You delete me
I'm trying to get over my ex, but I'm constantly checking his Twitter and Facebook pages, and I get really upset. I'll see pix of women or see that he's gone to some event and wonder whether he met anyone there. It's crazy-making, but I can't seem to stop looking. — Unhinged
You know you'll feel bad when you check his Facebook and Twitter, yet you keep doing it. This is the social media version of being the busty friend character in the horror movie — the one who says, "I hear creepy reptilian hissing coming from the cellar. I'm sure it's nothing, but I'll just rub my large breasts with raw hamburger and go down there with this flickering flashlight to check."
Unless intelligence tests have revealed you to have an IQ rivaling that of Jell-O, you're repeating this misery-making behavior because you, like the rest of us, are prone to fall into automatic strings of behavior we call habits. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg explains that "a habit is a choice we deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing." Research finds that every habit has three components, which Duhigg calls the CUE (a feeling that triggers behavior), the ROUTINE (the behavior itself), and the REWARD (some sort of payoff that tells your brain, "Oh, yeah, let's totally do that again").
Duhigg emphasizes that you can break a habit. You do this by swapping out the middle step, the routine (compulsively clicking into your ex's social media accounts). To understand what to replace it with, check in with yourself at the moment the urge strikes and figure out the "why" — what reward you're going after, what need you're trying to fill. Maybe you're lonely and longing to feel connected. Or maybe you're going for a hit of intensity. Intense feelings are called "arousal" in psychology and can be positive or negative. Either leads to feeling stimulated and alive (though sometimes alive and pretty miserable).
Next, you need a plan — a substitute routine to slip in whenever the impulse to cyber-stalk him strikes. This routine is especially important because a "negative goal" — not doing something — is way harder than doing something different. So, if it's connection you're longing for, call a friend or go impede a co-worker's productivity. If you're an intensity junkie, watch a clip from a slasher movie.
Make it harder for yourself to cheat by mailing your phone to a faraway friend and burying your modem in the backyard — or at least blocking the guy on social media and maybe installing a program on your computer like Freedom (macfreedom.com), which prevents you from getting on the Internet. When the going gets tough, remind yourself that time heals most wounds, and it should do the job on yours — as soon as you stop picking that 140-character scab every 10 minutes.
Leave of absinthe
I drank too much mystery punch at an office party last week and confessed my unrequited crush to a co-worker. He thanked me and said he was "flattered." I was mortified and now feel really uncomfortable at the office. How can I fix this? — Embarrassed
My boyfriend, whose favorite self-help book is The Godfather, had this helpful suggestion: "Hire a hit man and have the guy clipped." Unfortunately, this advice violates my rule of not solving people's problems by giving them bigger problem. Instead, inject a little perspective. OK, you spewed at the party, but now, back at the office, your thoughts aren't running across your forehead, CNN news-ticker-style: "I'm in love with you. You're so hot. I love your tie. Marry me."
To make yesterday's drunken blurtation today's "I said no such thing," align how you act with the message you want to send. This starts with realigning your head. Reframe what happened. Tell yourself that it was gutsy to put yourself out there. Next, tell yourself that you accept that he's not interested. Repeat until these notions sink in. If you use these thoughts to avoid acting uncomfortable around him — no look of sweaty shame, no tight smile at the copier — he'll have no reason to be uncomfortable around you.