Once we feel like we’ve got something figured out, we like to make it a habit. The first time we figure it out, the reward mechanism in our brains triggers a dopamine hit. Sure, the sensation might diminish with time. But it reinforces “good” behavior. Plus, it’s easier to stick with the familiar than to challenge the status quo.
The trouble is that it’s far too easy to get comfortable doing the same things day in and day out without questioning it or looking for other, more efficient ways. You stop looking.
This Sunday, as I was planning for my week, I felt the need to adjust. I saw my life becoming more chaotic, with a higher volume of client work. But I was convinced there was a way to meet the challenge head-on.
I returned to the basics of prioritizing – the parable of the rocks, pebbles, sand, and water. And I put paying projects first. Variable projects second. Growing businesses third.
It’s only Thursday night, and I submit to you that prioritizing made all the difference. The big rocks are largely out of the way. It’s mostly pebbles, sand, and water left.
But it would not have been possible without a willingness to adjust.
The trip is not official until you buy the ticket.
You can hold an intention for the trip. You can speculate on what it will be like when you get there. You can share with others that you will be going on a trip.
But until you’ve bought the ticket, there’s no commitment. No need to overcome obstacles, conflicts, or worries. No need to plan for when you’re away.
Even when starting with the end in mind, most people default to behaviors that don’t fulfill the outcome they’ve set out to accomplish. They stall, make excuses, and make themselves look busy. But they won’t buy the ticket.
I’m sure the metaphor isn’t lost on you.
If you’re going to launch a business in 90 days, buy the domain name.
If you’re going to enter a competition in seven months, register your attendance.
If you’re going to host an event in a year, book the venue.
Commit to the outcome. Buy the ticket. It will be easy to align your actions with the outcome when you’ve bought the ticket.
Addiction is something all creatives and creators can relate to, to lesser or greater degrees.
I have recently had some questions regarding addiction and felt it an important topic to address.
I have not mastered my addictions, and perhaps I never will. But I have learned some valuable things about what it means to be human and that has helped me greatly on this journey. That’s what I’d like to share with you here.
Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, and what follows should not be taken as advice. Seek professional help if you are struggling with severe addiction.
What is Addiction?
Some of the most prevalent forms of addictions are smartphones, social media, shopping, video games, alcohol, drugs, porn, relationships, co-dependency, and so on.
Most people will try to put these on a sliding scale from bad to terrible, but the reality is most things are not inherently evil, and even have their place. It is human, however, to try to categorize and rank everything.
“I feel worse when I do abc versus xyz” is a subjective, emotional statement, not a universal sentiment, let alone fact.
Shopping is not an addiction until it becomes an uncontrollable, compulsive behavior that leads to your financial ruin. In like manner, most addictions are just temporary escapes until they begin ruining different aspects of your life – relational, physical, financial, or otherwise.
Note: Anything outside of what is morally and culturally accepted is in a category all its own, and not something I will specifically address here. That said, the mental models I share may still be of some value.
1. Reduce Importance
I believe the first and most important step to handling addiction is to reduce its importance.
There is some part of us that wants to believe that if we just do a better job of beating ourselves up, that next time, we won’t make the same mistake. So, we become professional bullies.
I know of a man who was caught watching porn by his wife, and he snapped his laptop in half out of anger.
However symbolic the action, however sincere the sentiment, in that moment, the importance of addiction increased in his life. I don’t know what happened next, but I would venture to guess that was not the last time he watched porn, because snapping his laptop did nothing to reduce its importance.
You cannot reduce the importance of addiction by giving it more emotionally-charged attention, becoming a professional bully, making yourself wrong, hurting yourself, hating yourself, or any of the “normal” behavior that seems to accompany self-loathing addicts.
You come to hate yourself because you hate bullies, plain and simple.
God or the universe does not seem to treat addiction with the level of urgency that we do. So, why do we?
I am not saying there is no consequence for addiction. There always is. But I do not know of anyone who went on a social media binge that instantly got struck down by lightning.
Beating up on yourself is what does the greatest psychological harm. It does more harm than the action or behavior you’re trying to stop in the first place. You beat yourself up and then try to convince yourself that it is God’s wrath raining down on you.
People try to shed their addictions by giving it more attention, and it ends up doing the complete opposite.
It has often been said that the best way to manage anxiety is to let go. Addiction is much the same. You can reduce its importance by letting go instead of trying to control and micromanage it.
2. Change Context
We all go through a traumatic moment in early childhood. Even if we don’t remember, even if we say it’s not a big deal, it has shaped us for the rest of our lives. And we have trouble accepting that.
The context we got in that moment was “something’s wrong here.”
Up until that moment in life, everything was fine. It wasn’t paradise, but there also wasn’t anything notably wrong.
Everything changed in that moment of trauma. And for the first time in our lives, we got that “something’s wrong here.”
Why is this important? Because you’ve been carrying that context with you from that day on. And if you haven’t been present to this, it’s also been running your life!
When you succumb to addiction, instead of simply acknowledging the action or behavior, you immediately turn to “there’s something wrong here.”
And that perpetuates a guilty conscience. Then we are back to the same cycle of doing things we don’t want to do, beating ourselves up for it, giving more attention to our addictions, rinse, repeat.
What if there was nothing wrong?
See, I can feel you protesting already. Because you won’t even allow yourself to go there. You must keep beating yourself up or you’re a bad person. Otherwise, God himself will deal with you. Am I right?
But in the generous present moment, there is nothing wrong. I doubt that you are getting chased by a dinosaur as you’re reading this. And you are missing that generous present moment by focusing on what’s wrong. You’re not cherishing the present you were given.
You’re too busy projecting into the future, thinking about the consequences of that debt, or that conversation you’re loathing to have, or the project you dropped the ball on.
The future hasn’t happened yet. Can you be present?
What if good and bad was just a meaning we assigned to everything? What if the universe itself doesn’t discriminate between events? What if, to the universe, all events were just events?
“Something’s wrong here” is a meaning we assign to everything if we are not present to it. But now that you are present, you can change the context.
3. Be with Your Emotions
Addiction can often manifest as an escape from some emotion we once did not feel able to deal with. So, it got bottled up.
As you can imagine, there can be a lot of internal buildup if you repeat the same patterns. The moment an intense emotional moment arises, you seek escape, so you turn to addictive behavior. Over time, a molehill can turn into a mountain.
Those with lingering addictions, often, are sensitive and empathetic. They feel deeply and are saddled with emotions whose origins are a little iffy, and can feel overwhelming.
Just for a moment, imagine that there are two of you – your adult self and your child self.
Consider that the emotions screaming out at you are coming from your child self and not your adult self.
And when you see it that way, it’s easy to let go of judgment. If your child were in pain, you would help them. It’s instinct.
What else would you do? Would you try to solve the problem? Perhaps.
But solving may not lead to the results you’re looking for. We spend most of our lives trying to survive and fix situations, and it’s apparent in our communication and how we live our lives.
What a loving parent would do is listen to their child. Acknowledge their pain. Let them know that they love them no matter what.
Is that the way you deal with yourself? If you’ve been beating yourself up for your addictions, then the answer is certainly “no.”
Simply sitting with your emotions and not trying to survive or fix them, not trying to do anything with them except love them, often leads to their dissolving.
It sounds like magic, but it isn’t. It’s just that you have never sat with those emotions long enough or given them the space they needed to find expression.
Next time you feel an intense emotion, close your eyes, and just sit with yourself. Meditate if you like. Listen to the frightened child screaming out, calling for your attention. Listen. Acknowledge the pain. Let it know that you love it no matter what.
The better you understand what it means to be human, the less power addiction holds over you.
Maybe your actions and behaviors don’t change overnight. But because you give addictions less attention, their significance diminishes in your life. And that has a way of shifting your actions and behaviors too.
Behavioral modification is treating the symptoms at best, and never gets to the root cause. Beating yourself up will only aggravate your conditions.
You need to listen, acknowledge, forgive, and love as you would a helpless child. That’s all you were ever tasked to do. Leave the rest in the capable hands of God or the universe.
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