It’s 2020. Happy New Year everyone! New year, new decade, new opportunities for personal growth.
As this is the time of year for resolutions, I thought I’d start with a post about how to use them cleverly. I’ll concentrate on the broad goal of overcoming limerence, as the majority of the readers of this blog are limerent but don’t want to be. Or, in fact, to be more precise, they actually, secretly do want to be because it’s so intoxicating, but they don’t want to want to be limerent and wish they didn’t want to want to be.
Most people come up with quite generic resolutions, and that’s part of the reason why they often fail. For example, “this year I will beat limerence” seems like a nice, solid, ambitious and worthwhile resolution, but it has two significant problems. First, it’s too big. Second, it lacks focus. This becomes obvious if you start to pick away at the details.
So, you’re going to beat limerence? Great! How? No Contact? Good start, but what if they contact you? Or what if you work with them? How do you plan to manage temptation? And, given that you failed to go No Contact last year, what are you going to do differently in 2020? Try really hard this time and hope your January willpower carries you through the year?
The other problem with big, unfocused resolutions is that they are generally abstract: what does “beating limerence” really mean? No limerent feelings at all? Never being limerent again? Total indifference to LO? Or, manageable limerence that is less strong but still disruptive? Or being a bit less limerent, but also, maybe, just hanging on to some sneaky fizz by trying to be friends with LO?
With big, abstract goals it’s hard to be sure if you’ve succeeded because it’s hard to know exactly what you were aiming for. Coincidentally, that also makes it easier to give up without feeling so guilty.
Now, I don’t mean to be defeatist about this. For clarity’s sake: I absolutely believe it is possible to meet the goal “this year I will beat limerence,” and I am confident that many of the readers of this blog will succeed in that goal in 2020. But they will likely do it by focusing their resolve and their willpower on a series of smaller, concrete New Year’s resolutions that are possible to keep to. That’s the secret to lasting behavioural change – incremental improvements that add up. And there’s an inescapable truth to breaking any bad habit: if you want your life to be different, you have to behave differently. You have to make the shift to living in a more purposeful way.
So in that spirit, what resolutions could help in breaking the cycle of LO addiction?
1) I will reduce contact with LO
Start with the direct approach. This is a practical, achievable and measurable goal. You’re going to know whether you’ve succeeded, and there are simple and obvious ways to start. Cut back on meetings, cut back on texting, limit contact as much as you can, with the overall goal of freeing yourself fully from LO’s orbit. It may be wise to plan out a step-by-step “staged withdrawal” strategy, both to avoid comments on your sudden change in behaviour, and to wean your LO-addicted brain off it’s intoxicant of choice a bit at a time, rather than attempting a total cold turkey that it is bound to rebel against. But this is a clear, concrete resolution that will certainly help recovery.
2) I will stop indulging in reverie
Another major source of limerence reinforcement is reverie. Once limerence is well advanced, this can shift into intrusive thoughts that are involuntary and debilitating, and need an active strategy to manage, but early on we greedily indulge it at every opportunity. We all of us know the lure of a nice LO daydream to give us a little boost of reward when we’re feeling low.
Like a “Dry January” resolution, you can set yourself the goal of swearing off reverie for (at least) a month. Anytime your mind wanders into daydream territory, distract yourself, or spoil the ending. Be vigilant about slipping unconsciously into the old mental pathways, and deliberately disrupt your routines when you find yourself most vulnerable.
3) I will set some positive goals
A big part of the attraction of LOs is the promise of a more romantically exciting life. Trying to counter this allure with a full-on sackcloth-and-ashes approach to self-sacrifice is not likely to succeed. You need new goals, new sources of reward, new positive ambitions to strive for that will make your life better. This works best when it is linked to a genuine source of fulfilment. For example: I will save for a trip to Hawaii, or I will read a new novel every month, or I will sign up for guitar lessons, or I will walk the Appalachian trail with my best friend.
Set yourself some life-enriching goal that does not involve LO and takes you out of the ordinary routine of your life. You are trying to make your life more stimulating by creating some new, powerful memories of happy times as an alternative source of reward to LO. A big mistake many people make is to think that all resolutions must be deprivations – that you must give something up. But it’s fine to set resolutions that you want to do; indeed it is a very powerful way of countering the sense of loss most of us feel when resolving to break contact with LO.
4) I will work on a keystone habit
There’s a reason why going to the gym, cutting back on booze, dieting, and clearing debts are perennial New Year’s resolutions. In fact, there are several reasons, some more obvious than others. First, of course, these are solutions to some of the worst pains in life – fear of ill health, dissatisfaction with your appearance, fear of falling into a poverty trap. But people fail because, ironically, they cope with fear by succumbing to poor habits that give temporary relief: comfort eating and buying gifts for themselves to get a little dopamine hit. One of the less obvious reasons so many people make these resolutions is that they sense at a deeper level that these are “keystone habits” which once cracked will make everything in life better.
I first came across this idea in Charles Duhigg’s book, and it’s quite straightforward but very powerful. There are some habits that set the foundation for a new, more purposeful life. Fitness is one. Getting enough exercise and enough sleep makes you healthier, improves your mood, makes you feel better about your body, and increases energy, drive and ambition. Using your willpower and discipline to push through resistance and establish a fitness habit also helps your psychology, by proving that you are able to take lasting steps to make life better.
All these same arguments apply equally to improving your diet and eating healthier meals. That’s another keystone habit. Financial discipline is another one: getting your spending under control, clearing debt, and saving some money to give you a cushion against misfortune relieves a lot of stress from life and increases security as well as boosting your self-esteem. You managed to solve a difficult problem through your own labours, and that has a lasting impact on your self-image.
Keystone habits are an excellent way of solving the limerence problem by attacking it indirectly. So, pick a keystone habit, set a resolution, and get ready to enjoy the ripple-out benefits of being more purposeful, effective and happy.
People living well and improving their health and wellbeing are far less vulnerable to the false comforts of limerence. People who set thoughtful and well-crafted resolutions are more likely to improve all areas of their lives.
Godspeed into 2020, everyone!