What is an addiction? Is it always a bad thing? Are there such things as “good” addictions? If there are, how can I benefit from them?
These are all questions that everybody asks themselves at some point in time. For the most part, the word “addiction” is usually associated with bad habits: drugs, work, shopping, coffee, tobacco…you know the drill. But not every habit and addiction is bad. Consider these examples:
- Healthy foods
- Courage (Yes, that’s a habit too, unless you’re the underdog in an action movie and it happens just once in your lifetime and catapults you to immediate fame – but back to earth!)
- Setting and achieving goals
- Financial savings
- Knowing right from wrong
This list is non-exhaustive by any yardstick, but more to the point: good habits are learned just as easily as bad ones – the only difference is that most bad habits feel good in the beginning, and most good habits feel bad in the beginning.
Absorb that for a minute.
The Development of Habit
Now that the seed has been sown, let’s see how we can use the positives of bad habit formation to combat the negatives of good habit formation. Consider the following scenario:
Mr. A. Jones and Mr. F. Bones went through the same kind of upbringing (in what could be considered good Christian families), have lived in the same neighborhood all their lives, and are now both 18 years old. Consider, now, that Jones has a propensity for “hanging with the bad crowd”, while Bones has the urge (and the opportunity) to learn classical music with the philharmonic orchestra in their city.
Next, picture the same two subjects six months down the road. Jones is now an evangelist and is trying to convert his former “friends” into good Christians, while Bones is now a drummer for a death metal band and is a Satan worshiper. Does this situation offend your sense of right and wrong? Well, it should, because one would think that Jones would now be a drug addict or an alcoholic, while Bones should be the epitome of good behavior. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always (read that as ‘seldom’) turn out that way. Let’s see why:
Heredity is known to be the cause of a lot of things, including habit formation. Studies by the University of Washington have shown that children of parents who use tobacco, alcohol and marijuana are more likely to indulge in these artificial stimulants than those whose parents are “clean and clear.”
So why did Jones turned out “good” while Bones turned out “bad”? The answer lies in the fact that, while these studies exposed the likelihood of something happening, they didn’t factor in the one thing that could be more powerful than genes – the environment. Call it peer pressure, call it “wanting to be cool”, call it anything you want; there’s no denying that psycho-social effects of various habits are far more powerful than hereditary factors.
But even more powerful than heredity or social acceptance is the one thing that guides people onto the paths that they ultimately choose for themselves – the EGO.
The ego has been defined by Freud as the mediator between the instinctive tendencies of the “id” and the moralizing character of the “super-ego”. Thus, if one were to accept Herr Sigismund Schlomo Freud’s theory pertaining to the human psyche, then one would have to accept that it is the ego that decides which way the cookie crumbles (in the equally unforgettable words of the Almighty Bruce!)
The Power of Choice
Having arrived at this point, it is therefore simple enough to deduce that habits are a matter of choice. “How?” you ask. Well, if choice wasn’t an integral part of the habit-forming process, then you assign all mankind to a class of animals more popularly known as sheep!
Thus, having deduced that choice plays a critical role in the formation of habits, it is now a matter of simply honing your choice-making skills to develop good habits rather than bad ones. But the choice here is not that simple, in reality. What feels good for one person is bad for another.
The subjective nature of this ultimate choice-making process creates a quandary of the highest magnitude. How does one choose between the devil and the deep blue sea? There are no clear lines drawn between good and bad, as there were in the good old days. Then how does man (meaning men and women) make the choice to go down one road rather than another?
Is there a Solution?
The solution lies not in the judging of habits to discern the good from the bad, but rather in looking at the fouls and benefits of each. If having a “few” drinks over the weekend make you feel good and does not affect the financial position of your family or do any harm to them in any way, then by all means pursue it. However, if better health can enhance your family’s overall condition, then drop the drink and go with the flow.
Simple enough as it is to explain, it is the hardest thing to do. To give up a “bad” habit once it has set in is tantamount to Sisyphus’s task of continually pushing the boulder uphill, only to find that he has to do it all over again! The trick, therefore, is to find evidence that what you are attempting to do has greater value than what you have been doing until now.
Let’s use the previous example of Jones and Bones to understand this concept: What Jones did right was to convince himself that a life without the habits that his “friends” had, was better than the one he would have led, if he had succumbed to peer pressure. In Bones’ case, if he had foreseen his success as a soloist in an elite orchestra, he might not have taken to the life he did.
In the end, it was a matter of choice based on what the ego thought was best for itself at that point in time.
A Conclusion (But Not the End)
So, you have an idea now how habits are formed. You might have evidence to the contrary. But if you look closely at your reasoning, you will understand that it is the human ego that is responsible for the actions and reactions of the body. Nothing more – and certainly nothing less!