Everybody knows this scenario: a mouse is inserted into a maze. He/she has two choices–go and get the cheese, unharmed. Or go down another path and get shocked. We also all know how this ends: for some reason, the mouse continually gets shocked until he/she is tired of seeing blue and tries another way. It’s a pervasive example in our society for attempting to unlearn instinctual behaviors.
And in a really sadistic way, it’s sort of funny. We all say, What, is that mouse stupid? Definitely doesn’t have a head for business like his cousin, Mickey.
Yet, if we imply that the mouse is stupid, then we have to admit that we are too, now don’t we?
What do I mean? Well, have you ever had a craving? For food? For an experience? That’s fine. You scratch that itch in one way or another. But what if what you’re craving is inherently bad for you? Craving for a cigarette? Craving to see someone who you have a toxic relationship with? What then?
I suppose you may think that you just need more will power. Or maybe you just need negative reinforcement. (Hey, Oprah, have you thought about giving someone an electric shock every time he/she opens the refrigerator after midnight on Weight Watchers?)
But I bet you’ve tried that, too, haven’t you? (Not the electric shock thing.) You’ve given yourself the equivalent of electric shock therapy. Mentally beaten yourself up. Gone completely cold turkey. Let it go little by little. But you still do that thing.
Take me, for example. I have a food allergy. What happens to me when I eat the foods that affect me is simple and straightforward: it makes me horribly sick. Do I continually eat foods that make me horribly sick, through the idiot property? I not only do, I binge eat these foods.
So, what happens when you’re the mouse? What happens when you keep electrocuting yourself in the hopes for a different result? Does that mean you are stupid?
No. I think we need to start looking at habits not as a lack of knowledge but as a lack of wanting to change. You may know what will help you to lead a better life (so you’re not stupid), but you don’t really want to acknowledge it just yet. You don’t know how to get there.
And shocking yourself really won’t help. But being kind to yourself and trying to find out what you really need will. In the end, you should kick a habit. Not yourself.