Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Although I’ve never had any problem with infidelity or classical addictions such as alcohol or narcotics, I’ve struggled with procrastination, tardiness, perfectionism and being overweight. I’ve often felt a vague affinity with the term “addictive personality,” as that is how I feel when immersed in a good book, TV series (Netflix is a binge enabler!), interesting website or meal. The enjoyment of the moment — one more page/episode/article/bite — turns into 10 or 20 or more because the next is so tantalizingly available.
If I (or a loved one) can interrupt me with a reminder of the regret I will feel later — say, disrespect to the person waiting for me, feeling bloated after overeating — I can shake myself loose. But if the only consequence is my short-term enjoyment subsuming a longer-term “good for me” goal like health or career advancement, the odds are not in my future-favor.
I think it’s a matter of getting better at knowing, anticipating and working around your vulnerabilities. For example, if having one cracker means you hose the whole box, then stop bringing the whole box with you and instead put 10 crackers in a bowl before hitting the couch. Basically, use your self-awareness to shift decision-making to a point where you’re less tempted. It’s easier to stop at 10 crackers before you’ve started eating than when you’re 10 crackers into the box.
If you beat that trick by Cookie Monstering yourself through your allotment and going back for the box, then you stop buying those crackers altogether — i.e., you push the decision back from couch to kitchen to store aisle, wherever you’re able to take no for an answer.
It’s harder with binge-watching — the supply is constant — but you can decide beforehand, “Just one hour,” and then make yourself obey.
In fact, in “Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas,” Natasha Dow Schull writes that casinos have curved aisles instead of walkways at right angles, because angles force the brain to intervene with a decision on which way to turn — and just that little mental activity can break the spell of impulsive behavior.
So, before you get hooked on something you already know hooks you, build in the right turn to help your brain reassert control.
On a larger scale, also think about underlying reasons you’re a sucker for short-term amusement at the expense of longer-term rewards. Sometimes it can mean the work you do isn’t a good fit for you and so you avoid it; sometimes it’s neurological, like ADHD, where you are drawn to quick-feedback stimuli; sometimes you’ve got stuff you know you’re not dealing with and this is just mental self-medication. At least give it a think, in case there’s a deeper solution than just faking out your brain.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.