Addiction Strategies

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So I said I’d talk about some strategies I have used for dealing with my addictive tendencies with computer games.  I have no idea if any of these will help anyone else (i.e. you!), but if something resonates, try it out.

First, I find it helpful to categorize the ways in which I get sucked into the addictive behavior, because different strategies are helpful in different situations:

(A) Slippery Slope  It’s late at night, I’m tired, and I tell myself “I’ll just check my email.”  Then I glance at Google News.  Then it’s a quick scan of Facebook.  And one little game.  Seven hours later the sun is peeking in through my window as I huddle intently over my little game.

(B) Just one  I’ve had a tiring or frustrating day out in the world, and I deserve just a little something for myself, how about twenty minutes of fun with a game?  And again, hours go by, because after those twenty minutes, I keep going.

(C) Angst  Meaning falls out of life, the world goes grey, and I want to hide out in a little game.  Or “fast-forward through time” as my son puts it.  (This is similar to wanting to escape from other kinds of difficult emotions, like difficult relationships or unpleasant childhood memories.)

1. Avoidance
For me, in the context of computer games, Avoidance strategies include:

  • Routing the domain name of the game to a different IP address (so the site isn’t available on my computer)
  • Setting up a “managed child account” and blocking the web site
  • Putting the computer on a timer to turn off at a certain time
  • Having a friend call at a certain time to check in (“back away slowly from the computer, Shimon”)
  • Putting the computer away (I stored my iMac for several months and only used smaller devices on which I never play these games)

Notice that most of these I could undo in the moment, if I truly wanted to.  They served to slow me down and force me to remember why I had created the hurdle, why I was trying not to play this game.  And very often, these strategies were successful in situations (A) and (B) above, where there wasn’t a great deal of emotional intensity going on, just “laziness” or “bad habits” in using my time (or failing to go to bed).  I’m reminded of Andy Rooney, “Go to bed!  Whatever you’re staying up for isn’t worth it.”

Dilution/Containment
The second class of interventions are ways of trying to reduce the intensity of the addictive process, with the hope of lessening the size of the negative impact on my life.  In this category I place:

  • Setting times: won’t start playing until at least 11am, will stop by 10pm
  • Between each game, I have to close the browser window and: (a) look at some other web site, (b) get out of my chair and do some pushups, (c) step outside and take at least one breath of fresh air, or (d) contact a friend (via email, Facebook, text or phone).
  • I can play only after I finish my (short) “To Do” list, or after some other productive activity, like doing the dishes, the laundry, handling my “in” box, etc
  • I can only play the game on a specific device (and trying to make that environment less comfortable, or less attractive than doing other things)

This set of possibilities can be effective even with the class (C) situation above, where I’m avoiding intense emotional states.  Again, these little “rules” can be overridden in the moment, but I nonetheless have often found them effective.

Substitution
The third class of interventions includes trying to move myself from a seriously addictive game to something slightly less harmful to myself, or sometimes to something mildly productive.

  • Alternate games of addiction with smaller, less addicting games.  (For me, for example, a game of 2048 got to the point of taking an hour or so, whereas I could knock out a simple, less-addicting “bubble game” in ten minutes.  Alternating the games made it more likely I could stop after a “bubble game”.)
  • Get engrossed in a book, especially science fiction or mysteries (with their own worlds)
  • Get out of the house (errands, a walk, a cafe, anything)
  • Play volleyball (or any other sport or workout regimen)
  • Watch something on Hulu.  (Again, generally a waste of time, but less addicting for me.)

The substitution strategy was relatively easy to do with (A) and (B), but I often even found it helpful with (C), especially if I could start the substitute activity immediately, instead of starting the game, rather than trying to interrupt myself after playing an addictive game for hours.

Redirection
This last class of strategies involves short-circuiting the “turn on the game” action and getting myself to do something positive, and, for (C), potentially even addressing the underlying causes of the difficult emotional states.

  • Call (or visit, or video chat with) a friend
  • Write in my journal
  • Pray or meditate
  • Converse with G-d (speaking out loud, often throwing a tantrum)
  • Write an angry or emotional letter to someone (with no intention of sending it)
  • Sleep  (which can be a problem for some people, but for me is usually quite positive)
  • Visit nature

And there you have, in a nutshell, a list of things that I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, over the years, to address my addictive tendencies which sometimes manifest in all-night gaming sessions.

I would often affix a message to my computer monitor to remind me of some of these interventions.  In fact, at this moment I see on my iMac a little sign: “We close at 10:00pm.”

Do you have any strategies you’ve found effective in dealing with addictive-like habits or behaviors?  I’d love to hear them; I might find something I can use.  I have not found any of the above to be 100% effective.

May your days be filled with actions and choices that bring you joy as you look back on them.

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