There is a two hour window of time in my day I call the witching hour. It’s right after I get home from picking the twins up from preschool. I’m in the kitchen getting ready for dinner. All three of my kids – my four- year-olds and my two-year-old — are there at my feet talking loudly in unison:

“Mom, can I have some apple juice? No, mom! The purple cup!”
“Mom, can we watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates? Pleeeeeassssee!”
“Mom, I want a [fruit leather, popsicle, cookie, zbar, bag of rainbow colored goldfish]!”

This is when I start thinking about wine… Or more like drinking five glasses of wine in rapid fire succession.

And sometimes I do have a glass or two… Sure for an hour or so it numbs the pain of being bitchslapped by a herd of bossy preschoolers. But for the rest of the evening I’m less present and more apt to be impatient and bossy myself. Plus I don’t sleep well at night and I feel groggy when I get up in the morning.

This is how I know that wine during my witching hour is a bad idea, a bad habit really. It’s not the same thing as a glass of Rose while sitting outside in the sun talking about vision boards with a friend. It’s more like a quick and dirty fix when I want to avoid feeling frazzled.  And the truth is that it cuts through the frazzle for an hour or so then just leaves me feeling more frazzled than I started.

In The Four Day Win, Martha Beck’s weight loss book, she writes about experiments done with lab rats that show how incredibly addictive drugs like heroin and morphine are. In these experiments rats in cages were given drug laced water that they could access by pushing a lever…. Quoting Martha, “they thumped those levels like hyperactive children playing Whac-A-Mole.”

But here’s the interesting part… When the same drug laced water was given to rats in an environment full of tunnels and burrows and space to roam – the opposite of a cage—these rats could care less about the drugs. They preferred to drink the plain water. Even the morphine addicted rats drank less drug water in this environment, even though it caused withdrawal symptoms!

See, rats trapped in cages, much like frazzled moms, look for ways to numb. Trapped rats and frazzled moms numb feelings they’d rather not feel –feelings like boredom, anxiety, anger, shame, confusion, fear… (Do rats feel shame? Never mind.)

And my guess, tell me where I’m wrong, is that you do it too. So what’s your drug of choice? Wine? Chocolate? Sleep? Sex? Facebook? The Jersey Shore?

I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, her memoir about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Before she set out to hike the trail she was enmeshed in a not so healthy relationship with a guy who had a fondness for heroin. And, as a result, she started to get fond of it too.

While reading the other day I happened upon this wrote: “…walking along a path I carved myself—one I hoped was the PCT—was the opposite of using heroin. Stepping into the snow made me more alive to my senses than ever.”

My guess is that many of us who struggle with bad habits use them to dull our senses because we would rather not be fully alive to them in the current environment.

So the solution is pretty simple. Change your environment.

But Amy, “Changing my environment takes work,” you protest! “If only it were that simple,” you say? “I’m stuck! There’s nothing I can do,” you declare?

A lot of people complain that it’s not possible to change their environment. They believe they are powerless, singularly fated to day after day of the same snore inducing routine.

So they watch Jersey Shore.

Or they hyper focus on the unwanted habit. They talk about it. Complain about it, Fret over it. And the result of all this time and energy obsessing over the habit is that the habit grows more and more daunting. The ability to withstand it becomes more and more difficult.

So here’s what you do.

Instead of giving in to your bad habit or obsessing over it, replace it with another habit –a  better habit that serves you.

Here is my 5 step super nifty blueprint to help:

  1. Start to notice your own witching hour. Do you get the urge to enhale another pint of Cherry Garcia at the end of a long day after you finally get the kids to bed? Or maybe you pine for wine whenever you think about your boss… This will give you a clue about some of the circumstances in your life that bring about those pesky feelings you don’t want to feel.
  2. Get honest about your bad habit.  I get it. Sometimes watching Jersey Shore is a fun way to make doing the laundry a little more tolerable. No judgment here. But sometimes watching Jersey Shore serves no other purpose than to numb you to the reality that you can’t believe you agreed once again to clean your friend’s cat’s litter box when she goes out of town.
  3. Start having more bad habit free fun. Sometimes you can replace your bad habit in real time with something to do that is fun. Sometimes you can strategically pepper fun into your day, so much so that the bad habit loses it’s power. So ask yourself these questions: How can I change my environment so that it feels more like a rat park than a rat cage? How can I change up my day or my life so that I’m having more fun?
  4. They are just feelings honey, feel them. When the witching hour comes, feel those feelings. These days, when I get frazzeled in the kitchen I acknowledge the feeling of frazzlement and I say to myself “I can do frazzled for an hour or so. No big deal.” And then I feel like a bad ass.
  5. Start getting addicted to goals. Did you know that completing tasks actually releases endorphins and dopamine in the brain? Seriously, if you’re miserable you need some goals, girl! I prescribe one or two goals that light you up. Write em down, make a plan, and just do something every day towards your goal.


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9 Responses

  1. claire says:

    Amy, thanks for sharing your story and lessons learned! As always they are inspiring and insightful. I’ll drink to that! xoxo

  2. Lynn says:

    What a great post! Very timely for me. I have a habit I’ve been thinking about trying to break, and your article makes me realize that I’ve definitely fallen into the “hyper-focus on the unwanted habit” trap. Even thought I KNOW that moving toward the light is better than fighting (or analyzing) the darkness, I somehow forgot. You’ve helped set me back on track. THANKS!

  3. Amy says:

    @Claire! Cheers to you! So great to hear from you!! @Lynn, thanks for the comment. It is easy to get stuck in the hyper focus part for sure. Just takes a little reminder sometimes.

  4. Janet says:

    Your article was just what I needed to take some action on a habit that I’ve wanted to break for a long time. Thanks for the excellent nudge! I’ve been enjoying your newsletter ever since being a member of the virtual book group you and Anna ran early this year.

  5. Amy says:

    @Janet! So happy to hear it. We all need a little nudge sometimes!!

  6. Benita says:

    I believe Amy lives in my head as an alter ego! Always seems to know what I need when I need it! Thanks

  7. Maureen says:

    What an interesting concept….to divert my bad habit (addition to food, namely chocolate, although anything, really, will do) by focusing on a creating a good habit. Who’d a thunk it? I echo Benita’s comment….YOU MUST BE LIVING IN MY HEAD AS AN ALTER EGO!

  8. Amy says:

    @Benita and @Maureen, to say I am living in your head as an alter ego is a true compliment. All day I vow to whisper sweet nothings in your ear. Can you hear me…? xoxo

  9. Maureen says:

    Whisper away, Doll. I could use all the sweet nothings you can dole out.

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