How many times have you heard someone say “I have an addictive personality”? What does this mean? Is it even scientific? Many people today believe that addiction is disease, something that you either inherit and are just unlucky enough to have hidden somewhere deep in the wiring of your brain. Yet addiction is not some biological illness that you have to live with for the rest of your life. It is not a label you have to carry with you till you leave this world.
Addiction can actually be a very good thing, if it is managed correctly. Addiction means to be consumed by something; it can help you focus, persevere and push through a challenge in a positive way, tapping into your natural determination. However, if you negatively focus on something, allowing it to take over your life, you can become consumed by it, which distorts the wiring in your brain.
As we think, our brains respond; the deeper we think about something (i.e. paying it more attention), the deeper it is pathway is built into the brain, creating new neural networks that impact what we think, say and do in the future. Essentially, we can become addicted to anything if we give it enough attention because the more we think about something the more it grows in our brain. A toxic addiction generally occurs when we intensely focus on something else in order to distract us from something we are experiencing. This addiction can be a toxic thinking pattern, or something physical like food or porn, and is being used to cover some underlying need or pain.
Of course, some things are easier to get addicted to than others, especially if they have an immediate effect on the brain. Take sugar, for example. As I discuss in my book Think and Eat Yourself Smart, sugar eventually ends up in the pleasure centers in our brains, such as the orbital frontal cortex, where we consciously experience the pull of the “sugar rush.” If we experience this rush over a period of 63 days (roughly the time it takes to build a new thinking habit) we can become addicted to it, which can then influence our cravings and food choices, and, in turn, our mental and physical health.
Whether chemical or emotional, it is so important that we recognize that we are not our addictions, whatever they may be. If we assume that what we are addicted to is just “how we are wired” and that we have an “addictive personality” it can end up becoming an intrinsic part of our identity, and will be that much harder to overcome as a result. Yet addictions are learned behaviors. What this means is that if we wired a bad habit in through our thinking, we can wire it out through our thinking because the brain can change (this is called neuroplasticity).
What are some ways you can overcome addictive thinking in your own life?
- Watch those thoughts. It is so important that you do not just allow any thoughts to wander through your mind unchecked. Every thought is like a ripple effect: if you let it affect your thinking, it can end up affecting many other areas of your life, because every word and action was first a thought, including an addiction! Make observing your thinking, writing down and analyzing what you allow into your head, a habit. Try keeping a journal to log your addictive thoughts and associated behaviors over a period of 7 days. Self-regulation is vital to preventing and overcoming toxic addictions. My new app Switch (coming soon!) is also a great tool for helping you through the though regulation process by teaching you how to identify and eliminate the root of your toxic addiction, and help build a new, healthy thinking habit.
- Ask for help. Recognize and accept that we all need support sometimes. Addictions are by their nature hard to break, so it really is helpful to have someone to walk us through this process and be there to support us when we feel like giving up. This is important not only for accountability, but also the healing process. Social support is in fact one of the biggest predictors of mental wellbeing, and is so important for our overall health. So, when you find yourself in a dark place, reach out to a loved one, be honest and be okay with admitting you need a someone to help. Sometimes even just a quick phone call or coffee date can work wonders! Be vulnerable and honest.
- Don’t give up. It takes a minimum of 63 days to build or change an existing thinking habit, while most people tend to give up around day 4! We have to recognize and accept that when it comes to the mind, there really are no quick fixes. Trying to make things happen fast can cause unnecessary anguish and put your brain and body into toxic stress, keeping you stuck in the addiction cycle. Being patient and pushing through, however, can result in a new habit that can bring freedom, and will help you succeed in every area of your life. For more information on how to cultivate the correct “time mindset” to break and addiction and build a healthy new habit see my book Think, Learn, Succeed.
If you would like to learn more about how to manage your mental health, overcome toxic addictions, and help others, join me at my Mental Health Solutions summit this December in Dallas, TX! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click here.
EARLY BIRD TICKETS END MARCH 31st!