports are inherently stressful places. They make people crazy. Everything about them is set up to bring out the absolute worst in humanity.
You would have no problem finding people who would agree with that. Who would tell you that, no, airports, that’s what makes people crazy, that’s what stresses them out, right, it’s not their thinking.
The problem with that, the problem with going down that path is that it leaves you totally and completely disempowered to change how you feel. In essence, until airports change, you are stuck having terrible travel experiences, and it is such a disempowered place to be. That is why shifting and understanding that is your thinking, right, it is the think, feel, act cycle at work that is creating the negative emotion for you is so powerful.
Because the truth is this, you can read a million articles and go online and see how terrible air travel is. Right, and how it’s getting worse and everything that’s wrong with it and everything that should be done to fix it and hear scores and scores of people talking about how miserable they are when they travel, or you can see the fact that we are able to go to the airport and fly places as this amazing feat of human ingenuity and invention, right.
The fact that I can go to the airport tomorrow and it will take me five and a half hours to fly from San Francisco to Boston is amazing. I really want you to think about this. It took Lewis and Clark from May of 1804 until November of 1805, over a year until they finally got to the Pacific Ocean. And these guys left from Missouri, right, they were already halfway there. And by the 1840s, that travel, that distance, the time that it took on a wagon train, it only took five months, but it still took five months to get across the country.
So when you think about it that way, it kind of puts five and a half hours into perspective, right, when you have that shift. And that really brings me to the third point that I want to talk about today, which is what you can do to start changing the cycle of creating all this negative emotion and then finding yourself looking for relief from the stress that you are creating. Looking for relief from how you feel.
So I was working with a client recently and she was just learning this work, she was just starting to practice noticing her thoughts. And that alone was really brand new for her, because remember, this is a practice, most of you have never been taught how to observe your thoughts with any distance, right. Most of us just feel like we’re kind of at the mercy of them, and we don’t even think of our thoughts as something that we can necessarily observe or that they’re optional, right? Most of us, myself included, for a long time I just accepted everything that I was thinking as unquestionably true, right. So there’s nothing to do about it because it was just the way the world was.
So the think, feel, act cycle really takes you in a different direction. She was practicing this and she was telling me – I love this example. She was telling me that she was at Whole Foods the other day. She was getting her lunch and it was really crowded. So she was at the prepared food island, you know, those sort of islands in the middle that they have all the different prepared foods that you can choose from. And she was trying to make a plate of food for herself, but of course, so were a lot of other people.
And she noticed herself thinking, because she had started to practice paying attention – okay, what am I thinking about every situation? She noticed herself thinking the thought, oh humans are so rude. And I love this, I love this example. I love this thought because, you know what, I myself have thought it so many times, right. Humans are so rude, they are the worst. But she remembered the think, feel, act cycle, so she was aware of what she was thinking. And then she asked herself, hey what am I feeling right now?
And she noticed that she was feeling annoyed. So suddenly, she wasn’t just going through the motions of getting her lunch, but she was actually watching her brain assess what was happening and noticing how that was connected to how she felt. So she was starting to really connect the dots between her thoughts and how her thoughts create her emotions.
So we were talking this over and I said to her, okay, so when you were standing in Whole Foods trying to make your lunch and feeling annoyed and thinking to yourself, oh, humans are so rude, how were you behaving? What were you doing?
And she had to pause and think about it for a second. And then she said, well I guess I was kind of huffy and maybe I wasn’t really making eye contact with people, I was just really focused on getting my own food as quickly as possible. And I think, when I got to the register, I was kind of abrupt with the woman behind the counter. I just wanted to get in and out of there as fast as possible. I just wanted to get away from this situation that was stressing me out.
And so I said to her, so you were being kind of rude, huh? And she paused and then laughed and said, yeah I guess I was. I was thinking everyone was so rude and feeling annoyed, and then turning around and being kind of huffy and abrupt, I was being rude myself.
And so, you know, she started to understand, okay that was the think, feel, act cycle at work. And we talked about, okay how would you then shift this situation? You can’t make Whole Foods less crowded, you can’t change other people’s behavior; you can’t make everybody else in the prepared food line al of a sudden super polite. But what you can do is shift your perspective. You can change your thinking and start to see if you can just see the situation in a different light.
And immediately she was like, yeah but some people were being rude, Rachel. Immediately her brain was like, I don’t want to change my thoughts; I like this thought. And you know what, I’m sure that it was true. I’m sure that there were people who were being rude, but who cares, right? Some people are rude; there will always be rude people in this world.
The question that I always ask myself is, do I want those people to be in charge of how I feel? And I reminded her, you know what, your brain likes to save energy. Your brain likes to think the thought that humans are so rude, because it’s easy to think; probably because you have thought it many times before. This isn’t the first time your brain has thought this particular thought.
So it will take energy to shift your perspective and your brain will resist that at first. Your brain will say no, this is really how it went down; this is how it was. But it’s so worth it if you want to feel better and not let what’s happening in Whole Foods dictate how you feel. So we started brainstorming, and what I did is ask her how might someone else, who’s in the exact same situation, they were in your shoes, they were in the same crowded Whole Foods, they were trying to get their lunch, they were encountering the same rude people who were also very rushed, but they weren’t feeling annoyed… Right, I asked her if you can think about someone else in the same situation who wasn’t feeling annoyed, what do you think they may have been thinking, right?
How would their think, feel, act cycle look differently? And she really had to stop and think. This wasn’t just something that came really easily; she had to really stop and think and consider alright, same situation, different think, feel, act cycle, what would they be thinking?
And she also had to get to a thought that maybe she could use and that felt believable, and I love what she came up with. What she came up with was, well maybe they would be thinking we’re all just trying to do our best. And she really liked that thought. It felt so much better for her, right, the idea that she could walk into Whole Foods and see all this chaos and the rush of people and just think, okay we’re all trying to do our best right now, created a totally different think, feel, act cycle than when she was thinking, humans are so rude.
Right, you think a different thought, you feel a different emotion, and then you’ll end up acting differently. So if you want to change your drinking, if you want to stop needing to take the edge off all of the time, how you feel, all of your negative emotions, you have to be open to the idea that your thoughts are creating your emotions. You have to be open to the think, feel, act cycle instead of placing the blame on everything and everyone outside of you.
And I will tell you, this will be a shift that some of you may resist at first, but it is such a powerful place for you to be, because noticing your thinking and shifting your perspective is an area you can always control. It takes practice, for sure, but it is always accessible to you.
And I will tell you, when I go to the airport tomorrow, it’s going to be a lot less stressful for me because I have practiced over and over again noticing my thoughts and noticing what I’m thinking and how that’s creating what I’m thinking and how that’s creating what I’m feeling and then how that generates how I’m acting and how I’m behaving.
And if I do notice myself getting frustrated or annoyed or stressed out – because here’s the thing, I’m not just this perfectly zen person all the time. If I do notice myself having a negative emotion, I always have a place to look. I always have a place to focus my attention and ask myself, okay, what are you thinking right now?
When I can do that, when I can use the think, feel, act cycle, I have found that I am no longer in a place where I am always searching for things in my external environment to give myself relief from how I’m feeling, because I don’t feel so negative all the time. And that, my friends, is so important. This is a crucial piece if you want to change your drinking.
Right, I know this was a little bit of a longer episode today, let’s hope you guys stuck it out with me. Keep those emails coming. You can always send me a note at podcast@RachelHart.com, and I will catch you guys next week.
Alright, so before I go, I want to share with you a new free resource that I put together. If you are struggling to change your drinking, I created a worksheet, it’s called Your Complete Picture, that I promise will completely change your perspective. I always tell people, if you only ever do one exercise about your drinking, do this one, it is that powerful. It is the exercise that changed everything for me. If you want to go grab it, all you need to do is go to rachelhart.com/picture and download it now.
Thanks for listening to this episode of *Take a Break from Drinking*. If you like what was offered in today’s show and want more, please come over to www.rachelhart.com where you can sign up for weekly updates to learn more about the tools that will help you take a break.