One of my favorite things about Friday afternoon is sitting in my chair and watching a little TV while our dinner cooks in the oven. More often than not, a Gin and Tonic helps complete the picture. I’ve liked them since college and when I’m out and can’t find good beer, a nice G&T is my default drink.
This past Friday however I knew that this custom was not an option. That’s because last week saw the start of Lent and once again I have chosen to give up alcohol. And so as it drew past five o’clock I found myself wishing I could head to the cupboard where we keep the booze. Since I couldn’t I decided to try the next best thing. I filled a glass with ice and cut a nice thick slice of lime which I squeezed in. I cracked open a fresh bottle of Seagram’s tonic and slowly filled the glass.
It tasted, well, like tonic and lime. But there was something else beyond just the tartness on my tongue or the effervescence that tickled my upper lip as I drank it. Even though there wasn’t a drop of alcohol in it I could still feel myself relax. Satisfied, I took my drink into the living room and kicked back in front of the TV. And suddenly all was right with the world.
This phenomenon got me to wondering about the complex nature of our habits and dependencies. I’ve studied enough psychology to know something of operant conditioning. In fact, BF Skinner is a fellow alum of Hamilton College. Therefore I understand that we can become almost as addicted to the stimuli associated with the high as to the high itself. For example people who are trying to quit smoking can find it comforting to hold an unlit cigarette. But it was something else altogether to experience it for myself.
All this got me to thinking about our habits and how much power they can have over our lives. What happened in my case was not so much about the alcohol as it was that I was accustomed to having a specific kind of drink on a specific day at a specific time. Such insight can be valuable if you are also following some kind of Lenten fast or otherwise trying to change your life.
It’s hard enough to make real changes in our lives. It gets even harder if we are trying to not only forego a vice but also habits that are so often associated with them. Learning to recognize if there are any particular circumstances associated with the problem is the best place to start.
Sometimes it is as simple as changing those circumstances. If you are trying to stop eating candy but you are in the habit of grabbing some every time you walk by the cabinet where it is always kept, the first thing you should do is move the candy to somewhere less accessible. Or you can do what I did and find something to substitute for the problem substance but that will allow you continue to observe the ritual associated with it.
That’s all for now… I think I hear that bottle of Tonic calling my name. Five days down, thirty five to go.