Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Stage Six

Stage 6

“Anyone who learns that he can choose his own feelings and words and actions is a free person and a powerful person.”
— Ernst G. Beier

Free at Last!

When you move from stage 5 to stage 6, you’ve broken the habit forever. In this stage the bad habit is no longer a threat. It will never return.

Professional therapists call this stage termination. Some therapists believe that termination is impossible. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches its members that they can never be free of the threat of a relapse. In other words, the best they can hope for is a lifetime of successful maintenance, which means that they can expect to spend the rest of their lives fighting the urge to have a drink.  

There is a better way: I know that termination is possible, because I was as addicted to nicotine as alcoholics are to alcohol, and I freed myself from cigarettes forever.

Our potential for change

I don’t want to make it sound easy, because it isn’t. But it is possible to break bad habits forever.

We tend to get the results that we expect to get. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reported some interesting findings on the attitudes and expectations of cancer patients.

The researchers studied the relationship between prayer and improvement in the condition of cancer patients. The study concluded that the prayers of other people didn’t seem to have any bearing on the condition of the patients in the study.

But the attitude of the patients themselves had a very strong bearing on their chances for surviving cancer. The researchers found that, all other things being equal, a patient’s chances for surviving cancer depend in large part on his belief that he is going to get well.       

This is not the first study to reach this conclusion, and it won’t be the last. Such studies only confirm what many doctors have known for a long time: Our thoughts and expectations can help make us well, or they can make us sick. Scientists are beginning to gather a lot of research data that suggests that people can literally worry themselves to death. 

The point is this: If you think you will have to spend the rest of your life fighting the urge to go back to your old habit, you probably will. Not because you can’t be free of the problem, but because the way you view the problem forces you to stay focused on your old behavior.

By refocusing on the benefits of your new lifestyle, you replace negative thoughts with positive ones. I agree with the basic premise of AA: Eliminating the old problem requires a long, hard struggle. The point is that you don’t have to eliminate it. It’s much easier to replace it with something better.  

Freedom from bad habits comes when you replace the old behavior with a new lifestyle. I have always wondered why AA doesn’t focus less on controlling its members’ urge to drink and more on helping them build a new lifestyle that emphasizes the importance of exercise.

AA is right about one thing: Overconfidence is a danger in stage 5. Telling yourself that you can handle one drink, or one cigarette, or one piece of chocolate cake is one of the major causes of relapses. So how do you know when the war is over?

The difference between stage 5 and stage 6 is a difference between still changing and already changed. People in stage 5 are struggling to make and maintain changes in their life. The struggle can go on for years, or forever. People in stage 6 have successfully changed their lifestyle.

How do you know when you’re really free of a bad habit, forever? Look for these three signs. When you find all three in the new you, you can be sure that you’ve broken the old habit forever:

1.      You have a new self-image. Successful self-changers talk about “owning the change.” When they reach stage 6, they feel that they’ve “made the change theirs.” In other words, they now see themselves as the new person that is living the new lifestyle. One day I stopped thinking of myself as an “ex-smoker.” It may seem like a superficial difference, but it isn’t. Once I started thinking of myself as a nonsmoker instead of an ex-smoker, I knew that there had been a deep and lasting change in my self-image. At that moment I knew the problem would never return.   

2.      You no longer feel tempted in any situation. You no longer have to make an effort. If half the people in a meeting are smoking, you have a legitimate complaint—and a real problem if one of the smokers is the owner of the company—but you aren’t the least bit tempted to join them. That’s a sure sign that you’re free at last.  

3.      You have real confidence in your power of choice. You know that you live better without the old behavior. You enjoy your healthier lifestyle. Nothing could make you go back to your old habit. Social pressure is no longer a threat. You no longer have to drink with the boys to feel like a man, and you no longer have to go on a spending spree to feel that your life is complete.

David Lucero is still stuck on the street across from the Greyhound bus station. I hope he’ll be ready to get in the pickup truck soon. For now, he is still waiting for an imaginary ride to a place and time that only exist in his imagination. He still can’t make a choice based on what he needs to do today.  

If you have come to the realization that you’re stuck in a self-defeating lifestyle, you have already taken the first step in the cycle of self-change. You have started to become aware of the need to change in some area of your life.
Whatever it is, remember that you can free yourself of it. It will take time, but you have already taken the hardest step by consciously recognizing the problem. Now start working on your plan. Use this report as a step-by-step guide. Don’t try to skip any of the stages—it won’t work if you do.

Believe that you can create a happier, healthier lifestyle. As you move through the stages of self-change, always remember what psychologist Ernst G. Beier discovered about the process of freeing yourself from bad habits: “Anyone who learns that he can choose his own feelings and words and actions is a free person and a powerful person.”

When you win the battle in your mind, it’s only a matter of time before you win the war against bad habits.    


·         If you need to talk to a professional, contact the American Association of Christian Counselors. AACC has a national network of professional people-helpers. To find a certified counselor in your area, visit

Or call AACC at their toll-free number: 1-800-526-8673.

·         Helping others change their lives is one of the best ways to change yourself. To make a donation to Feed the Children, visit

There are literally hundreds of books on the topic of “how to break bad habits.” These two stand head and shoulders above the rest:

·         Changing for Good: The Revolutionary Program That Explains the Six Stages of Change and Teaches You How to Free Yourself from Bad Habits, by James Prochaska, John Norcross, and Carlo DiClemente.

People-Reading: How We Control Others, How They Control Us, by Ernst G. Beier and Evans G. Valens. This book was an axe for the frozen sea within me. I started reading it one day in the hope that it would equip me to be a better helper of others, and I was not disappointed. But I was in for a surprise: By the time I finished the book, I had been forced to take a fresh look at a few areas in my own behavior. As I read this book, I was forced to say, like King David when he heard Nathan’s story, “I am the man.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Stage Five

“There is no way to change one isolated item of behavior if the item is significant and the change is to be a lasting one. We have to change the pattern of which it is a part.”
— Ernst G. Beier

Winning the Battle

In this stage, the key is to replace your bad habit with a new lifestyle. Professional therapists call this stage maintenance.

Countering, the technique we studied in stage 4, is the first step in this process. Promoting new habits is crucial to your success. If you only remove the old habit, you’re condemned to a lifetime of fighting off the urge to go back.

People who get stuck in this stage would gladly go back to their old lifestyle if science were suddenly to offer new proof that their habit was harmless. If safe cigarettes were invented that somehow satisfied a smoker’s nicotine craving without causing cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, ex-smokers who never move past this stage would buy them by the truckload.

In this stage you must struggle to prevent a relapse. As I mentioned in the last chapter, I wasn’t ready to quit smoking when I reached my target date. I thought I could just quit cold turkey and break the habit by using sheer willpower. I was wrong. My mistake didn’t cause me to give up, as often happens when people discover that willpower alone isn’t enough.

I understand now that I did two things right that were keys to my success: First, I went through a real preparation stage that lasted about one month. Second, I didn’t blame myself or let myself feel guilty because I lapsed.

Research has shown that these two things are keys to breaking any bad habit. I didn’t know at the time that these techniques were scientifically sound. I simply used them as part of my trial-and-error effort to quit, and common sense told me that they were the right way to attack my problem.   

I had many lapses during that month. It wasn’t a relapse: I was still in the preparation stage, still strengthening my commitment to quit. There were many lapses, however. Almost every day, I ended up buying a pack of cigarettes, smoking one, and throwing the rest of the pack away out of disgust.

 Lapses as well as relapses teach you that real change costs more than you thought in terms of time, effort, and cash. My lapses taught me that I needed to make a more serious commitment to preparing for my lifestyle change. One of the most important things I did during this period was to buy new uniforms for my basketball team.

Putting your money where your mouth is always helps to keep you focused on the goal of lifestyle change. By doing this, I was starting to think more about getting in basketball shape and less about trying to quit smoking.

I came to understand another important thing after my lapses. Every time I lapsed, I felt disgusted. But I didn’t feel guilty or beat myself up for not being strong enough to stick to my word. There is a huge difference.

I felt disgusted because I was letting the bad habit control me. Every day when I threw away the almost-full pack of cigarettes, I proved to myself that I could control the habit. Instead of feeling guilty, I felt free and powerful every time I chose to throw away the nineteen cigarettes remaining in the pack I just bought. If I could choose to do that, I could choose not to buy the pack in the first place. 

Do some bad habits require a lifetime of maintenance? Even the experts are divided on this. Alcoholics Anonymous teaches its members that this stage lasts for as long as they are alive. I believe that it is possible to free yourself from bad habits forever. I believe it because I did it, and millions of other people have done it, too.   

One thing is sure: Programs that promise easy change or quick fixes fail because they ignore stage 5. Dieters who regain more weight than they lost by following the latest fad are victims of programs that ignore the need for a total lifestyle change. In the end, of course, they are victims of their own wishful thinking. They learn the hard way that lasting change cannot be made without serious effort on their part.  

People in stage 5 haven’t changed their lifestyle yet. They are still working on changing it. For some people, the struggle can indeed go on for a lifetime; others move through this stage quickly and free themselves from the problem forever.

What causes people to relapse?

Researchers have identified three main causes of relapses:

1.      Overconfidence: The ex-alcoholic who says, “I can handle one drink,” is clearly in stage 5. As everyone in AA knows, overconfidence is the No. 1 cause of relapses among its members.
2.      Daily temptation: A man who is fighting an addiction to pornography cannot walk into a movie theater that’s showing an X-rated film and ask God for the strength not to look at the screen. People in stage 4 still feel tempted. Success depends on removing daily temptations from your life. You can’t eliminate every temptation, of course. That’s why you need to master the countering techniques covered in stage 4. 
3.      Guilt and self-blame: Telling yourself that you aren’t strong enough to break the habit sets you up for a relapse. It’s part of the verbal cage that people construct to avoid responsibility for their choices.
Deep change must be associated with a new way of life. Research shows that a diet is successful when it is combined with eating healthier foods and exercising. Most of us don’t need to see research findings to believe this: We see the proof every day in our own lives and in the lives of people who are close to us.  

The first danger sign for a dieter usually isn’t overeating, but weakening her commitment to a new lifestyle. She stops going to her exercise class. When she sits in front of the TV instead of exercising, she’s only one step away from serving herself a big bowl of ice cream.

Most gyms and fitness centers have mirrored walls. When she goes to the gym again, she will be reminded of the need to keep working on a healthier lifestyle. But if she stops going to the gym altogether, the lapse can become a total relapse. 

Social pressures are still dangerous in stage 4. As far as possible, ex-smokers must stay away from environments where people smoke, and dieters must stay away from environments where people overeat. That’s why holidays are the most difficult times to start a diet. Setting a target date that coincides with the Christmas season is foolish. It makes more sense to start your diet after the New Year.

New Year’s resolutions don’t fail because they’re made on the New Year; they fail because people jump into them without having progressed through the previous stages. As I learned from my experience, you can’t move through the action stage successfully if you haven’t already moved out of the preparation stage.

Most people make New Year’s resolutions after waking up with a hangover—or with five extra pounds in their midsection—on the morning of January 1. They haven’t done the necessary preparation to have a chance to be successful. It’s no wonder that so many people go back to their old behavior before the month of January is over.    

When you relapse, learn from it and move on. This is part of the spiral that most people go through before they exit the cycle forever. You don’t have to start over when you slip up. A lot of people fall out of the cycle completely by beating themselves up with feelings of guilt after a lapse.

My experience taught me two important lessons: (1) A lapse isn’t always a relapse; and (2) Guilt and self-blame don’t help. If I had allowed myself to feel guilty when I lapsed, I probably would have dovetailed into a total relapse, and it might have taken me another five years before I was ready to make a serious commitment to quit.

It took years to establish your bad habit. If you think you can eliminate it in a few days or weeks, you’re probably setting yourself up for failure. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Stage Four

“Change has to do with recognizing the value of options and with experiencing the fact that we are fully responsible for what we choose to do.”
— Ernst G. Beier

Attacking the Problem

In this stage you finally do it. But you need to remember that action isn’t the first or the last step in a change.

This is not the only stage where important changes happen. To get this far, you had to change your awareness, your emotions, and your self-image as you moved from each of the earlier stages to the next.
The goal in this stage is to change your way of thinking. You do this by:

·       Learning how to relax when temptations are strong.
·       Starting an exercise program.
·       Learning effective “countering” techniques—thoughts and actions that keep you from falling into your old patterns.

How to defeat daily temptations

Countering is one of the most effective techniques in the cycle of self-change. It’s easier to promote the new behavior than to get rid of the old one. Trying too hard to break a habit is usually a recipe for failure. As long as you’re focused on trying to break the old habit, you’re like a soldier who is fighting with one hand tied behind his back.

Focusing on your new behavior is like freeing the hand tied behind your back. Suddenly you have more power to bring about the change you desire. People who break bad habits frequently experience frustration in the early stages, when they’re trying as hard as they can to eliminate the old behavior.

In a very real sense, success comes when you stop trying. By focusing on your new lifestyle, you stop trying to break the old habit; almost without being aware of what’s happening, you move to the next stage as the new behavior replaces the old one. When your preparation is good, you should be able to move through the action stage very quickly. If you have laid the proper foundation, your transition from stage 4 to stage 5 will be a smooth one.     

You need a strategy to handle the daily temptations that arise in this stage. One of the secrets to success is to stay active.

Our bodies are designed for activity. Ancient hunters lived on a diet of red meats that were high in bad cholesterol and triglycerides, the two most important factors in high blood pressure and heart disease. Yet anthropologists have discovered that members of ancient hunting tribes did not suffer from these diseases, due to the fact that they led such active lifestyles.

The urges we feel when we light a cigarette, pour ourselves a drink, go for an extra piece of cake, or drive to the mall are often physical promptings of an entirely different nature. We think our body is telling us to kick back and relax with a box of doughnuts when in reality our body is trying to tell us to move.

By now you should be convinced of the crucial role of exercise in your total lifestyle change. But you can’t exercise or go for a walk all the time. So how do you fight temptation when you can’t exercise?

The answer is RSD: relaxation, stretching, and deep breathing.

Relaxation: Smokers who say that they smoke in order to relax are fooling themselves. Research shows conclusively that nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco stimulate brain cells. Smoking provides the opposite of relaxation—nicotine is a stimulant. When you feel the urge to go back to your old habit, do something that’s truly relaxing. Think about a beautiful day at the beach. Imagine you’re floating in the water with the sun on your face. You can do this in just a few seconds. It works every time.  

Stretching: This is a great technique to use at the office. I’m not talking about a 20-minute routine (although you should stretch for at least 10 to 15 minutes every day). Anytime you feel temptation strike, fight it by stretching for a few seconds. If you have just one minute, that will defeat the temptation.

Deep breathing: This is done just like you do it at the doctor’s office. Breathe in and breathe out. This technique works every time. Try it right now. You’ll see what I mean.

By keeping you in tune with the natural rhythm of your body, these three countering techniques remind you that you don’t really want the chocolates after all.   

Reward yourself

It’s important to reward yourself during this stage. Make contracts that reward you for fulfilling your part of the agreement. Write down the terms. As every lawyer knows, a contract is more binding when it’s on paper.

Your contract might say something like:

·       “For every pound I lose, I will put $___ (You choose the dollar amount) into a savings account” (shopping account, weekend getaway account, etc.)

·       “I will deposit $___ into my shopping account for every 30 minutes I exercise.”

·       “I will make a donation to charity in the amount of $___ for every pound I lose.”

Use your imagination. Whatever you’re trying to free yourself from, rewarding yourself is a powerful motivator.  

If you decide to make a donation to charity, your reward will be immense. Losing unwanted weight as you donate money to a charity that feeds hungry children will give you all the motivation you need to reach your goal. You can make a tax-deductible donation to Feed the Children, a nonprofit organization based in Oklahoma City.

Ron Artest is one of the most gifted players in professional basketball. Artest is also one of the NBA’s bad boys. He has a history of violence, both on and off the basketball court. He has been fined by the NBA and suspended from play for fighting with opponents on the court and, on one occasion, with fans in the seats.

Ron’s bad temper has been his worst enemy throughout his NBA career. His first team, the Indiana Pacers, has given up on him. He will be playing with the Sacramento Kings in the 2007-2008 season.

In May of 2007, Artest was sentenced to twenty days in jail; 100 hours of community service; parenting and anger-management classes; and three years of probation. His crime? Domestic violence and wife abuse, two very bad habits.

In July of 2007, Ron participated in a Feed the Children mission that delivered grain to famine-stricken regions in Africa. He says that the mission trip gave him a new perspective on life. He called it a life-changing experience. He plans to return to Kenya often. 

I hope it’s true. I’m eager to see how Ron conducts himself in the upcoming NBA season—on and off the court.