Your Biggest Addiction

smokingUnless I know you fairly well, I don’t know what addictions you do or don’t have. I don’t know if you smoke, drink to excess, gamble compulsively, binge eat junk food, or bite your nails.

I also don’t know if you have any positive addictions (or, if that feels too much like an oxymoron, we can just call them good habits). You might meditate every day, exercise, drink green smoothies, or do anything else on a regular basis that helps you feel better — and that, if you were to stop suddenly, would make you go through withdrawal (or at least feel kind of off).

Because I’m not psychic and I don’t have a hidden camera in your house, I simply don’t know your addictions…except for one:

YOUR THOUGHTS!

I know that you have addictive thought patterns!

I may not have access to the specific ones that come up again and again (compulsively and unbidden) for you, but I have a feeling that some of them revolve around feeling mad, sad, or scared.

  • Maybe your mind habitually gripes (about the government, your boss, your job, your relationship, your lack of a relationship, or whoever/whatever happens to be around).
  • Maybe your mind habitually turns to depressing situations (or melancholy memories, tragedies beyond your control, or anything else that brings you down or exacerbates your pre-existing sadness).
  • Maybe your mind habitually worries (about money, your family, or hypothetical worst-case scenarios).

Whether your habitual thoughts are anything like those mentioned above or completely different, they’ve probably become so common for you that you barely notice them. You might not think of these mental habits as addictions, but they are!

Recurring thought patterns are every bit as addictive as smoking or other addictive actions. And, like many addictions, you might engage in these thoughts compulsively, hardly realizing that you’re doing it. And, also like many other addictions, you might keep on doing it even if it brings you no joy, satisfaction, or fulfillment — because that’s just what you do (or think).

The Good News and the Bad News

I’ll start with the bad news (which, don’t worry, isn’t really bad news — it just sounds like it): You will always have thought-addictions.

That’s just part of being human and having a brain. You have thoughts every waking moment (except perhaps during moments of deep meditation), and most of them are habitual.

But here’s the good news: The fact that the human mind seems to be addictive, by its very nature, can work to your advantage! Just like you can get addicted to healthy behaviors, you can get addicted to healthy thoughts! Here’s how:

4 Steps to Healthy Thought-Addictions

  1. Awareness. If you don’t notice your chronic thoughts, there’s little hope of changing them.
  2. Ask: Is this thought serving me? (In other words: Does this thought make me feel better or worse?) Maybe you have uplifting thought-addictions that you don’t want to stop — in which case, don’t! But if a habitual thought makes you feel worse, you’ll probably want to move to step 3…
  3. Don’t Eliminate…REDIRECT! Trying to stop an addictive thought is about as easy as stopping a speeding truck without brakes from rolling down a hill! You can’t often stop your mind in its tracks, but you can redirect it to a different “road” — much like a brakeless truck might be steered into the “runaway truck” lane.
  4. Be selfish enough to feel good! Place a high value on feeling good — and remember that feeling good (or bad, sad, mad, glad, or anything else) begins with your thoughts. Know that you are worth having a happy, healthy head!

Like any addiction, your addictive thoughts serve a purpose — most likely, providing some sort of comfort for you (if nothing else, through their familiarity). And as with many other addictions, you may even get a rush from replaying your mental scripts — much like you might get a sugar high from binge-eating junk food.

But just like all that junk food, negative thoughts aren’t nourishing you — and they’re keeping you from more nourishing fare. (To take this metaphor into somewhat disgusting territory: you can literally make yourself sick by binging on negative thoughts, regurgitating the same things over and over.)

Also, please don’t judge yourself! Having negative addictive thoughts doesn’t make you a bad person — any more than having the flu (or a drinking problem) does. It just means that you don’t feel as good as you’d like to. And, like any form of recovery, the process takes time, so be easy on yourself, congratulate yourself for the positive steps you are taking, and know that your goal is a worthy one!

Ultimately, this process is between you and you.

When a sickness or an addiction is external, it’s easy to spot — and to point out the benefits of recovery. Addictive thoughts, on the other hand, are less visible (although others can see the results of them), so it’s really up to you to decide whether or not you want to keep or change the thoughts that keep swirling around your head on a daily basis. And that decision really comes down to this one simple question:

Do you want to feel better?

What are some of your thought-addictions? Do you find yourself replaying the same old worries, gripes, or dead-end inner dialogues? If you could replace some of your habitual thoughts with others, what self-nourishing thoughts would you prefer?

How Do You Solve the South Pole?

As ludicrous as it might sound, what if your friend told you that they wanted to “solve” the South Pole? (And no, they weren’t talking about global warming — and no, they’re not a penguin.) Imagine the ridiculous conversation you might have:

Friend: I’ve got a big problem: Every year I go to the South Pole, and I always get really cold — even if I bundle up in the warmest clothes I have.

You: Well, then just don’t go there!

Friend: But that doesn’t solve the problem! That’s just avoidance!

You: Exactly! I think that you should avoid going to the South Pole! Maybe instead, […] Continue Reading…

Getting out of the Mental Mud

The biggest change in my life over the past few months is that now, unlike before, when I realize I’ve made a wrong turn, I don’t keep driving down that road!

I’m not talking about literal wrong turns (although it’s true for those as well).
I’m not talking about figurative wrong turns — actions that lead you someplace where you didn’t want to go. (I’ve already written a post about that — and what to do when it happens.)
I’m talking about mental “wrong turns” — thought patterns that take you off your intended path…perhaps even into an inner “ditch.”

It’s not a big deal to have unintended thoughts. In […] Continue Reading…

What’s Your Word of the Year? (Here’s Mine)

For the past few years I’ve practiced my own personal New Year’s tradition:

On January 1, I pick a word for the year and write it on my bathroom mirror — where it stays for the next 365 days.

I write the word in bold, blue Sharpie and position it so that whenever I look in the mirror, I see it just above my head (or, if I’m standing with particularly good posture, as if it’s written directly on my forehead).

Each time I see the word, it reinforces its meaning, its power, and its role in my life — so I’m careful to choose a word that […] Continue Reading…

New Year’s Manifestations (NOT Resolutions!)

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope that you had a wonderful end to 2014 and a happy New Year’s celebration — and that 2015 is already starting off great for you!
So, it’s that time of year again: time to turn over a new calendar page, turn over a new leaf, and make your New Year’s resolutions.
(Or not.)
When you think of New Year’s resolutions, do you think, “Yay!” — or do you think, “Ugh!”. Or do you start off thinking, “Yay!” (in January) and end up thinking “Ugh!” (by February, if not sooner).
If you’ve ever gotten excited about a New Year’s resolution — […] Continue Reading…

Be Like a Kid on Christmas Morning

Here’s something you can probably imagine, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas or have kids…

Think of a kid on Christmas morning — before they open presents…or even see them.

How do you think they feel? Bored? Excited? Or do they not feel much of anything at all until they actually open their presents?

Most likely, they’re bouncing off the walls with excitement from the minute they wake up! (That is, if they managed to sleep at all!)

They don’t wait until they actually see their presents until they feel excited. They don’t wait until they open them. They don’t wait until they […] Continue Reading…

You WILL Find What You’re Looking For

(In several posts I’ve been tempted to simply write a sentence or two — or even just leave it blank except for the title. This is probably the closest I’ve come to actually doing this, but I decided that, rather than explain or elaborate, I’d simply offer some examples to reinforce the title’s point…)

If you’re looking for reasons to feel good, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons to feel bad, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons why your life is great, you’ll find them.
If you’re looking for reasons why your life is terrible, you’ll find them.
If you’re […] Continue Reading…

But That’s What Really Happened!

When I started looking into creative-writing programs, I got a book called The Creative Writing MFA Handbook.

It’s a guide for people applying to MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs, covering everything from choosing the best-fitting school and submitting your application, to making the most of the experience once you get there — especially during the workshops, which are at the heart of most writing programs.

The author’s #1 piece of advice for being workshopped (i.e., having your piece critiqued by fellow students) is: Don’t get defensive!

Aside from not criticizing readers’ feedback (which harbors ill will and stifles honest discussion), he also discourages […] Continue Reading…

Step Right Up! (…or don’t)

Have you ever been to a carnival where the carnies call out to you from their rides or games: “Step right up! Right this way! Two throws for a dollar!”?

Maybe they’re trying to lure you over to the ring toss or some other game (that probably looks easy but is next to impossible to win). Or maybe they’re trying to coax you into taking a ride on a roller coaster or a Ferris Wheel or the Tunnel of Love or the Haunted House.

Many of the games or rides might appeal to you. You might be very happy that the […] Continue Reading…

Don’t Listen to Me

I love the personal-growth community.

I love the millions of people who share their hearts and their wisdom in books, blogs, courses, workshops, and all sorts of ways — online, in print, and in person.

I’ve gained life-changing inspiration and insight from a wide variety of teachers, writers, mentors, coaches, and friends. I’ve been moved, touched, and motivated. And I’ve gotten lots of really good advice.

So now I’d like to share my own heartfelt advice regarding all of the wonderful personal-growth/spirituality teachers out there:

DON’T LISTEN TO ANY OF THEM!

(Not even me.)

Does this mean that I don’t think they have wisdom? Not […] Continue Reading…