This is a very simple tool for working with addictive tendencies of any sort, and it is found in Buddhism, modern psychology, and probably many other traditions.
When we are addicted to something, it is easy to only think about the desirable aspects of the experience. So why not turn it around?
Which aspects of what I am addicted to, and the experience it gives me, are neutral to me, or something I don’t like so much?
What happens when I bring attention to the aspects that are neutral or I don’t like? What happens when I amplify them in my own imagination?
In Buddhism, we find this as an advice for monks when they notice attraction to women (or men, for that matter): Imagine how this person looks without skin. Imagine the meat, bones, blood and gore. It is there right under the skin. Is she still attractive?
And in contemporary psychology, it is used for any addiction or craving. For instance, what is the color of that chocolate? Texture? How does it feel? Imagine it being enormous, and you looking up at it. Do you still want it the same way as before?
For myself, I also like to bring attention to the less-pleasant effects of the addiction or craving, for instance of eating certain foods. I eat sugar, and bring attention to the slight queasiness and nausea that comes with it, as well as the slight light-headedness and draining of energy and motivation. These are usually far in the background of attention, but bringing them into the foreground helps reprogram how I relate to sugar.
It is a first-aid tool, mostly, but it can also bring lasting habitual changes.
And it probably works best along with some of the many other tools out there:
We can explore beliefs around the addiction. First, what are my beliefs about the addiction itself? It may be: I need chocolate. I can’t live without it. It makes me feel good. It will be a sad life without it. It ruins my life. I need to quit. Also, what are my beliefs about myself in relation to the addiction? I am a failure since I can’t stay away from it. I have no willpower.
Equally important, which beliefs brings me to addiction in the first place? These are usually the ones creating most stress in my life in general. For instance, I am a failure. I need people to like me. I don’t look good enough. I made a mistake. I am stupid. He/she should […].
I may also notice that all beliefs come with an addiction. As soon as I take a story as true, I am addicted to that story. I am also addicted to what the story tells me “should be”. And the stress that comes from the friction between its “should” and reality can lead to more conventional types of stress. The core addiction is to the story of I, which then spins off into numerous other beliefs and major and minor addictions.
I can find the need I am trying to meet through the addiction, and explore other ways of meeting that same need: Imagine engaging in the addiction. What are the pleasant and enjoyable feelings? What do I get out of it? Is there anything else that may give me the same? How can I bring it more into my life? Process Work has some nice ways of exploring this through movement, sound, images and so on.
I can clarify my intentions. When I do what I do, what do I hope to get out of it? And what do I hope that will get me? When I follow the chain, I find simple, innocent, and honest intentions and wishes. First, I arrive at some that are more concrete and closer to everyday concerns. Then, more essential ones. I can then find other ways to meet both of those needs. This helps me see that the impulses that I may have seen as “bad” or undesirable, are understandable, and innocent. Rather than taking them as opponents, I can use them as guides. Also, being more aware of the real wishes behind the surface impulses makes it easier for me to redirect my attention and behavior. I can find other ways to meet those needs. And I can ask myself, is it true it is not already here? (From Adyashanti.)
For instance, my surface wish may be to lie down and watch a movie, which is fine. But if it is a habit, it may be good to take a look at. I find I do it to feel more relaxed and refreshed. Is there another way to achieve the same? Perhaps by going for a walk? Spend time in nature? Take a brief nap? Spend time with a friend? Engage in an activity I enjoy? Then, going back further, I find that I hope to find a kind allowing of myself and the world, as is. Is there another way to find that? Maybe meditation? Shifting into allowing experience, with kindness? Notice it is already allowed, as is?
I can visualize being addiction-free, living a happy and fulfilling life. This helps me move in that direction. It helps me seek out, recognize, and make use of changes that sets me on that course.
Different forms of mediation and prayer can be very helpful. It trains an ability to notice and allow any experience – including thoughts and impulses – to come and go, as they are, on their own schedule, without engaging in them. A more stable attention strengthens the ability to not follow impulses. Heart-centered practices opens for a deep and genuine compassion for myself and others. And in general, I may find an easier acceptance of myself, and a more relaxed sense of fulfillment.
I can explore the addictive tendency in my sense fields. When I feel the pull, can I recognize it as pure sensation? What happens when I bring attention to the sensations as sensations? Can I notice the images that goes along with it? What happens when the images are combined with the sensations? Is that when I experience the familiar pull? What happens when I first recognize sensations as sensations, and then images as images? What happens when I recognize those two as separate?
Maybe most importantly: I can move towards living a happier, and more deeply fulfilling and meaningful life, more aligned with my deepest values. When my life is more fulfilling and meaningful, there is less room – or need – for addictions. How do I move in this direction? For instance through the happiness tools from “The How of Happiness”, through inquiry (The Work), and many other approaches.
And then some more first-aid techniques, which have the potential of creating new and lasting habits:
Overdoing it to the point of getting thoroughly sick, or sick of, its effects. As long as it is not too harmful, this can be quite effective. I learn to associate it with something quite uncomfortable.
Nipping it in the bud. As soon as I notice the first steps on the slippery slope, then stop. Distract myself. Do something else. Put it on a different track before it goes to the next step.
Organizing my life so I have attractive alternatives easily available, avoid exposure to triggers of the addiction, and limit/eliminate access to whatever I am addicted to.
Making a detailed list of concrete effects of the addiction, both benefits and drawbacks. And also benefits and drawbacks of not having the addiction.
Getting help and support from others. For instance, at agreed upon times, I can report and be accountable to others who will hold me to my plans.
The following belongs to the beginning of this post, but as I just thought of it, I’ll include it here instead.
I should probably clarify how I used the word “addiction”.
Addiction is here used in a very broad sense, but it is also specific. As soon as there is a belief, there is a should. And as soon as there is a should, there is an addictive impulse. There is a sense that something should or have to be a certain way.
As mentioned above, beliefs create three types of addictive impulses: When there is a belief, there is an addiction to that story as true. There is addiction in the form of the should that comes with the belief. And the stress from the discrepancy between should and is may eventually lead to addictions in the conventional sense.
Note: When it comes to food cravings, and some other cravings as well, I notice they are fueled by nutrient “holes” as well. When I eat nutritious and balanced food, low on the food chain, and also add other essentials such as raw cocoa drinks w. cinnamon, cod liver oil, and a few herbs (rhodiola, eleuthero), the cravings tend to fall away. My body is satisfied. But if I eat less well, there is definitely a tendency to – very understandably – crave “quick fixes” such as sugar and fats. It’s the body’s way to try to repair the deficiencies as quickly as possible. So for me, food cravings is a reminder to take my herbs, drink cod liver oil, and eat more richly nutritious food. And that does satisfy the cravings in a deep way, also mentally.
– a first-aid technique, but can also bring lasting habitual changes (so transform into something long lasting)
– addiction = belief, and comes in degrees – strong, weak, medium (core, peripheral, middle ground – very hot, mild, hot)
– core addiction/belief: “I”, and then “me”, and then cherished beliefs in daily life
– belief: filter/act as if is true, addicted to the belief + addiction comes out in other ways as well, depending on the belief and circumstances (the ways life rub up against it, the friction)
– addiction 1: I need people to accept me > addicted to people accepting (and the behaviors I think will lead to it)
– addiction 2: Friction between shoulds and is > stress > emotion regulation (try to feel better, distract myself, etc.)
– strategies: 1. identify + inquire into beliefs 2. identify need, meet another more fulfilling way 3. first-aid techniques
- addictions and reversals
- addictive tendency of any type
- beliefs, inquire into
- notice what want from it, and find other ways to get it
- explore effects (what like + neutral + don’t like)
- emphasize/visualize what is neutral + don’t like about it (find creative and vivid ways)
- seek out aspects of it that don’t like
- overdo it
- unattractive aspects
- seek out aspects of it that don’t like
- nip it in the bud (aware of earliest signs, then go different direction)
- visualize desired outcome
- finding support
- just sitting/open awareness – allow any experience as is, including impulses/cravings – notice, allow to come and go
- stable attention – self-regulation, strengthen ability to not follow impulses
- heart centered – compassion for self/others, kindness
- in general, increase satisfaction + find meaning, align life with values
- also, recognize that any belief gives an addictive tendency
- so this approach too, invites in healing and maturing as who we are, and invites what we are to notice itself – it runs through all levels of who and what we are
Any belief creates an addictive tendency.
I believe a story. There is a “should” in it, directed at myself, others or life. And in that should, is an addictive tendency.