I have a pretty large sweet tooth. Cheesecake, oatmeal raisin cookies, lemon bars, speculoos cookie butter, anything with butter and sugar has my name written all over it. These baked treats serve as a pick me up after a busy and stressful day. Eating these sugary foods is a quick way for me to feel pleasure. I can sit on my couch after a long day, eat some cookie butter, and almost instantly feel like a carefree child again, with little care for the stressors I was concerned about prior to that spoonful of deliciousness. I even notice my sweet tooth being activated when I’m not physically hungry, but just craving the taste of something pleasurable. Sweets are my quick fix.
According to Dr. Windy Dryden, a quick fix is any kind of activity in which someone engages as a means of overcoming a feeling or discomfort and/or to obtain a feeling of comfort. A quick fix can take many forms for any given individual. Some people might have a glass (or several glasses) of wine after a day in the office. Others may indulge in “retail therapy”, hoping this new wardrobe will make them feel better about their relationship problems. A few might smoke marijuana to avoid feelings of boredom or loneliness. Some, like myself, may overindulge in eating sweets to avoid the discomfort of being stressed out.
Typically, quick fixes like substance use, disruptive eating habits, shopping addictions etc., are ways in which people cope with an underlying issue. In other words, we engage in these potentially problematic behaviors as a means of dealing with other issues. This is not to imply that these activities are intrinsically quick fixes. An activity becomes a quick fix based on the motivation behind engaging in it.
One way to begin to overcome your unhelpful coping is to identify the problem that lies behind your perceived need for a quick fix. People often resort to their chosen quick fixes as a result of being deprived of something they want. More often than not, they are deprived of comfort in its various forms. The trouble arises when you tell yourself that your negative feelings about being uncomfortable are awful, must be avoided, and/or that you cannot stand or tolerate feeling that way. Thinking in this way is likely to motivate you to engage in unproductive ways of avoiding discomfort.
In other words, as a way to ease the pain of being deprived of the comfort you demand you must experience, and to make up for life treating you unfairly, you might treat yourself to sweets, drinks, marijuana, go on a shopping spree, or do other things that “make you feel good” without really realizing why. It is important to remember that while quick fixes help you feel good, the effect never lasts very long.
What actions can you take to work towards overcoming your quick fixes?
Again, it is important to understand that quick fixes are band-aids for many kinds of problems that are accompanied by negative emotions. Because negative emotions are, understandably, uncomfortable and unpleasant, it can be easy to engage in a quick fix behavior to feel less discomfort and more pleasure. However, the original problem and your feelings about it are still present but are not being confronted. As long as you continue to avoid these feelings, you are not only unlikely to fix the original issue, but you also deprive yourself of an opportunity to learn that you can, indeed, tolerate your feelings.
One way to start the process of overcoming your quick fix is to make a list of the disadvantages of engaging in the behavior you hope to change. Then make another list of the advantages of choosing not to engage in the behavior. Review these lists several times a day as a way to remind yourself the value of cutting back your spending, drinking, smoking, or overeating. In order to be sure that you are consistently reviewing your lists, put it somewhere you will see it everyday or carry a copy of your list and keep it in the front of your wallet or somewhere you know you will have to see it.
Another way to work on cutting back your targeted habit is to control your environment. This will mean actively and persistently distancing yourself from people and places that are likely to trigger or tempt you to continue your ineffective habit. This is often a difficult step for various reasons but if you can identify what you value more – short-term comfort or long-term advantages – you are likely to be better able to make decisions that will improve, rather than hinder, your chances of achieving your goals.