Category Archives: Addiction

Addiction Strategies

ב”ה

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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Is it over?

ב”ה

I mentioned that I find 2048 to be an addictive game for me.

I also mentioned that I was close to achieving a 8192 tile (which is severe overkill for the game, whose goal is to create a 2048 tile).

What I failed to mention was that when (if) I got to that level, I would be done with the game.

So today I got there, and so today I’m done with 2048 (G-d willing!).

This will be a lovely test for me.

And so my musing natural goes to this process and what would be helpful to me in staying done with this addictive game.  And one of the things I find helpful is to declare my intention to friends.

So, Gentle Reader, I count you among my friends today when I ask you to support me in my intention to be done with this addictive game.

And I ask: have you ever found it helpful to publicly declare an intention to do something difficult?

May your way be clear, and your spirit strong today.

Hobbies vs Addiction

ב”ה

I have hobbies.

When I was doing social work for a living (many years ago), I found myself doing computer programming in my spare time for fun (and playing bridge).  When I switched to doing programming full-time, I sought outlets to play violin more.  When I stepped back and saw that pattern, I concluded that I was drawn to those hobbies as a way of balancing out the right-side-of-the-brain activities and the left-side-of-the-brain activities.  You might call them complementing hobbies.  Using the right brain most of the day?  Harmonize with a left-brain activity.  And vice versa.

But none of those hobbies compromised my ability to stop doing them after a reasonable amount of time; they didn’t impede my long-term goals, or leave me filled with regret the next day.  (On the contrary, I felt balanced and more whole afterwards.)

Whereas the activities in my life that I consider addictive, do leave me frustrated and shaking my head at myself the next day, as I end up slogging uphill through my schedule with too little sleep, and nothing to show for the wasted time but muddled thinking and a vague sense of frittering my life away.

For me (and of course, this may be totally different for you), I don’t engage in the addictive behaviors because I’m drawn towards them as much as I’m trying to get away from something else.  The computer game is the most convenient escape, the most mind-numbing activity that is at my fingertips.

For me, it’s important to spend a little time focusing on what I’m running away from, so that whatever strategies I devise are more effective.

The things I’m running away from seem to fall into three general categories:

(1) An unpleasant, present-day happening that I don’t want to deal with.  Large or small.  IRS notification of audit; a hold on my credit card I have to call in to release; a message to call back someone to work through a disagreement.  These are relatively small in the scheme of things.

(2) Unfinished pain from childhood (or past relationships).  Sometimes issues are stirred up that have deep roots, and the unhealed wounds are painful to feel.  I can find myself reaching for the keyboard to numb my feeling state, dampen the emotions, or push away memories.

(3) Angst.  I seem to suffer from bouts of existential angst.  It’s not exactly depression; I’m not sure what to call it really.  But from time to time, life loses its beauty and meaning, and I find it hard to keep going.  Nothing is interesting, my energy falls flat, and I just want to be done.  (My son characterizes this as wanting to “fast-forward through time”.)  At these times I am quite susceptible to crawling into a little meaningless game, with its own little rules and goals, and abandoning my life and the bleak, foggy greyness that comprises those moments.

So depending on which of these is “up”, different strategies are helpful.  Of course, sometimes they all hit at once, and then… oy.

So I think next up will be the Avoidance, Dilution, Substitution, and Redirection Strategies I sometimes use, but for now, I’ll sign off this musing with questions:

  • Do any of this ring true to your experience?  
  • Do you distinguish between hobbies and time-wasting, addictive behaviors?  
  • And if you have the latter, do you think you’re drawn to the addiction for its own sake, or because you’re running away from something?

Until next time, may your heart be filled with gratitude and calm.

Addiction: From Lode Runner to 2048

ב”ה

I remember in college I had one of the new Macintosh computers and I enjoyed the game Lode Runner.  More than enjoyed.  I frequently stayed up all night playing it.  And designing new levels for it.  It was a “logic under time pressure” game that apparently my brain goes nuts playing.

Thirty years later, I downloaded the phone app 2048 (because it was recommended to me) and promptly stayed up all night playing it.  (And I mean literally, I was still playing when the sun started shining in the windows.)  I promptly removed it from my phone.  

And then started playing the online version.  Oy.

So I look at that as addiction.  For me, addiction is any activity such that: doing this activity impairs my judgement to choose wisely whether to continue doing it (and the continued doing of it undermines my longer-term goals).

I am reminded of the potato chip commercial “Bet you can’t eat just one!”  Who takes that bet?

Oh, I’m tempted.  “Betcha I can, too, eat just one!”  I think we all want to believe that our willpower or resolve is strong enough to withstand a simple act like eating a potato chip.  We tell ourselves we can have the same intentionality before or after.  One little chip isn’t going to sway me; I’m tougher than a little chip.

But I think a healthier perspective is something like this:  every act we do influences us, changes us, makes us a slightly (or largely) different person.  From the vantage point after the act, things may seem different, and indeed, we may make different choices.  I may like to think that I won’t change, but the fact is, I do.  My biochemistry, neurochemistry, my spirit, my mood… everything can change.

I have several musings on how to deal with this.  I’ve tried many things over time; variously successful, depending on what’s going on in my life.  My disclaimer: I still struggle with it.  Just this past week I was up to 6am playing 2048.  (I tell myself I’m going to stop when I create the 8192 square!  Almost there!)

But before getting in to the things I’ve tried, I want to share the positive side of this “Bet you can’t eat just one!” problem.

The other day I had to do the dishes.  I didn’t feel like it.  I wanted to sit on the couch.  (Or sit in front of the computer and play 2048.)  So I said to myself, “Wash just one spoon.”  Now, I knew the idea was that once I washed the one spoon, I would be in a different place.  I’d be in the kitchen, soapy hands, and I’d probably want to wash another spoon.  And then maybe a fork.  So I knew this little game.

But even though I knew the game, it still worked.  I couldn’t get psyched up to get up off the couch to do all the dishes, but I could challenge myself to at least wash one little spoon.  So I walked into the kitchen with the idea that I would wash the one silly spoon and then go back and sit on the couch.

But after I had washed the one spoon, I was in a different place, and it was easy to do a few more spoons, the rest of the silverware, and eventually all the dishes.  Even though I honestly was ready to only wash one spoon, and even though I knew the hope was to get myself to do all the dishes… it still worked.

This is not always effective, of course, but it’s worth a shot (imho).  And, at the very least, one more spoon gets clean.

Sometimes I apply the same approach to my morning prayers, if I’m putting them off.  Just say the first prayer, Shimon.  The first one!  And after I’ve done that, I’m usually in quite a different place, and it’s easy to continue on to the next one.  And the next one.  (Not always, but mostly.)

So, do you have any activities that you find yourself staying up all night doing (and then regretting it)?

If so, what have you tried, and how successful would you say it’s been?

More from me on my strategies in the next post, G-d willing.