We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking. – Santosh Kalwar
What Exactly is an Addiction?
An addiction is a compulsive behavior that is very difficult to control. It’s something that we consistently think and obsess about that interferes with our social relations and threatens to take over our life.
It is a behavior that we become somewhat dependent upon that helps us alter our emotional state-of-mind and satisfy our inner desires and drives. It’s a behavior that gives us a sense of security and control. However, this control is an illusion that actually threatens our emotional well-being.
When we indulge in our addictions, they completely overshadow other priorities, commitments, and responsibilities we have to ourselves, to our families, colleagues, and friends. These addictions take over our lives and affect our work, health, and social life.
How do Addictions Typically Arise?
Addictions manifest in our lives in a multitude of ways. People, for instance, indulge in alcohol addiction, food addiction, television addiction, video game addiction, gambling addiction, sex addiction, porn addiction, work addiction, shopping addiction, social media addiction, hoarding addiction, to name just a few. All these addictions arise from specific life circumstances that trigger compulsive behaviors.
An addiction can, for instance, arise from unexpected social, emotional or environmental pressures. Sudden changes in our environment, family circumstances, or work conditions can threaten our comfort, security, and way of life. When under threat, we succumb to painful emotions that prevent us from dealing with the situation in optimal ways.
Dwindling self-confidence, low self-esteem, and a strong desire to relieve anxiety and stress, drive us toward compulsive habits and behaviors that we use as a coping mechanism to deal with the uncertainties of life. These behaviors provide us with a sense of control, while at the same time redirecting our attention away from our problems.
Sometimes, though, addictions arise because of a desire to feel important or to fit in with our surroundings. We want to win people over and be accepted as part of a community or group, and as a result, we indulge in behaviors that we feel will help us win other people’s approval.
A Six Step Process for Overcoming Addictions
Overcoming an addiction is never an easy or straightforward process. It requires conscious work, effort and time. There are however six steps you can follow that can help you overcome just about any addiction you may face.
Working through these six steps, however, doesn’t replace the value you will gain from seeking professional help. Therefore, if in doubt, always seek guidance from a counselor or therapist.
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Addiction
The very first step to overcoming an addiction requires acknowledging that you’re struggling with an addiction. Ask yourself:
What is my addiction?
What exactly am I addicted to?
How is this addiction affecting my life?
Is it something I can control, or something that is getting completely out of hand?
What part do I play in this addiction?
Am I part of the problem or the solution? How? Why?
Awareness and an acknowledgment of your addiction is a necessary step that accelerates the process of change and transformation. However, to begin the process of change, you must first have a desire for things to be different. In other words, you must be ready and willing to make changes to overcome your addiction. Ask yourself:
Am I willing to change my behavior?
Am I ready to change my behavior?
Why is this the right time to change things?
Why must I initiate this change now and not later?
Unless you find compelling enough reasons to start making changes today, you simply won’t have enough motivation to follow through with your desired actions. It’s, therefore, critical that you take the time to answer these questions thoroughly and list down all the reasons why changing today is of paramount importance.
Step 2: Take Responsibility
Your next step to overcoming addiction is to take responsibility. Immediately stop making excuses, stop blaming other people or circumstances, and stop justifying your actions. Just stop explaining away why your addiction is worth holding onto.
Instead, acknowledge personal responsibility for the decisions and actions that led you to this moment. What happened in the past can no longer be changed, but you can change what you decide to do at this moment. This, therefore, becomes a perfect opportunity for you to start anew and begin your journey down a fresh path.
Also, take a moment to forgive yourself for indulging in this addiction. You are human, and you make mistakes. Forgive yourself and make a decision to move forward in a better and more optimal way.
Finally, consider how your addiction has affected other people in your life. Reach out to these people and explain how you are now on a brand new path. Where necessary seek their support and forgiveness. You will need all the support you can get to help you succeed along this journey.
Step 3: Undertake a Self-Evaluation
Your next step is to undertake a process of self-evaluation. This essentially involves looking deep into yourself and asking some tough questions that can help provide you with the clarity you need to overcome your addiction.
The questions you ask here explore your thoughts, beliefs, fears, needs, behavior and desired outcomes. Gaining clarity in these key areas will help you gain a deeper understanding of the nature of your addiction. You can then use these answers as a platform to create new empowering behaviors and habits.
Here is a list of the essential self-evaluation questions you should be asking yourself at this stage of the process:
What exactly am I doing?
How am I at fault here?
What patterns are evident?
What typically triggers my addiction?
How could I eliminate these temptations?
How do I tend to think about this addiction?
What do I tend to think before, during and after I indulge in the addiction?
What do I tend to believe about my addiction?
What do I believe about myself when I’m indulging in this addiction?
What do I believe in my ability to handle this addiction successfully?
Which of my beliefs are unhelpful and could potentially hinder my ability to overcome my addiction?
What fears are potentially feeding my addiction?
What exactly am I trying to avoid that tends to trigger this addiction?
Why am I avoiding these things? What are the real reasons?
What benefits am I deriving from indulging in this addiction?
How could I potentially gain these benefits in other ways without needing to indulge in this addiction?
What is my end goal?
What would I prefer to be doing rather than indulging in this addiction?
The answers you give to these questions will provide you with significant insights that can help you to better understand why you indulge in your addiction.
Having this awareness will encourage you to think more critically about your behavior. It will provide you with answers that possibly you have been too afraid to acknowledge. And yet, it’s these very answers that will help you rationalize why you do what you do, and how you can change things moving forward.
Step 4: Generate a New Behavior
Having gone through the self-evaluation process, you are now ready to create a new empowering behavior that replaces your addiction. And this is of course of paramount importance.
Your addiction is nothing more but a habit you have developed over time. Habits are of course deeply ingrained into our psyche, which makes them very difficult to change.
To eliminate a habit, you need to replace it with something else that satisfies the same needs you were craving while indulging in your addiction.
With this in mind, think back to the previous step where you questioned the benefits you derived from your addiction. These benefits are in essence the needs you seek to satisfy while indulging in your addiction. Your new behavior must fundamentally address these same needs. In other words, it must fulfill the same desires of your addiction, but in healthy and beneficial ways.
If for instance, you have a cigarette addiction, then going cold-turkey will rarely work in the long-run. Your brain needs a new empowering habit that replaces the old pattern of behavior (your addiction).
With this in mind, some people develop the habit of chewing gum or chewing on a toothpick to interrupt their cigarette craving. This works quite well for a certain percentage of individuals who satisfy their cigarette cravings with this new habit. However, it doesn’t work for all people because chewing gum doesn’t quite meet the needs they get from smoking cigarettes.
People smoke cigarettes for numerous reasons. Some do it to de-stress, others do it for social reasons, while some people just do it because it makes them feel secure and comfortable. Every person fulfills very specific needs when smoking a cigarette. Therefore, to eliminate this addiction, each person must recognize what those needs are and then replace them with a new habit that meets those same needs. This is why the following three questions are so very important:
How can I get what I need in another way without smoking cigarettes?
How can I gain the same value that I get from smoking a cigarette while doing something else?
What new empowering habit will help me satisfy these core needs?
As you answer these questions, take into account your thoughts and beliefs. How you think about your addiction and what you believe about it, will affect what you do about it. Likewise, how you think about your new empowering behavior, and what you believe about it, will affect what you do about it.
You must essentially convince yourself that indulging in your addiction is no longer worth your time. Likewise, you must convince yourself that your new empowering habit/behavior has far more value and long-term reward. Ask yourself:
What would it be helpful to believe to discourage myself from indulging in this addiction?
How should I start thinking about my addiction that would discourage me to indulge in it?
What would it be helpful to believe to encourage me to begin indulging in my new habit/behavior?
How should I start thinking about my new habit/behavior that would encourage me to indulge in it?
What would it be helpful to believe about myself and in my ability to overcome debilitating addictions such as this?
Reshaping your belief systems is never an easy or straightforward process. It takes work and effort. However, there are certain steps you can follow that will help speed up this process. I outline these steps within the Complete Guide on How to Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs.
Step 5: Assess the Consequences
Your next step is to gain the necessary leverage to make the desired changes to your behavior.
One of the best ways to gain leverage is to consider the consequences of not changing your behavior. Ask yourself:
What are the consequences of indulging in this addiction in the long-run?
How will not changing hurt me in the long-run?
How will it hurt the people I care most about?
What will it hold me back from doing in my life?
How will it cost me physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually, and financially?
What will I end up regretting if I continue to indulge in this addiction?
Gaining long-term leverage to change a behavior, essentially boils down to how you use the pain and pleasure principle. Pain and pleasure is an essential part of every decision we make each day. We do things to gain pleasure, or we do things because we want to avoid pain. You can, therefore, make a lot of progress fast if you use this principle in the right way.
With this in mind, take a moment to explore The Pain and Pleasure Principle, and make full use of it to help you gain the leverage you need to overcome your addictions.
Step 6: Take Gradual Steps
The final step of this process involves taking positive, proactive action.
Your objective is to progressively condition your new behavior in small ways until it eventually becomes a habit. This, of course, won’t be easy. You may very well at times relapse and fall back into your old habits. That’s okay. Just acknowledge and recognize what happened, and then make a course correction.
At this stage, it’s important to practice self-compassion and to forgive yourself for falling back into old patterns of behavior. We all make mistakes, and changing unhelpful thoughts and patterns of behavior — especially addictions — ain’t easy. It’s hard work that takes a lot of conscious effort.
With this in mind, it’s important that you take gradual steps moving forward. When you succeed, reward yourself with something special. This process of operant conditioning will help keep you motivated and focused on your long-term goal.
And that’s, of course, the key. This is a long-term process. Overcoming an addiction isn’t something you will do in a day, week or even a month. It’s something that you must work on over time. Old habits/addictions fade, but they never truly go away, which is why you must be vigilant at all times to stay the course.
Keep persisting through your difficulties, and you will eventually reach a stage where your addiction no longer has a hold over you. You will then be free to be the person you have always wanted to be.
Keep reading for more guidelines and ideas on how to overcome an addiction.
Guidelines for Overcoming Your Addictions
Here within this final section, let’s take a look at some further guidelines that can help you overcome your addictions. These are straightforward and practical suggestions that will help you build momentum.
Gain Knowledge and Support
The more knowledge you have about your addiction, the greater sense of control you will have over this behavior.
Knowledge and insights can, of course, be gathered from books, articles, videos, blog posts, etc. Read and watch everything you can on the topic. The more you know, the more you will understand how to handle and manage your addiction in optimal ways.
Knowledge of course also comes from people. You surely aren’t the only person in the world, in your city or town working through this addiction. Many people have struggled with this addiction before you, and many more will struggle with it in the future.
Seek out people who are working through this addiction or who have successfully overcome it. Find out what they know that might potentially help you along your journey. Alternatively, partner up and help each other work through this addiction. Be there to hold your colleague accountable and honest.
There are also plenty of support groups online that can be of tremendous value. And the best thing is that in most cases you can stay anonymous.
If all else fails, and you are still longing to talk to someone, then turn to your closest family or friends. Trust in them to help and support you along your journey toward transformation.
Help Someone Overcome an Addiction
One of the best indirect ways to work through your addiction is to assist another person overcome their addiction. When you help someone work through their addiction, you naturally take on a different mental approach. You are no longer thinking like a victim, but rather from a solution-oriented perspective.
Instead of making excuses, you are proactively looking for answers and methods that can help the other person move forward. Moreover, you’re asking questions that expand possibilities and help bring about critical insights to the problem at hand.
The more you help another person overcome their addiction, the greater knowledge, and understanding you will have about what it takes to overcome an addiction. And that is ultimately what will help you work through your addiction.
At the end of this journey, all that’s left is for you to take your own advice and then start taking steps to improve your life.
Focus on Your Deepest Passions
We typically indulge in addictions to take our mind off problems, painful emotions, or simply to hide our insecurities. These addictions provide us with a sense of control that helps carry us forward through to the next day.
Addictions however only hold power over you when you simply have nothing else to use as a substitute. In other words, you are prioritizing your addictions over other aspects of your life. Your addictions essentially become more important than anything else you could even fathom doing in that moment.
However, I’m sure you have some healthy passions. You may even have an inkling of your life’s purpose. Possibly you also have some big goals you want to achieve. What are these things in your life? Do you even have a bucket list?
Why not create a bucket list of things you would like to do this year, this month, or maybe even this week? What things are you passionate about that you could add to your bucket list? What hobbies would you like to try? How else could you distract yourself from your addictions?
When you start giving more priority to your life’s passions and hobbies, your addictions will gradually start fading off into the distance.
Keep a Journal of Your Thoughts and Experiences
Sometimes the one thing missing that would help us overcome our addictions is self-awareness; which of course leads to self-understanding.
One of the best ways to gain that self-understanding is through the practice of journaling.
Getting into the habit of journaling your thoughts — at the end of each day or first thing in the morning — can help you to assess what you’ve done and how you feel about it.
You can use journaling as a tool to help you evaluate your beliefs, fears, decisions, emotions and behavior throughout the day. The insights you gain from this practice can help you become more aware of why you do what you do. You will better understand your emotional triggers and how they have created your reality.
You can then, of course, use these insights to consciously change your behavior and potentially avoid succumbing to your addictions the very next day.
Journaling is naturally a process. It’s something that takes time. The more often you journal your thoughts, the greater insights you will gather, and the more you will know and understand about yourself. You can then use that self-understanding to work through your addictions far more effectively.
Develop Healthy and Nurturing Habits
Instead of focusing all your energy on trying to overcome your addiction, why not concentrate on other aspects of your life?
Focus on developing healthy and nurturing daily habits. For instance incorporate exercise, meditation, healthy eating, reading, visualization, the practice of mindfulness, and yoga into your daily routine.
These healthy and nurturing habits will, of course, take several weeks if not months to establish. You may in fact not even feel any different in the short-term. However, incorporating these habits into your life is a long-term play.
Each one of the healthy habits you choose to adopt into your life changes you slightly. It gets you thinking about your life, yourself and your circumstances a little differently. Over time, as you continue to develop these healthy habits they eventually snowball, and that is when you start building momentum in a brand new direction.
Changes, of course, won’t happen overnight. However, they will happen gradually over time. Each habit introduces slight changes into your life. As a result, you start thinking different thoughts, believing different things and experiencing new emotions. They may even help you connect with new people who have different ideas — leading to new perspectives and insights. And before you know it, your addictions have faded away because they are no longer a priority in your life.
It all sounds simple on the surface. And in many ways it is. You just need to be patient and disciplined to stick to these habits over the long-term. In time, they could very well change the direction of your life. Consistency, of course, is the key.
Develop Your Emotional Coping Skills
One of the main reasons we typically struggle with addiction is because we don’t have the necessary emotional coping skills to handle our life problems.
Typical emotions such as anxiety, stress, anger, overwhelm, frustration and fear all take a toll. Specifically, they feed on our willpower and thereby weaken our level of self-control as the day wears on.
Our willpower is, of course, a limited resource. We typically have more willpower early in the morning, but it quickly fades as the day wears on due to our emotional baggage. Every negative emotional experience we have depletes our willpower. And the less willpower we have, the more likely we are to succumb to instant gratification and indulge in our addictions.
To avoid falling into this trap, it’s important that we take the time to develop our emotional coping skills. When we learn to handle difficult emotions in optimal ways, we subsequently protect the pool of willpower we have at our disposal. And as a result, we are more likely to resist daily temptations and addictions.
For more information on how to cope with painful emotions, please read about How to Master Your Emotions.
Get Professional Help and Support
When addictions get out of hand, they not only put you in harm’s way but also put the people you care about in danger.
If your addictions are getting out of control, then the best course of action is to seek professional help. Counselors and Therapists are trained to handle addictions and can become a great support mechanism on your road to recovery.
Overcoming addiction is never an easy road. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be an unpleasant journey. It can actually be a fun and challenging experience that forces you to dig deep inside yourself.
It challenges you to change HOW YOU ARE and helps you find the space to become a better version of yourself.
The ideas presented here within this article can certainly help you along that journey. But ultimately your success depends on YOU and how willing you are to make the necessary changes to overcome your addictions.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 5 Damaging Myths About Addiction @ CNN Health
- 12 Ways to Beat Addiction @ Psych Central
- Breaking Free From Addiction @ American Psychological Association
- Does Willpower Play a Role in Addiction Recovery? @ Psychology Today
- How Can I Overcome an Addiction? @ Living on the Edge
- How to Overcome an Addiction @ WikiHow
- Overcoming the Painful Desires and Beliefs that Feed Addiction @ Tiny Buddha
- Reasons People Fail to Overcome Addiction @ Alcohol Rehab
- Replacing Addiction with a Healthy Obsession @ CNN Health
- The Surprising Truth About Addiction @ Psychology Today