By: Jennifer Lauretti, PhD
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Aside from throwing a few pennies on wagers during the Kentucky Derby, I am generally not a betting person. However, I am going to go out on a limb and bet that I am not the only person who may be struggling with the boxes of Girl Scout cookies that were delivered over the past few weeks. To put this in context, I was approached by two very dear friends, (on two separate occasions) kindly requesting that I order Girl Scout cookies to support their daughters. I proceeded to order 2 boxes of Thin Mints from each of them, (total of 4 boxes). I convinced myself that I ordered them under the guise of being a good friend who sincerely wanted to support her two friends and their daughters. I felt especially altruistic knowing that I was making a contribution to an important organization that supports the development of young girls – at least that is the story I told myself. This year, there was an option to make a donation without actually purchasing cookies (which I did). However, I also proceeded to order 4 boxes of cookies for my “family” – again, this is what I told myself.
The truth is I absolutely love Girl Scout Cookies. Actually, I only love one particular kind of Girl Scout Cookies: Thin Mints. As I was contemplating what / how much to order, I was thinking, “I don’t need cookies…I don’t want to have these cookies in my house…I know what is going to happen…as hard as I try, I am going to practically inhale these cookies!” In a split second, it was as if I was possessed. My emotions took over and I hit the order button. I’m embarrassed to admit that I paid extra to have them delivered directly to my house. I succumbed to the temptation to order the cookies I love. I thought to myself, Girl Scout cookies are only sold once a year; I don’t do this every week – what’s the harm?
This blog post is a sincere attempt to understand my behavior in light of my strong desire to live a healthy lifestyle. Normally, I would not worry about a single, isolated event that occurs once per year. However, upon contemplation, I was intensely curious about the stories we tell ourselves that justify our actions despite our best intentions.
What became more concerning was what happened when the cookies were delivered. I began to experience powerful cravings simply knowing the cookies were a mere few steps away. I attempted to delay and distract myself, until I succumbed to the temptation. It was as if the flood gates opened. With the blink of an eye, one cookie quickly turned into the sudden disappearance of two, three, four or more cookies. I made the conscious decision to put the cookies away and drink some tea. I decided to take my dog for a walk to distract myself from returning to the scene of the crime. During my walk, I was obsessed with thoughts of returning home to eat more cookies. I hid the other boxes of cookies, ostensibly to decrease the temptation to eat more cookies. I wonder if the real reason I hid the cookies was to keep them away from other family members. Was I hoarding Girl Scout cookies? What was happening???
Interestingly, my experience (to a much lesser extent – no disrespect to individuals who truly struggle with addiction) mirrored qualities associated with addiction to a substance including:
Powerful cravings – Strong physical or psychological cravings for the substance
Excess consumption – Inability to control the use of that substance
Continued use despite negative consequences – Such as emotional or physical consequences, i.e., feeling guilty or physically ill; or both
Maintaining a good supply – Ensuring the substance is readily available
Obsession – Obsessive thoughts about the substance
Secrecy and solitude – Consuming the substance of choice alone; particularly hiding consumption from friends/loved ones
Having stashes – Hiding the substance in a variety of unlikely places
Denial – A person is either unaware or unwilling to acknowledge a problem
I was also curious about the ways in which we justify small actions that help us feel better in the moment, but gradually steer us off track regardless of our strong commitments. Unchecked, this pattern may contribute to a prolonged pattern of behavior known as the “slippery slope” of lifestyle change.
This blog is a cautious tale of the insidious ways our thoughts and actions may slowly erode the inner strength required to stay on track with healthy habits. I am happy to report that I shared my last box of Thin Mints with my neighbors who hosted a party for the NFL AFC Championship last Sunday. A stressful game that resulted in a victory for our beloved New England Patriots. Go Pats!
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