And without which no technique, however brilliant, will work for long
It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to accomplish. Maybe you’re struggling with your weight, relationships, job. Whatever. That friend who keeps up with all the latest techniques calls you to tell you: this is it. This time it’s the real deal. Your search is over. This will stop those late night binges. This will stop the arguments. This will get rid of your horrible boss simply by using the right meditation technique. And get you out of debt by using the right manifestation technique. Then you will live in that ideal universe of Internet gurus where the entry ticket is one simple technique, apparently.
There’s such an excitement to discovering a new technique, or rediscovering an old one you’ve forgotten. And techniques do work. In the beginning. New techniques work precisely because they are new and unfamiliar to the brain. The brain is learning something new. Once enough time passes, the efficient brain pays less and less attention to the technique which will consequently become less effective, and nine times out of ten, we’ll drop the technique and search for the next magic bullet. One tenth of the time, the brain will turn that technique into a habit which will serve us over the long term.
So what’s the missing ingredient? With it, all sorts of techniques have the potential to generate the desired outcome. In fact, you may not need a technique at all. If you have enough of this secret sauce, then change may happen organically and naturally. What’s that one thing? It’s awareness.
If someone is offering to teach you a technique which does not also increase your awareness, give it a pass. It may make you feel better for a while, but it has a 90% chance of failing in the long run.
Let’s consider the case of late night binging. Have you ever heard of the urge surfing technique? It’s a proven technique to manage urges to reduce or stop behaviors – in this case, late-night binging. It’s a great technique. It works. However, it did not stop my late night binges when I needed it once the stress got serious. I would urge surf successfully for half an hour, an hour, maybe even two, but eventually I would go to the fridge and eat. And the reason it didn’t work is because I had lost awareness of myself and the situation I was in.
To backtrack, yes I have an eating disorder. I know the precise period (I was 10 years old) when I went from being a child who never consciously thought of food to one who felt soothed by food, especially sweets. It was a high-stress period where I knew something was up with my parents, but nobody told me what. Ever since then, when I’m stressed and anxious, I stuff the anxiety down with food, especially sweets. During the decades of being a single mother, I’ve always carried extra pounds to shield me from the world and try to give myself some power because I felt powerless inside.
Then something changed. When I lost my sandwich son in 2009, I went from 62 kg to 69 kg in a few months. However, later I noticed that when I started healing slowly from the trauma of my loss, my weight dropped naturally to 53 kg over the course of a year. My journey of healing from trauma and loss had dramatically increased my self-awareness. In time, I settled to a balanced 55 kg (I’m 151 cm tall), which I maintained for well over 8 years. It is a comfortable weight for me. But surprise! When you’ve struggled with an issue your entire life, it’s never truly resolved. Unforeseen stress will cause those old issues to resurface and bring you back to square one.
This is precisely what happened during the pandemic. I had just moved to a city where I knew no-one at all. It was a deliberate choice. I wanted solitude and I wanted to write. But I had not factored in a pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns. I couldn’t visit family and friends, and there was uncertainly everywhere. On a practical level, I dealt with everything very well. Except I was back to late night binging. My weight crept back up to 63 kg by November 2021. No technique worked because I had lost awareness of myself within the situation.
In December 2021, I decided to flip things around, reminded myself that techniques don’t work when stress is high, and decided to focus on increasing awareness instead. Awareness is clarity. It is seeing yourself and the world through a clear lens.
To make sure we truly have awareness, we need a few things in place. We need to:
* Quiet down the noise in our heads. The internal voices in our minds along with loud external voices keep telling us this, that and the other about the situation. If we’re struggling with an issue, it’s fair to submit that we’re thinking about it wrong, and more thinking will not make it more right. So it’s time to quiet down the noise.
* Allow residual emotions to be whatever they are, without attachment.
* Connect with ourselves in the moment. Who are we beyond our thoughts and feelings about this? If we’re struggling with something, we’re trapped under a heavy web of thoughts, emotions and beliefs about the situation. Anything we do, any technique we use, will be shaped by that web. So we have to be aware of both that web and who we are beyond this web, our unlimited selves.
* Recall the wholeness of who we are even with this problem, and identify our true need. Now, once we experience our wholeness, we can compassionately identify and take care of true needs in the here and now.
* Ask for guidance about next steps from a space of wholeness, and trust that the answers will come. Is there anything you need to do right now? If yes, do it. If not, get back to your current life.
And yes, it took me a good seven months, but I’m back to 56 kg and have stopped my late-night binges. I allowed changes to happen naturally as I took care of myself in the moment. All you have to ever do is to take care of business in the present moment.
You may have some great techniques, and don’t want to give them up. That’s not the point of this post. If something works for you, use it. If not, first of all seek understanding. Another question that wants answering: doesn’t a good technique lead to greater awareness? The answer is, sometimes. In the beginning, and if it leads to a well-entrenched habit. But as often as not, no it doesn’t.
And remember, even if you use a great technique to manage your issue, however much you’ve worked on yourself, when you’re under stress, you’ll get off track. And when you get off track, you’ll think the technique failed you and you’ll look for a new one. Instead, strive for greater understanding and awareness. You don’t need a magic technique. You need awareness. When you have that, most techniques will work – but you probably won’t need to use them as much, or at all.
Want to discuss something you’re struggling with? Click here to book a free 20-minute Zoom session: https://calendly.com/leonasamson/30min
Want to gain awareness on your own? Check out my course: https://destinate-navigate-create.teachable.com/p/undauntable
Photo credit: Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash