A concept that is used often in recovery circles is the idea of "contrary action" in fighting addictive impulses. Addicts can have overwhelming urges and thoughts that are self-destructive and lead down the path of dependency.
In order to prevent relapse and fight these ever present desires, people in recovery must learn to use contrary action to their advantage. This means that whatever impulse they are having they choose to act in the complete opposite way.
If you have never heard of contrary action or never used it as a practical strategy in recovery then it could help you to handle some of your more intense cravings and urges while teaching you the way to gain a sense of self-control.
Better Decision and More Self-Confidence
Contrary action can be a very effective tool in maintaining sobriety because it helps you build confidence in your ability to make better decisions. While in the past you may have made a lot of bad choices that took you down a dark path, now you can train yourself to react differently when you have certain impulses.
As you start to recognize destructive urges and choose to act in the opposite way you will grow a sense of power over what might have controlled you during your addiction. The more you train your brain using contrary action, the easier it will become to ignore your strong impulses to drink or use drugs.
This ability can also build self-confidence that could have been lacking in the past. Many addicts have spent years feeling completely helpless when it comes to their own behavior. They may have tried to stop using or drinking multiple times with no success which can negatively affect their confidence. Contrary action can increase your self-confidence the more you gain control over your behavior.
The Natural Reward of Positive Choices
One of the reasons that contrary action works is that it grows more effective as you feel rewarded for making the right decision. When you do the opposite of a negative impulse and do something positive or good for you then you will feel the benefit of that.
The more you experience the rewards of contrary action the more you will continue reinforcing the good behavior instead of the bad. Countering a harmful impulse with something healthier can be pleasurable and this type of reward will make you want to continue acting in the same way.
Contrary action can also help you to learn that feelings will pass of their own accord and they do not always need to be acted on. When you have unstable emotions and feelings of depression the answer is not to do something self-destructive but to do the opposite.
Instead of acting out your self-loathing by harming with destructive actions you can learn to counter these feelings and not act on them. If you have used drugs or alcohol to regulate emotions or reduce the severity of many feelings then contrary action can help you break that cycle and start to behave differently.
Because contrary action is rewarding in itself and can prove effective at combating urges to use, the need to rely on it will lessen over time. As you grow accustomed to choosing positive actions over your usual self-destructive ones you will be able to change your behavior without thinking.
You will begin to naturally adjust to responding a certain way to thoughts or emotions and you will make healthy decisions more often. Even though your destructive impulses may never go away completely, they will be easier to resist and may be fewer and farther between than they were in the past.