Understanding Your Habits and Addictions
(The photos used in this post were taken in Prague and Vienna)
Most people would like to think that they make their own choices. But how many times have you intended to spend a productive afternoon, only to find that it’s 9 pm and you’ve done nothing but open Reddit that day? How often have you pledged to eat a clean and healthy diet only to buy candy bars soon after? It seems as though there is something inside us that wants us to fail. It can even feel like we’re at war with ourselves when it comes to cravings.
It’s commonplace to be ruled by addictive habits and impulses. A lot of us don’t question this because it’s so normal, even if it leaves us feeling dull, weak, and restless. But a lot of us have a feeling that we were meant for more. And if living a meaningful life matters to you, understanding these parts of yourself is essential.
We all have our addictions, but they might not always look the way you expect. People aren’t only addicted to substances like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, but also to negative thinking, worrying, and procrastinating. So, how can you move past these and start putting time into activities and mental habits that make you better instead of stealing your life force and joy?
Look for What the Addiction is Masking
When people get lost in an addictive habit, what are they doing it for? It’s a way to avoid a specific feeling. Oftentimes, we don’t even want the addictive substance or activity so much as we want the feeling we believe it will bring; relief. Relief from anxiety, anger, frustration, or some other emotion we deem unworthy of our attention.
From a young age, many of us are taught to “put on a happy face,” “stop crying,” and to pursue positive emotions above others. By the time we become adults, a lot of us (especially males) can’t even cry anymore because we are so used to suppressing the impulse. But what if what you’re avoiding isn’t actually that scary? What if the conditioning that told you to hide from it was wrong? And what if going deeper into what you fear is the key to escaping addictive cycles?
Even those of you who would be interested in doing this might have no idea how it’s done. When you aren’t used to going inside of yourself, it can feel impossible to know where to start. Suppressed emotional content can be hard to reach because it’s, well, suppressed.
The quickest route I’ve found to finding this information is writing. Just write what you feel. It doesn’t matter if it starts with, “I don’t know what to write.” My journal entries often do. Just keep the words flowing and you will get your answers as long as you write honestly.
See the Thought Form that Wants to Survive
Again, addictions essentially spring from avoiding emotion. When we get lost in the struggle of the “Should I, shouldn’t I?” thoughts of resisting our cravings, this is a game of distraction. Your habit wants to survive. All forms seek to propagate their existence in one way or another, whether it’s an animal, a cell, or a habit (mental or physical).
The resistance to the craving strengthens that habit and gives it importance. The more of your energy you devote to it, the more your subconscious mind will believe it’s important and the more your conscious mind will try to return to it. When you begin to move away from mindless or harmful addictions, the habit puts up a fight, interrupting your thoughts (often quite obnoxiously) and actions in the process.
If you can learn to recognize that these cravings are just the last efforts or resistance of an addiction/thought-for, the action no longer controls you.
Focus on What You Do Want
A lot of people try to solve less-than-satisfactory problems or life conditions by focusing on or fighting them. In some cases, we even obsessively research the problem we’re trying to fix and tell ourselves we’re trying our best. But in reality, we are often strengthening what we’re attempting to get rid of while taking no action at all. Instead of telling yourself you want to quit something (whether it’s procrastinating or smoking), think instead about what you’d rather spend your time doing and go do that.
Resistance strengthens everything from obsessions to even physical conditions. When I was traveling around Europe full time without a home base, I got sick somewhere in the middle of it. The symptoms have been varied (and plentiful), but the most consistent one has fatigue. It took me a while to actually acknowledge it, and when I did, I got really sad and frustrated about it.
What I noticed was when I would start getting angry about waking up exhausted yet another day, my symptoms would magnify and leave me bed-ridden. Ultimately, what has helped most is accepting and looking deeper into the symptoms. Now they are steadily improving. And this applies to addictive thoughts and cravings, too. How much does it actually help you to tell yourself not to think about chocolate when you are craving chocolate?
Feel Yourself as More than Your Mind
The modern narrative is that our consciousness exists in our brain. When you ask someone who they are, they will often say or believe that they are the voice in their mind, or their name. They believe they are their minds, in other words. But the mind as we know it is not the smartest part of us.
If you doubt this, just think about the fact that you can have mental arguments with yourself. Think about the fact that you can have thoughts that are bad for you, or even ones that drive you to suicide. Addictions are further proof that the mind can get tangled in its own web and at its own peril.
Our brains and minds are absolutely essential for survival, but trouble arises when you allow your head to run the show by default. The rest of you is smart, too (if you don’t buy this, research the “second brain” in your gut). And these parts of us are meant to work together as a complex system. We were beings of pure instinct before we even had the brain structure to house our current minds, and all of that memory is still with us in our DNA.
Allow yourself to slip out of your mind and into your body every once in a while. This might feel like an impossible task when you aren’t accustomed to it and your mind will likely fight it. But try to imagine that your awareness is coming from your heart, stomach, or the rest of your body whenever you can remember.
(This article was also published on Musinginmotion.com)