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In love? Don't get stuck on stupid

By Heidi Grant Halvorson, Special to CNN
"One of the best things about being married is not having to fall in love anymore," Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson says.
"One of the best things about being married is not having to fall in love anymore," Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New love often inspires bad habits, said Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson
  • Use "If-Then" planning to prevent embarassing blunders
  • Occupy your time with something constructive instead of focusing on unrequited love
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Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of "Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals," is a social psychologist, educational consultant and assistant psychology professor at Lehigh University.

(CNN) -- I don't care what the songs say or what the romantic comedies would have you believe: One of the best things about being married is not having to fall in love anymore.

Loving someone is great, and I highly recommend it. But falling in love makes otherwise smart and self-respecting people feel, and act, ridiculous. It's impossible to look back on one's dating years without engaging in a lot of cringing and "what was I thinking?"

Whether it's finding pathetic excuses to call again when he doesn't call back right away, or scheming to run into her outside her office "by accident," I don't know anyone who hasn't, at least once, gone a bit bonkers for new love.

Countless times I would go out for an evening with my girlfriends and talk a great game, telling them (and of course myself) that the guy I was currently dating was really going to have to woo me this time, and shower me in the attention I so deserved.

He would have to do the chasing, because I was too self-possessed and powerful to lower myself to chasing after him. And then I would sneak off to the bathroom to check my messages for the 20th time that day.

The fact of the matter is, you can't make yourself stop wanting to do stupid things when you are caught in the grip of new love or old love for that matter, any more than you can make yourself stop wanting cheesecake, or a cigarette, or a martini, or anything else that tempts you.

But you can stop doing the things that make you look and feel like an idiot, with a little help.

You can stop the compulsive voicemail and e-mail-checking, the constant texting, and the Facebook stalking. You can stop yourself from Googling his name (again). You can shut out all those premature thoughts of what your wedding will be like, and what you'll name your children. And when you're wondering on your second date if she has fallen in love with you yet, you can stop yourself from asking her.

Read Why I'm not married

You can't talk yourself out of desires. And counting on your fickle friend, "Willpower," to see you through when you feel the urge is a recipe for disaster.

The answer, you see, is all about planning and action. Instead, by taking a more strategic approach, you can actually stop the stupidity despite the desire.

The most effective way to do that is with a little If-Then planning.

If: I am on my phone reading the same text message for 10th time that morning and wondering what he meant ...

Then: I will leave my phone in my desk drawer.

If: I want to call her even though she clearly said not to call anymore ...

Then: I'll step outside and and call one of my best friends.

Dozens and dozens of scientific studies -- on everything from diet and exercise to curbing spending and quitting smoking -- have shown that deciding in advance how you will handle temptation when it strikes can double or triple your chances for success.

Notice that part of the plan involves deciding what you will do instead, and then actually doing it. Too often, when trying to break a bad habit, we focus only on the actions we don't want to engage in, and we don't think beyond that. But studies show that focusing only on what you won't do usually leads to a rebound effect.

In other words, you end up doing even more of the forbidden behavior than before. Constantly monitoring for a thought makes it more active in your mind, planning not to engage in a bad habit can leave it strengthened rather than broken.

So, when you are taken by the desire to construct the perfect Facebook status update riddled with subliminal messages and expectations, or to leave the "not sure if you got my last message "message on her answering machine, what more productive, non-creepy behavior will you occupy yourself with?

I remember my mother once giving me some excellent advice about a boyfriend I was obsessing over. "When you feel like calling him,"she said, "call me." You don't have to call your mother when love messes with your head, but having some sort of plan in place is key.

Don't put your efforts into trying to NOT do something. Place your efforts in doing something different despite your desires. Taking a moment to decide, in advance, how you will handle your unavoidable case of Stupid-Cupid could mean a world of difference for those who may be, well, romantically-challenged.

 
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