How Do You Eat An Elephant?

The other day while I was washing a mortar and pestle in the bathroom sink (too complicated; don’t ask), I noticed that the heavy machined stainless steel pestle seemed to roll quite easily up and down the slope of the porcelain basin.  So I gave it a shove and watched as it kept oscillating up the slopes and down again for a surprisingly long time.  I cranked up the stopwatch on my phone (Imagine writing that 20 years ago!) gave the pestle a good shove, and timed it until it became stationary again.

The back and forth momentum lasted for 7 minutes and 24 seconds!

Later I was demonstrating the Miracle Of The Rolling Pestle to my-wife-the-shrink and got to thinking how important momentum is to recovery.  When we boil it down to the basics, recovery is simply about replacing the unskillful habits of an addict with the more skillful behavior of a recovering (sober) person.  How do we break a habit?  By establishing momentum.

Let’s say I have among my many “character defects” (unskillful ways) the habit of using the “F-word” indiscriminately, thus causing discomfort to some of the folks around me.  The best way of learning to control that is to determine not to say The Word — perhaps replace it with “heck” — for a week.  I’m going to slip up some, but by being aware of my intention and not beating myself up for my mistakes I’ll soon discover that my efforts at mindfulness have gotten me through a long day without hecking up.  I’m on a roll — gaining some momentum — and I try to continue through day two.  If I slip up a couple of times, no big deal.  My intention and momentum will carry me through.  So I keep building a chain of success, and eventually I’ll reach the point of hecking the heck out of things.

All it took was momentum and being kind to myself when I mess up.  That’s how we break habits: by being mindful of our impulses and doing the right thing as consistently as we can.  When we’re fairly successful at this bout of messing with our heads, we’re ready to start working on the next unskillful action — and so forth.

And that’s how you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.

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