To Break Consumption Addictions
Updated: Jan 22, 2020
Do you have full control of your habits?
We all have our own addictions. Some addictions are good, some are bad, and some are simply excessive. An example of a good addiction is exercise. Within reason, if you absolutely need to go on your morning run every day, that's a wonderful thing. An example of a bad addiction is something like smoking. It provides no true value to your life and harms your health. An example of an excessive addiction is when you take something good and spend too much time on it.
For instance, as a teenager, I went through a phase where I was excessively addicted to reading the Bible. I spent hours and hours every day on it. I ignored my brothers and I ignored what my mom wanted me to do because I was so busy reading. Reading the Bible is a good thing, but how much I was doing it was excessive.
We all have addictions and there are some that we need to break or tone down. It seems that, in general, many of our addictions have to do with consumption.
Such examples are:
Eating junk food
As I say, consumption is not a bad thing, but we should prioritize creativity before consumption. Too often, these habits will take over a great deal of our time, even if they are not inherently bad.
Breaking the habits
I'd like to propose a strategy for breaking these habits, or at least toning them down. One of the best ways to break a habit is to create a better habit to replace it. There's a fantastic book called The Power of Habit, and I highly recommend it. It has wonderful insights on how habits are created and how to control them.
When trying to reduce a consumption habit, we might try replacing it with a creative habit. I've had many different consumption habits, such as online shopping. I would get sucked into it. I usually wouldn’t buy anything, but I would spend hours looking at things like jewelry, which was a complete waste of time.
What we spend our time on
We tend to be afraid of being bored, so boredom triggers us to default to routines when we sit down without a task immediately at hand. We tend to want to do something that will give us an easy dopamine release - this is generally most easily found in consumption. We like to be lazy and to not have to work hard for things. These consumption habits are not always bad though. Sometimes they are very constructive and edifying, like reading or learning. But do we spend too much time on these activities? Do we neglect potentially better activities?
As the Power of Habit explains, there are three aspects of a habit. I’ll use online shopping as my example.
The cue - Sitting down near my laptop
The routine - Browsing online merchandise
The reward - Dopamine release
One of the best ways to break a habit is to either avoid the cue or change the routine.
To avoid the cue, I moved my laptop to a desk, so I can’t reach it when I sit down on the couch, which is generally a place I default to. To change the routine, I can reach for a book, instead of my computer. The reward is similar, so I could replace that habit with a better one.
Avoiding the cue
That's just one example of a way that we can try to change, avoid, and watch out for our cues that bring us into bad habits. A good way to start noticing these cues is to observe other people. For instance, my husband works with a smoker. As such, Ross has noticed that this man has several cues for smoking: seeing someone else smoke, getting out of or into his car, or leaving a building will all have him pulling a cigarette out of his pocket without even thinking about it. Obviously, some of these cues are unavoidable, but the more you are consciously aware of these cues, the more you can try to protect yourself against them.
Changing the routine
The other way you can attack the habit is through the second step which is the routine. Instead of the bad routine, give yourself something else to do when you get that cue. Find something more constructive. An example is when I get on my computer, instead of logging in and scrolling on on Amazon, I log in and I work on creative writing.
Make the habits hard to do
It helps when you're trying to avoid your habits if you make it hard to do them; this is called friction. For instance, while you have the willpower, turn the TV around so that you would have to turn it back around to watch it. That way, you can't just passively sit on the couch to start watching TV. Try hiding your TV remote so you have to go find it when you want to watch TV. Try only buying healthy food so that if you do have the munchies, you have to munch down on some carrots instead of potato chips. Try putting your computer or your phone in a different room so you aren’t tempted to endlessly scroll on social media. One of the enticing factors of these bad habits is they are easy, so if you make them harder to do, you are less likely to default to them.
Why are you doing it?
There's a bunch of various consumption habits we have, like TV watching. That one can be tough. I've been in this trap more than once. First, watch for those cues. Ask yourself why you are watching TV? (This goes for any of the habits you have.) Are you doing it because you're bored? Are you doing it out of sheer habit? Are you stressed and trying to distract yourself? Did you just sit down on the couch and the remote is right there, so you turn on the TV to see what's going on? Now you find yourself just scrolling through channels and watching something you don't even like, just because it's there.
I want you to identify a habit you wish you didn't have, or you wish you didn't spend as much time on. Like I said, it's probably consumption based, like eating too much sugar, watching TV, playing video games, or excessive shopping. Once you do, carefully observe yourself. Whenever you find yourself doing that habit you want to break, try to recall what triggered it. What was your cue? What did you see? What did you feel? What did you do right before you started that action?
Once you identify your cues, start avoiding them, if possible. Don't just walk into the kitchen (where you know you'll start snacking) after your day at work; walk into the living room. Try to not sit right in front of the TV if you're avoiding watching TV. Avoid the things that make you want to continue the habit. Then as a next step, think of things that you can do with those cues that might make you feel better.
Ideas for routine changes
Instead of sitting down on the couch and watching TV, try reading a book, or writing in your journal. When you walk into the kitchen, instead of eating chips, do some cleaning, wash dishes, or have a card game at the dinner table. When you see someone smoke, chew a stick of gum. When you're tempted to go shopping, clean the house or find something you can try to be inventive. If you want to walk around the store, just walk around the park or go to the gym. If you want an item, see if there's something around the house that you can do that will take the place of that item. Be inventive and creative; come up with something different!