This is not a post about substance abuse.
This is a post about the little things you do every day that pull you away from what you really want for yourself.
It is about addiction to habits and behaviors that suck time away from us without adding much back to our lives or our souls. And often we hide our eyes from these addictions.
Granted, addiction is a strong word. It's a word that suggests a loss of control, a dependence on something that has become powerful enough to separate you from your true self, your highest self.
The dictionary.com definition of the word reads as follows:
noun: the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
What struck me about this definition was the idea of being enslaved to a habit or practice. Enslaved. This usually suggests that someone is doing the enslaving against your will.
But with addictions, you are enslaving yourself. (And of course, with substance abuse, the substance eventually enslaves you. But it always begins with you.)
Sometimes we can become enslaved by lesser things, things that don't appear so harmful on the surface but that undermine our desire to be fully engaged in life. You might call them habits, thoughts, or choices — but when you won't stop, when you think you can't stop — you are enslaved.
Why would we want to enslave ourselves to anything, even a habit or behavior? Why would we want to give away our freedom and personal power to something that lulls or entices us into mindless repetition?
Most of the addictions I'm talking about here seem harmless enough. And the cessation of these addictions likely wouldn't cause “severe trauma.” Quite the contrary in fact. The cessation or reduction of these habits might lead to profound happiness or fulfillment.
Addictive Thoughts and Behaviors
Here are some of the addictions I'm talking about (most of which I have had or still have myself):
- mindlessly watching television
- checking email every few minutes
- mindlessly surfing the net
- filling time with errands and tasks
- writing to-do lists
- reading the newspaper or online news every morning
- sleeping late
- staying up too late
- talking on the phone
- rushing, having too much to do (adrenaline addiction)
- driving too fast
- eating too fast
- looking at magazines or catalogs
- over-reading about an idea or goal
- over-thinking about a decision
- fretting and worrying
- negative thinking about yourself or others
- getting ready in the morning (hair, make-up, etc.)
- micro-managing someone (especially your kids or spouse)
- hanging out with draining or negative people
- sitting in or conducting meetings
- being sedentary
- asking for the opinions of others
- complaining or whining
- focusing on the future
- focusing on the past
I'm sure you could add to this list. Maybe you or someone you know has their own particular addictions which suck time, energy, creativity, and positive action.
Few of these actions or behaviors are inherently bad or harmful. Some of them are necessary, fun, or useful in small doses. But the problem arises when these things become habitual — mindlessly habitual. Or habitual with your awareness, but you do it anyway.
If I could count the number of hours I've spent in front of the tv, fretting and worrying about stupid stuff (that I can't even remember now), checking my email, gossiping, trying to get my hair to look good, etc. etc. — I would melt into a puddle of tears over the wasted and lost time.
This is time you can't get back. And as morbid as it sounds, we really don't have all that much time. There is an end to it. That's why these addictions are so insidiously harmful. They cloud your thinking, numb you to real living, and steal away your precious time.
Good friends, we can't let this happen!
We must reclaim our time with a sense of purpose, and kick these addictions in the butt!
(And I'm speaking as much to myself as I am to you, believe me.)
What can we do? How can we make the most of our time and our life (which is comprised of all of our actions, thoughts, and behaviors)?
As you are reading this, and if you are giving it serious consideration, you know which behaviors, thoughts, or actions are addictions for you. You know which ones you cling to and pretend that are necessary or harmless.
I've certainly been thinking about these for myself and have come up with a plan for dealing with them. I'll share it with you . . .
Take a look at each addictive behavior and ask yourself why you have allowed it to overtake your precious time. Some common reasons are:
- fear of success
- fear of failure
- general unhappiness
- a need for control
- avoidance of something else (that might seem difficult or challenging)
- inability to focus
- peer pressure or social pressure
Once you identify and become aware of these reason behind your addiction(s), you can begin to address the problem at its root. You can see your addiction for exactly what it is. When the devil is no longer in disguise, it's awfully hard to continue to live with him.
Be willing to face the truth about your choices for addictive habits and behaviors. This must be done before change can happen.
Inquire and Rectify
To address the root problem of your addiction, ask yourself a series of questions to learn more about it. Here's an example.
Let's say your addiction is mindlessly surfing the net (a very common addiction). So you ask, “Why am I spending so much time surfing?” Your first answer might be, “Because I'm bored.”
But then you must press on. “Why am I bored?” “Because I don't have anything interesting to do.”
“Why not?” “Because I don't have any interests beyond the computer.”
“Are you sure? Have you really tried other things?” “Well, a few, but I might not like them, they might take energy.”
“How hard have you tried?” “Not very hard.”
“What could you try that would be fun, purposeful, or interesting — something that I would be proud to give my time away to rather than surfing the net?”
Self-inquiry helps you reach full awareness of the truth, and leads you to ideas for rectifying the addiction. You can find ways to replace old behaviors and thoughts with new ones.
If you have no idea what you want to do or how to spend your time more purposefully, do the work to find your passions or find a way to serve or help others.
Sometimes the root cause might be deeper or more complicated. It might require the help of a coach or counselor to understand why you are addicted to behaviors or thoughts and how to kill the root. It is so worth the time and effort this might take. You could regain time that can dramatically improve the quality of your life.
Changing any habit or entrenched behavior takes time and practice. If you have spent most mornings sitting for an hour with your coffee and newspaper (and you don't really want to give that much time to a newspaper), then you'll need to retrain yourself.
First, you need something to do with this time instead of reading the paper. That's what you determined through self-inquiry — a better use of your precious time. Once you have a replacement for the old thought or behavior, you need to begin the big switch.
Rather than focusing on dropping the addictive behavior, put your focus on the new habit that you will replace it with. The new habit must be at the same time as the old addictive behavior.
Address your addictive behaviors one at a time by inserting a new behavior in its place. It will take 4-9 weeks for the new behavior to become automatic, so be patient. If you are planning for a year, you might plan on eliminating 6-8 addictive behaviors during the year.
What's the Point?
Some of our addictive behaviors or thoughts are benign. They don't really hurt you or anyone else by continuing to do them. Who cares if you watch tv every night for a few hours? What's the big deal if you sleep late every weekend? Isn't it good to have a long list of tasks to work on every day?
The point is that you have a choice. You can use your time for neutral, mind-numbing, adrenaline-fueling, inertia-supporting, success-stalling actions and thoughts, or you can savor every hour of your life with life-affirming, joyful, fulfilling actions.
Of course we will continue to do some of these behaviors some of the time. But tip the balance in favor of thoughts and actions that support the person you really want to be. Mindfully create your time so that you can squeeze the juice out of every moment, every hour, every day.
Unless you know something I don't, this is our one shot here on Earth. Each minute is valuable beyond measure. Kick the addictions, reclaim your time, and live the best life you possibly can. Why wouldn't you?