When you go to the movies, do you always get popcorn?
It’s hard not to. Because popcorn!
If you’ve decided to try a low-carb diet or a low-fat one or you just recognize that popcorn is only empty calories with zero nutritional value, then going to the movies can be the worst thing ever.
You walk into the lobby and…. POPCORN!
You’re assaulted with the yummiest smell. (Assuming you’re human, and you like popcorn.)
What’s even more a factor though is that every time you’ve gone to the movies over the past, what, 20 years of your life? 30? 40? Whatever.
Every single time, you’ve walked in, and you’ve bought popcorn.
Or someone has, and they’ve been smart enough to share it with you, so that a full-blown relationship fight does not erupt due to someone being stingy.
So movies = popcorn
It’s absolutely brilliant and completely intentional on the part of the movie houses.
They don’t make money on you paying your ticket price.
They make money on POPCORN.
So what do you do? Do you decide not to go to the movies? Forego all those fun summertime smash hits? Bow out when your friends invite you?
Or do you change the pattern?
I’m not saying it’s gonna be easy. After all: POPCORN!!!
But if you plan it, and think about it, and importantly, reflect on it…. BEFORE YOU WALK IN THE DOOR, then you too can be victorious over popcorn.
This needs to be deliberate. What you do is imagine yourself walking into that theater, and in your mind, before you get there, you decide what you’ll do. Anticipate what that will be like. Visualize yourself in the lobby, with the popcorn machine right there pop-pop-popping out its salty buttery temptations. See what you do in that moment.
This is one implementation of what’s called setting your intent.
Now, when you go to the movies, you may or may not resist the siren call of the popcorn! If you don’t, then this is another opportunity: PAY ATTENTION, CONSCIOUSLY, AS YOU GO THROUGH THE PROCESS OF BUYING IT or sitting next to whomever is eating it.
If you can’t do that in the moment, if you stuff down your feelings of loser-ish-ness because you were unable to maintain the integrity of your prior decision and you caved, and all you are capable of doing is stuffing massive handfuls of drippy buttery popcorn into your mouth and it’s gone before the trailers even roll, no worries. Just make sure you come back to this later. You’ll want to analyze what happened, in a calm and non-judgmental way (to the extent that’s possible, when it’s so easy to assume the victim-bashing stance upon your own self whenever something like this goes sideways).
What caused you to waver?
Did you go to the movies hungry?
Did your movie-going partner flaunt her ability to eat popcorn with no remorse, and no understanding for your plight? (Pro Tip: Pick another partner to go to the movies with next time!!)
What convinced you, in the moment right before you changed course, that eating popcorn was more important?
There was some factor that convinced you. Can you find what it is?
That may prove to be a key to future success as you try to make these types of changes.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t manage this switch the first time or even the first ten times you try it. What matters is a) nurturing an awareness of it, and b) starting to debug the WHYs. Why did you indulge in the popcorn, why were you so willing to let your prior self’s decision fly out the door? There must be a reason. It may be solely that you are IN THE HABIT OF EATING POPCORN AT THE MOVIES and you have an underappreciation of the power of habit.
That means, you just need more practice. More practice being intentional. More practice evaluating situations in advance. More practice, potentially, in re-examining them when they’re over, to drill down into the core of it.
But recognize too that places have power. We are literally changed by our environment. There are decades of conditioning built up in you that movies = popcorn, and it may not be realistic to expect that you can fight all of that off in one moment. Sometimes you will; other times maybe you won’t. It’s okay, either way, as long as you are nurturing the awareness.
Here’s another way to establish this change in behavior: Go to the movies by yourself. That way, you aren’t tripped up by the people you’re actually with; it’s only the strangers around you and the overall environment. If you do this explicitly as part of a practice of changing your patterns, then you may even want to go at a time when the theater will be deserted. Avoid going at peak times, not just because all the other mindstreams walking through the lobby simultaneous to you will also be mentally screaming “POPCORN! POPCORN! MUST HAVE POPCORN!” like veritable popcornzombies that we are, but also because the peak times are when the theater pops more popcorn, intentionally scenting the air like a dope dealer waving a baggie in the drug addict’s face.
Once you become aware of WHY you act a certain way that you later regret — and also that you become conscious of the power of patterns, and how places can trigger certain behaviors only because that’s what we’ve always done in that situation before — then you start to have a fighting chance. It’s not you against the world; it’s you against the conditioning, or more precisely, you becoming aware of the conditioning, which is the first step required for it to be changed.
Conditioning is like patterns or grooves in the mind (some might say “ruts”!). Counterconditioning requires that you first recognize the pattern. Then, once you see it, you have options. Until you recognize it — whether it’s conditioning around popcorn at the movies, or getting irritated when your Starbucks order is delayed, or skipping your yoga class tonight because you’re too tired and don’t feel like it — whatever it is, these patterns will continue to play out until you consciously (not forcefully; just consciously) see them for what they are, and consciously introduce new ways of being instead.