Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.  ~Alfred North Whitehead

David Krueger MD

Many years ago, before my daughter left for college, she gifted me with a box of my favorite candy, Russell Stover Chocolate Covered Cherries.  I put them in the freezer section, and we would then argue over who would get the dark ones and the light ones.  When she left for college, my unrelenting sentimental self felt it would be a special homage to her to continue to have them in the freezer—now I got to have both dark and light, uncontested.  And maybe I wouldn’t miss her as much.  Interesting how I can readily see self-deceptive justifications and not so unconscious rationalizations in my clients. 

There is really nothing the like sweet, crisp clack of biting down on a frozen Russell Stover Chocolate Cherry, and having that sound followed by the liquid burst of the cherry liquor and chocolate fusion that begins a sumptuous consumption.  However, when I did that, those little bon-bons began calling me.   I pledged to eat only two a day, after dinner as dessert.  But even when I did, I felt a little bit of energy drain, as the intake of sugar was somewhat depleting. 

I then decided that I would only have those cherries at my weekend ranch, so I would be vulnerable to their calling me at the most two and a half days a week.  That still didn’t work.  They called me throughout the day there.  I realized the only way to deal with this is to not have them available, so I resolved to not buy any more.  No chocolate covered cherry was there to call me.

It has been over two decades since I have eaten one.  I knew that to break a habit, you have to disrupt the current pattern, as well as focus on the system rather than only the goal.  James Clear pointed out in Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to your goals.  You fall to the level of your systems.”

One of my Mentor Coaching clients, a founder and CEO of a very successful company, mentioned in our conversation that he had not been able to give up smoking cigarettes.  He detailed how he had been to a number of programs, and even a residential retreat to break his habit, yet he always returned. 

I asked him if he would like us to focus on that.  He said, “Yes. Sure.  What do you have?” 

I asked him to walk me, step by step, through the process of how he got a cigarette and smoked it when he did.  He said, “I have it in my office.” 

I asked, “Where specifically in your office do you have the cigarettes?” 

“In my top left desk drawer.” 

“How did they get there?”

“I bought them.”

“Here’s my recommendation:  when you are truly ready to stop smoking, you simply will commit to not buying any and not bumming one from any of your buddies.”  I knew that his office compound was on a portion of his ranch, about 20 minutes from the closest store. 

“Wow.  I guess that would be one way.” 

Then I told him my Russell Stover Chocolate Covered Cherries story.  If there were no chocolate covered cherries, I couldn’t eat any. 

For the first time in several decades, he is abstinent from smoking for five years now, refocusing his energy on other aspects of his life and business.   He is happy to be free of being called. 

I know that freedom. 

Announcing the release of my latest book from Paragon House: ENGAGING THE INEFFABLE: Toward Mindfulness and Meaning https://amzn.to/2EgRLLc