Today, we're digging into the hidden dependencies that creep in and keep us from the good things we need. The New Year tends to be a time of hope. We sense the possibility of change and are energized to set goals. But so often we move forward without first addressing the hidden dependencies that thwart our best efforts.
Here's what we discuss in today's episode:
1. Why we all need to “detox” from time to time
2. Examples of “good things” we can start to depend on in unhealthy ways
3. The role of pleasure, comfort, and healthy escape
4. The essential question to ask yourself before you consider introducing any change
5. What I learned by going offline for 6 weeks
Thanks to our sponsors:
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp —Go to www.betterhelp.com/bestofyou and use code BESTOFYOU for 10% off your first month!
Sign up for The Best of You Book Club launching January 9th.
Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
- Sign up for The Best of You Book Club with Dr. Alison
- Get 2 books free + free shipping here
- Detox - " a regimen or treatment intended to remove toxins and impurities from the body." (Merriam Webster Dictionaries).
- The Weight of Glory, by C.S. Lewis
- John 12:24-25
- Ecclesiastes 3
- Too Much Information, Too Little Time: How the Brain Separates Important from Unimportant Things in Our Fast-Paced Media World
- The surprising, science-backed value of boredom at work
The Best of You Podcast: Three Ways to Detox Your Heart, Mind and Soul
Episode 35 with Dr. Alison Cook
5th Jan, 2023
Alison: This show is sponsored by BetterHelp. When you're at your best, you can do great things. But sometimes life gets you bogged down, it happens to all of us. You may get overwhelmed or start to notice that you're not coping in the healthiest of ways. Working with a therapist can help you get closer to the best, healthiest, version of yourself.
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Alison: Hey everyone, I'm Dr. Allison and I'm so glad you're here to discover what brings out the best of you. This podcast is all about breaking free from painful patterns, mending the past, and discovering our true selves in God. I can't wait to get started as we learn, together, how to become the best version of who we are with God's help.
Hey everyone and Happy New Year, and welcome back to The Best of You podcast. I'm so glad you're here to join me this 2023. I love the new year. I love the opportunity to look back and also look ahead.
Personally, I'm coming off of almost two months of being completely offline. I started with going off social media, but it really led to so much more awareness in my own life. Which led me right into the series that we're going to launch today. Three Ways That You Might Need to Consider Detoxing Your Heart, Soul, and Mind. In order to create space for the good things you crave.
Before we dive in, I want to remind you that I am hosting a free, six-week book club. Based on my new book, The Best of You, it starts Monday the ninth. We'll go through two chapters a week.
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It's going to be a great opportunity to go through the book together. In fact, if you'd like to read the book with your friends. If you have an existing book club, or small group that you want to bring into this private community with you. My publisher has set up a special page, just for this group, where you can get two free books plus, free shipping, when you buy three.
So that's, essentially, five books for the price of three. That's 40% off the price, and you'll find the link for that deal in the episode show notes, or when you go sign up at dralisoncook.com/book.
All right, let's dive into Three Ways to detox your mental, emotional, and spiritual health. So as I said, this topic is coming directly out of my own life, these past few months. I've really been sort of systematically decluttering aspects of my life since mid-November.
This is a practice I've circled back to, regularly, in my own life over the last decade. And I want to share with you some of the things I've learned. So to start off with; what is a detox? Well, Merriam-Webster, the dictionary, defines a detox as, "A regimen intended to remove toxins from the body." Now, typically, this term is used in the context of a substance dependence.
So for example, if you're someone who has struggled with any sort of dependence on alcohol or a drug, you know what it's like when you finally remove that substance. Or maybe you've loved someone that has gone through something like that, it's really hard.
Your body has learned to depend on that substance. So when you remove it, your body starts to want it even more. You need a period of time to allow your body to adjust to not having that substance anymore. As you, simultaneously, are developing healthier ways of coping.
Because, here's the thing, whether it's a substance or whether it's another distraction. And I'm going to get into the other ways that many of us, who don't deal with substance abuse. But deal with other emotional, spiritual, and mental coping tactics and distractions, whatever the source of it is, we cope for a reason.
Even when we use unhealthy strategies. Even when we rely on things that aren't good for us or might even be harming us in subtle or not so subtle ways. So this idea of a detox is a metaphor, for I'm not going to be talking about substance detoxing. That's a different podcast episode.
I'm talking about what happens, in our lives mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, when we start to depend on unhealthy ways of coping. Change, any change is a two-front approach. It involves number one, disentangling from the old way of coping. The way that's not serving you anymore. While, simultaneously, number two, introducing new ways of healthier and more, truly, nourishing coping.
We all need to cope, but we slowly, and subtly, can pick up some of these old ways that don't serve us and that aren't healthy for us anymore. Let me give you some examples.
All right, these are the most common ways that I see in my life, and in the lives of the people with whom I work, and in the research that I've done. That we slowly start to depend on unhealthy ways of coping.
Number one, we can turn to food as a way to numb our feelings.
Number two, we can escape or distract ourselves through the incessant accessibility we have to entertainment, to social media. To all of the, readily, just at a touch of a fingertip, ways that we have to access other worlds on our phones, any devices that we have.
Number three, through what we often call over-functioning. And by that what I mean is using your, quote-unquote, high-functioning skills. Such as pleasing others, meeting needs, getting your task list done.
All of these quote-unquote high-functioning ways can become distractions. They can become unhealthy coping tactics. Where we start to depend on this hit that we get from helping someone else, from getting through a to-do list. From getting the work done and avoid the real nourishment that we actually need.
And number four, another really quick-fix distraction that we can start to turn toward is overspending. It's the credit card, it's the things. Whether they're inexpensive things or expensive things, whatever it is. Where we can clutter up our lives with that quick hit of a thing, that comes in and just makes us feel a little bit better in the moment.
Now, listen, none of these things are bad in and of themselves. That's why this is hard. We need good food. We need to escape from time to time through entertainment. Social media can be really helpful, if you're going through a season of loneliness, and it's a way to feel more connected.
Pleasing others, meeting needs, getting the work done, good things. Even purchasing things, creating order in your home, books. There's all sorts of ways, if you're artistic, there are ways that these are all serving a good purpose.
However, in this day and age of instant accessibility, we can get what we want whenever we want it. These things have a way of creeping in and starting to clutter up our hearts, minds, and souls.
We do need pleasure, we need creativity, we need comfort. We need to escape from time to time, again, these are not bad things. God designed us to experience pleasure, enjoyment, delight in the world around us.
But what I'm trying to tease out in this series is this. We have to become aware of the ways that even good things can become false substitutes, for the actual real nourishment we need.
These old ways of coping, of numbing, of even trying to comfort ourselves in the moment can be surprisingly sneaky, and surprisingly persistent. And this is why regular seasons of detox are needed.
C. S. Lewis has a wonderful quote, where he talks about desire. Because at the root of so much of these activities is desire. We want to feel better. We want more energy. We want to feel closer to other people. We want beauty. We want to create something good, these are good desires. And here's what C.S. Lewis says about when desire gets contaminated by too much of these counterfeit, these imposter substitutes.
"We are half-hearted creatures," Lewis says. "Fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. Like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies, in a slum, because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." That's from CS Lewis.
And I want to reiterate that there's no shame in this. The mud pies that we've settled for, whether it's the food, or the social media scroll, or the buying of things, there's a good thing at the root of that.
And, so, we want to be gentle with ourselves. This series is not about becoming machines of rigid self-denial, that is not the goal. It's actually about learning to detox what's not working, what's a counterfeit, what's a cheap substitute. In order to discover the true nourishment, the true comfort, the deep-down good pleasure that your heart, soul, and mind actually were designed to enjoy.
This is a process, not a one-time event. And it gets at Jesus' words, in John 12, which I unpack in chapter two of The Best of You. This idea that dying to ourselves or denying ourselves, is not an end in and of itself.
It's denying old ways of doing things that aren't serving us anymore. That aren't giving us the life that God, actually, wants for us. So that we can move toward the new ways, the good things, that we all need and that we were designed to enjoy.
So why is it important to detox from time to time?
Well, the truth is, as humans, we move toward entropy. Parts of us move toward health, we move toward healing. Other parts of us, easily, can begin to move back into those old, convenient, easy ways of coping.
We're human; there's no shame in this. We have a bent toward health. But we also have a bent toward picking up those distractions. Those unhealthy ways of coping, those unnecessary drags on our systems. That feel good in a moment but that do not lead us to the overall trajectory of health that we long for.
This idea of a detox has been going on for centuries. In fact, we've got built-in rhythms in our calendar year, for periods of time to abstain, or remove, or take away things that aren't serving us so that we can focus on God. So that we can focus on the good things that we need.
One season is this new year. This is a season where we tend to set goals. We look for a fresh start. We try to execute on that dream, that goal, or that new habit. Another time of the year is Lent. Lent is that time between Ash Wednesday and Easter, when we tend to pull back from something, to deprive ourselves from something, in order to depend more on God.
And then there's a third season, the season of Advent, and this is the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It's another time when we tend to slow down. It gets darker around us, and it's a time to remember to quiet our souls.
So these are just three different seasons. Whereas you engage this practice, they're seasons to pause, to pay attention, and to notice what has started to clutter up your heart, soul, and mind. And therefore is keeping you from the good things you need.
And I think of the passage from Ecclesiastes three where Solomon reflects on this idea that, "There is a time for everything. And a season for every activity under the heavens. There's a time to be born and a time to die." Solomon says. "A time to plant and a time to uproot. A time to tear down and a time to build. A time to weep and a time to laugh."
Now that list goes on, but I love this idea of a time for all things, and, particularly, as we think about the new year. We think about this time to build, usually.
This is the season when we want to build, we want to plant, we want to get healthier. We want to start that creative project. We have energy, we want take better care of ourselves. We want to start setting those healthier boundaries. This is that time of year when we're ready to go, we're ready to build.
But what I have learned is that unless we are also engaging those other seasons. When it's time to tear down. When it's time to uproot, if we don't address and uproot the hidden reasons, the hidden coping tactics, the hidden ways we've started to distract ourselves, to numb ourselves. If we don't detox from those things first, we won't get very far on the building, on the good things, that we crave.[00:17:31] < Music >
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Alison: I want to propose to you, today, a very simple but profound question to ask yourself, to get to that route. Before you dive into that new goal, this new year, prepare yourself by answering this question; what is the cost?
These distractions, these coping strategies, these will surface as you consider that question. Here's an example of what I mean. Let's say you want to start exercising, it's the low-hanging fruit of New Year's goals. You want to start exercising great, but what stands in your way?
What's the cost of achieving that new goal?
If you say yes to exercising every day, this new year, you are going to have to say no to something else. There's a cost to that goal. You're going to need more time, for example, which means you're going to have to take that time from somewhere else.
You might need financial resources for that goal. Which means you're going to have to take that money from somewhere else. You might need to have a hard conversation with a spouse or with your family, about the space that you're going to need to make this happen. You might even have to inconvenience someone else.
Suddenly you're in this land of the cost, these old ways you've been coping. The ways you've been putting your time, your treasure, and even some of your talents into other things that aren't, necessarily, bad. But that are keeping you from this goal you really want to achieve.
As you consider the cost of this longing, this desire, this goal that you have, you'll start to notice where you might have some unhealthy or misplaced attachments. Parts of you are really excited. You're going to, finally, launch this new project, take care of your body, get healthier boundaries. But other parts of you are still stuck in the old ways that you've been coping. And you'll start to notice it when you ask yourself about that cost.
"I don't want to take away time from that thing."
"I don't want to disappoint those people."
"I don't want to give up that coping tactic."
What is it that you're going to have to shift out of, in order to move into this good thing, you need? This is what it means to count the cost. And as you count the cost, you're going to back your way right into the possibility of a detox. You're going to have to let go of, release, something you've been depending on. And it's going to create a little bit of a pinch even as you move toward this good thing you crave.
Now, in this series, I'm going to cover three areas of detox that, typically, come up when we want to make a good change.
Number one, we clutter up our lives with information overload. And what I mean by that is all the instantaneous access we have to ideas, to people, to entertainment. To massive amounts of information through the internet, our phones, and social media.
Number two, we clutter up our lives with things. Now, I like to call these shiny objects. Your shiny objects might be one thing, mine might be another. It might be food, it might be buying things, it might be clothes, it might be expensive things, it might be cheap things. Whatever it is that you just fill up your space with, that gives you a hit. A feeling of relief in the moment, but that is cluttering up your heart, soul, and mind.
Number three, we clutter up our lives with harmful relationship patterns, with unhealthy dependencies on other people. We can start to thrive on the helping, the drama, the busyness. The pseudo connections that we've started to depend on that keep us from the real connections we crave.
Now, if you listen to that list information, things, and unhealthy dependences on other people, you can see why this is tricky because these are all good things. And they are also three areas that can sneak up on us in unhealthy ways.
So for the last part of today's episode, I want to just touch on and give you an example of detoxing from information overload. There's some research that's been done, and many of you may have already heard this.
But an average person, living today, you and me, are processing so much information. It's the equivalent of 16 movies a day, through our TV, through our computers, through our phones, through social media, through the news. Through everything that's available to us instantaneously.
Every year, this increases about 5% more than the previous year. And just to give you a check on that 500 years ago, the amount of information that you and I absorb in a day,
would have been what a highly-educated human would've consumed in a lifetime. It's just unbelievable what we digest and what bombards us every single day, in terms of information.
So I want to give you an example from my own life. In mid-November, I just knew that I needed to detox from social media. I knew I needed to take a break. I could tell there was an information overload in my life. My mind was just going and going, and I couldn't really get that spacious, centered, feeling that I need to be healthy spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.
And social media was the low-hanging fruit of detox. It was like, "It makes sense. I can tell I'm using it too much. I'm depending on it more than I like, and I just need to go off it. It's the holidays, it's advent." So I decided to take six weeks off.
And it was so interesting what I noticed. Because the first few days I was just aware of the quiet, of the absence of noise. Of sort of the flashing, dancing circus that my Feed had become, of bright lights, it's a positive Feed, it doesn't matter.
It was just all these good things, even good memes, helpful things that it was just too much. I couldn't process it all. And I noticed how much data I had absorbed about people I don't even know. It was so interesting that I knew things about other people's lives, people who weren't actually in my day-to-day life. And, so, over the first few days I just noticed that. It was just that curbing of the impulse to check my phone and noticing the quiet, and it took a minute.
Now, listen, it wasn't hard, it was just a couple of days. Some areas of detox are harder because it mostly felt good. It was just like, "Oh, man, this is what it feels like, again, to reconnect to my own inner life."
But I began to notice that that checking of social medias had also bled into just checking of my phone. The instantaneousness of responding to a text versus taking my time to think through how I want to respond to someone's text.
Even a friend, even a family member, all of the quickness. All of the information whirling around had led to this compulsive need meeting and compulsive like, "Got to get back to people." As opposed to taking my time to think through the best way to respond.
I began to bask in that quiet, as I gave myself permission to slow down the information. To maybe not even read the text that comes in until I had the bandwidth to read it. To maybe not open the email until I had a moment to, actually, process it. And my whole nervous system began to calm down over the course of a few days.
Now, over the course of a few weeks; new, and good, and exciting things started to come in. I started to notice the ways that I hadn't been paying attention to the cues my body had been sending to me. I scheduled a few retreat days of silence, to really spend time journaling and listening to my body, to my emotions, to God.
I began to notice my creativity, my imagination, start to kick back in. Our imaginations kick in, frankly, when we're a little bored, there's good research to support this. If you're a little bored, you're on a walk, you're not sure what to think about, your imagination kicks in.
But when we're constantly checking our phones, checking the news, checking the latest headline. We're not creating that spaciousness for those good things, for that imagination. For those slow walks where we happen upon a thought, or a longing, or a desire, or an insight. That there's no other way we could find if we're not in nature. If we're not quieting our souls, if we're not quieting our minds. If we're not listening to the noise of quiet. I needed to hear my own thoughts, not everybody else's.
Now, listen, there's a time for everything. There was a season when I went on social media where it saved me. I was so lonely, and you might be in a season like that. Where you are disconnected from relationships, from community, for whatever reason, and there's a way in which social media is keeping you connected to the world. And I want to honor that. There is a time, there is a season for that.
But for me, this was a season to pull back, to let go, to release, to detox from the amped up nervous system. The compulsivity, the accessibility, the fast, hustle, I needed to detox from that. And remind my heart, soul, mind, and my nervous system what quiet feels like.
What it feels like to be outside, taking a walk, hearing the crunch of the snow under my feet. Seeing the stars, as the twilight starts to descend. Feeling the tears well up in my eyes as a quiet moment overtakes me, and I am awe-struck by the beauty of God's creation, all around me. To feel the wild surge of aliveness, as I simply connected to myself in the presence of a loving, so real God.
To feel those moments of connection to the people in my everyday life. To slow it down enough to stay present. When we don't set aside seasons to detox, from the fast swirl of information all around us, we get out of balance. We lose sight of the quiet and the goodness that comes from moments of simply being present.
Even if it means being present to some of the hard emotions that are inside of us. Numbing, distracting, constantly filling our minds with the noise and the din of the swirling dancing lights, of the internet, of our phones, of social media. Keeps us from the wild, purposeful, sometimes, scary, deeply important life God created us to live out in the here and the now, in the present moment.
We miss out on the joy and sometimes the messiness of relationship, and of good work. We miss out on the love and the tenderness that comes from connecting deeply to the Creator of our souls in prayer. And we miss out on the healing and the restoration that comes when we face the weariness of our hearts, souls, and even our bodies.
As you consider the swirl of information, the things that might be cluttering up your space or the unhealthy relationship patterns. I want you to consider the following questions this week.
What's one good thing you want to bring into your life this new year?
What's the cost of creating space for that good thing?
And as you consider your answers, to those questions, I want you to remind yourself of this. "Over the next week, I'm going to practice this new, good, thing that I want. And I'm going to be gentle with myself as I notice the old way I have to release."
And then just stay curious in that tension between old and new. Stay compassionate towards yourself, as you notice the good thing you're moving toward and the old distraction, the old numbing, the old way you are gently learning to release. In order to create space for the good things you crave.[00:16:04] < Outro >
Alison: Thank you for joining me for this episode of The Best of You. Be sure to check out the show notes for any resources and links mentioned in the show. You can find those on my website at dralisoncook.com. That's Alison with one L- cook.com.
Before you forget, I hope you'll follow the show now so that you don't miss an episode. And I'd love it if you go ahead and leave a review, it helps so much to get the word out. I look forward to seeing you back here next Thursday. And remember, as you become the best of who you are, you honor God, you heal others, and you stay true to your God-given self.