Habit vs Addiction

Dr. Purushothaman
September 1, 2013

Here are some clues to help you see the line between a soft addiction and a productive activity more clearly:

Zoning out. One way of identifying a soft addiction is to ask if you zone out while you are doing it. When a person is zoned out they aren't completely engaged. We might be in another world or have a "no one is home" expression plastered on our face. Zoning out implies that the truegoal of the activity is numbness. Though we're physically engaged in an activity, our minds are off somewhere else. After the activity, we usually do not remember what we have done, seen, or read. While this often happens while viewing TV, it may also happen while shopping, working, having superficial conversations, or doing any number of activities.

Escaping feelings. Certain activities numb us to our emotions, especially very strong emotions. We escape feelings by becoming numb, enhancing specific feelings we like to the rejection of others, or even indulging in your favorite unpleasant feeling to escape other unpleasant feelings. A good number of us are uncomfortable with our deepest feelings, whether positive or negative. We do not understand how to deal productively with our sadness or anger (or, in some instances, even our joy), so we find an activity or a mood that facilitates an emotion-muting state, leaving us with subdued sadness, low, level anger, or other unresolved emotions.

Compulsiveness. Does an irresistible urge drive you to indulge a particular activity or emotion? Do you often feel compelled to do, have, or buy something, even though you understand that it's not necessary? Do you feel helpless or powerless against these feelings? You may have a difficult time attempting to stop or diminish the amount of time spent on a given activity. Despite the fact that you receive temporary pleasure, you often don't feel good after engaging in it. You continue following the habit, all the while saying to yourself, I'll never do this again. Even though you make an effort to stop, you cannot find the power to do so.

Rationalization. If you are defensive or start justifying your actions, it is most likely a soft addiction. Denial is a refusal to admit and rationalization is an excuse or explanation to justify a behavior. Both blunt our self-awareness and reduce our expectations of ourselves. To make our actions acceptable, we overlook, cover up, or gloss over the true reason or cost. We either convince ourselves that the habit is not a problem or we make excuses why it is an acceptable or necessary way to spend our time. "What's so terrible about a few cups of coffee?" is a typical rationalization. We may deny that the hours spent surfing the Net are a great waste of time and energy. The inclination to justify a behavior implies that you have a soft addiction.

Stinking thinking. Related to denial and rationalization, "stinking thinking" is distorted thinking based on incorrect beliefs. Generalizing, magnifying, minimizing, justifying, blaming, and emotional reasoning are some examples. Stinking thinking generates the silly logic of soft addictions. For instance, "there aren't calories when I eat standing up," or "I can't exercise if I've already taken a shower." This kind of thinking is addictive in itself. The tainted thoughts encourage indulgence in a soft addiction in the first place and later make it easy for us to justify the indulgence.

Covering the behavior. Beware of habits that turn into guilty amusements you seek to hide. Hiding the amount of hours you spend participating in an activity or lying to those around you about how you frequently spend your time or your money suggests that you have soft addictions. You are are embarrassed of what you are doing and that is why you desire to conceal it.

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