I Get A Christmas Tree

I like the thought of changing behaviors that don’t work in my life. The challenge has been finding the discipline to carry out the changes. Often, there has become a time of slipping back into my old habits. This doesn’t seem to take place with every habit I set forth to improve. But, there are some continuing to hang around inside my world. My guess would be, people go about trying to modify behavior with different methods. With the main concept being to improve confidence in your own ability to move forward. For years, I had developed my own plan of trying to note the improvement of my habit. I would use markings on my electronic calendar to help me understand how I was doing. The concept I didn’t understand was the impact of my makings as time passed. My focus had been on the negative, instead of recognizing the positive. Each of my days of slipping would be marked on my daily calendar. Leaving the days of my successes to appear as empty boxes. At the end of each month, I would count up the days with the initials, which indicated a day of slipping. The number would then be marked on the final day of each month. The tactic provided me with a number to improve upon. So, if I messed up on 8 days one months,  I would aim for a lower number the following month. I didn’t understand, it was a solely negative way of tracking behavior. 

Remember the days of being a kid in school. If we did something positive, we would receive some kind of reward. We had charts on walls or name tags on our desks. Teachers would place stars next to our names, if we did something noteworthy. Getting a high grade on a paper or project didn’t simply come with a letter grade, we got a star, in addition. The pattern of rewarding positivity continued into adulthood. People might win a trophy because of excelling in athletics or a placard to signify achievement in the world of business. While watching a college football game, some teams place stickers on the helmets of players. Placed there to mark something positive they have done on, or off the field. These seem to be just some of the ways in which positive behavior would be recognized. I feel confident in adding, there are many other ways people recognize and reward positive achievements. This concept didn’t seem to equate inside my brain when thinking about addiction. Overcoming the challenges I have been facing felt a long way from trophy, worthy. However, I didn’t understand rewarding positive behavior doesn’t need to rise to the level of award banquets. It can be just as significant when done much smaller in scale. The key was to take note of the successes in an actively positive manner. No matter how small the steps are perceived to be. 

After working through my psychology education in college. It felt like I had a basic understanding of rewarding positive behavior. My first big use of the concept was helping me to overcome watching pornography. I set the goal of rewarding the accomplishment of six clean months. When I reached the mark, I went out to get a golf club for myself. While, continuing the challenge of setting something to work towards at the mark of one year. When I thought about the reward to set out for myself at the one year date of being clean, I thought of getting golf irons. As a lifelong golfer, the theme felt significant enough to keep me pushing forward. The setting of the reward worked well, as I achieved a year of being clean and ordered irons. I set up the same kind of dynamic moving into the second year. At the mid-year point of the second year, I went out to get something for a reward. While, doing the same a few weeks ago when reaching my second-year mark of remaining clear of pornography. The rewarding strategy for keeping clean of watching pornography has worked to this point. However, the challenge of staying clear of self-gratification continues to be challenging. My best consecutive day streaks have remained around sixteen of seventeen days. Even achieving seven days in a row, remains challenging.  I didn’t realize that I needed a change in strategy. 

There was a learning it talking with the psychologist I have been working with for years. The manner in which I was keeping track of my self-gratification, wasn’t helping. It might help me to attempt a more positive spin of keeping track. At the time of our discussion, just a week ago, I was marking the days of my slips. Placing a small two letter abbreviation on my electronic calendar to signify the event. The days of positivity, when no self-gratification had occurred, there would be a blank day on my calendar. My challenge was to slightly change that program and mark the days when I abstained from the self-gratification. My doctor suggested to place a green box on the dates of success, or a green “X”, then do the same with a red marking for the days of slip. The message going into my brain was finding something green to mark the positive days. The concept was giving something positive to look at when viewing my calendar. Something that would pop off the screen to remind me of my accomplishment, even if just one day. For me, the idea of placing a green box on the positive days didn’t feel good. The idea felt like it needed modification in order to have an impact. I took the basic concept of finding something green to mark each day of positivity and looked through the emoji options. 

Before even scrolling through the options to be placed on my calendar, an idea popped into my head. The years have proved to me, the easiest time I have abstaining from my negative behavior has been around the holidays. My best months, historically, have been November through January, of each year. The spirit of the holiday season, the lights, music, movies, along with the coming together of friends and family provides hope. The celebration of the birth of Jesus has everyone we come across feeling a little more hopeful during the season. It always brings back reasons to take on the challenges of life, instead of withering in fear. So, with all the positivity I associate with the holiday season, I decided to look for a Christmas tree inside my emoji menu. It would give me a place to start working on the concept. It didn’t take me long to come across one of them on my iPad. The green tree had lights on it and would work ideally for my purpose. It filled the challenge by being something green, while also bringing to mind the positive thoughts surrounding that time of year. I started placing the image on all the days of my current streak, abstaining from self-gratification. The thoughts in my mind have already changed from not wanting to see the small abbreviation on my calendar. To the desire of earning another Christmas tree for the day. 

The small tweak to my way of keeping track of my behavior, could have a large impact. Abstaining from self-gratification has become the final stage in healing my addiction. Attempting to completely remove any kind of sexual fantasizing from my world. The changing of the tracking of my behavior strikes me as interesting. Even after studying psychology, I would have never thought of the difference it could make. My thinking was any kind of manner in which we track behavior would be positive. However, I was trying to achieve a positive behavior change by taking note of it in a negative manner. When using the Christmas tree image to mark a clean day, I’m doing something active. Instead of making an active notation, only on the days involving my negative behavior. So, my brain could feel as though it gets rewarded for slipping up, because we mark it on the calendar. It feels like a strange dynamic to wrap my mind around. With the new concept, my brain seems to seek the moment on placing the Christmas tree icon on the calendar. The action has quickly become something small to look forward to each day, a positive reward. My hope is to have a calendar full of Christmas trees. 

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