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Do you struggle with alcoholism, workaholism, or other addictions? What bad habits would you like to break?
Addiction is a controlling force; it makes you a slave. You might engage in behaviors that require professional intervention before you can shake them. But, regardless of what you’re addicted to and to what degree it controls your life, introspection is an excellent place to start.
Continue reading for nine exercises that contain questions about addiction that will help you take steps in a positive direction.
Questions About Addiction
Whether you’re hooked on illegal drugs or spend too much time on social media, the following questions about addiction will help you think through your behaviors, the reasons behind them, and ways you can break the habits that hold you back.
These exercises, which you can do alone or with a group, are based on concepts in the following books:
- Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
- The Distracted Mind by Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen
- Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke
- Indistractable by Nir Eyal
- This Naked Mind by Annie Grace
Exercise 1: Consider the Consequences of Your Addictions
These questions about addiction will help you reflect on the behaviors that take your time away from goal-supporting and productive actions.
- Think about your day-to-day activities. What addictions or bad habits are part of them? (For example, you might check social media or binge-watch Netflix.)
- What are the important things these addictions or habits are keeping you from? (For example, social media is distracting you from studying, and Netflix is distracting you from getting a good night’s sleep.)
- What do you believe you could accomplish if you kicked these addictions or habits? (For example, you might experience less procrastination and stress in school, more time focusing on your family without thinking about work, or less dependence on your smartphone.)
Exercise 2: Reflect on the Feelings Driving Your Addiction
One of the keys to stopping and preventing addiction is paying attention to the internal triggers that usually drive you to undesirable behaviors.
- Describe the situations where you find that you’re most easily driven to the addictive behavior. Pay attention to both the activity and details such as the time of day or who’s usually with you. (For example, you’re with a particular friend on weekends when you drink, or you’re alone at night when you binge on junk food.)
- What are the feelings—physical and mental—that usually precede giving in to the addictive behavior? (For example, you experience restlessness, stress, or boredom.)
- How does giving in to the addictive behavior usually make you feel? (For example, you feel relief or more anxiety.)
Exercise 3: Reframe Your Situation
Sometimes, addictions are attempts to escape from reality. Adding challenges to everyday activities makes them engaging and interesting—reducing your need for an escape.
- Describe an activity you do that often makes you feel bored, restless, or otherwise in need of escape. (For example, practicing an instrument or writing sales pitches.)
- How can you dive deeper into this activity? In other words, break it down into smaller parts and examine them closely. (For example, you research each of your instrument’s chords and which chord combinations work best, or you go through old, accepted pitches to identify best practices.)
- How can you create a challenge within this activity? Keep in mind that engaging challenges usually entail limits. (For example, you challenge yourself to learn one new song per week or make a goal of writing three pitches in two hours.)
Exercise 4: Reduce Your External Triggers
These questions about addiction are about external triggers. Left unchecked, they can easily pull you into addictive behavior.
- What external trigger(s) do you find most distracting? (For example, getting a notification on your phone tempts you to get on social media, recommendations at the bottom of articles keep you clicking and scrolling, or seeing bottles of beer in the fridge prompts you to reach for one.)
- Why do you think this particular trigger is so powerful? (For example, your audio notifications grab your attention even when your phone is put away, recommended articles give you something easy and interesting to browse, or you enjoy the taste of beer.)
- Describe your plan for diminishing this trigger’s ability to tempt you. (For example, turn off sound notifications, save recommended articles to an app so you can read them later, put beer out of sight, or stop buying beer in the first place.)
Exercise 5: Create an Effort Pact
In Indistractable, Nir Eyal writes recommends that you make an effort pact. This is a precommitment that makes it more difficult to do something undesirable. This extra bit of difficulty gives you a moment to pause and ask yourself if the behavior is really what you want to do.
There are several ways you can create effort pacts for yourself. You can set apps, such as Self Control and Forest, to block certain websites. You also can make yourself accountable to others. For example, ask a friend to check in on a daily or weekly basis to ask how you’re doing with staying away from the behavior.
These questions about addiction will help you create an effort pact for yourself.
- What’s an addictive behavior that you’d like to do less? (For example, eating too much or smoking cigarettes.)
- How can you attach an effort pact to this behavior to make it more difficult? (For example, use a site-blocking browser extension that you must undo before visiting social media or other websites.)
Exercise 6: Abstain From Addictive Behaviors With Others
When people indulge in addictive behaviors together, they can miss out on important moments and conversations that deepen their relationships. The addiction questions in this exercise will help you and people in your life take a step beyond accountability and make a joint commitment to quit, at least while you’re together.
- Describe situations where you and your friends or family engage in addiction together. (For example, you always end up looking at your phones while at dinner together.)
- How can you minimize these experiences? (For example, calling out inappropriate phone use.)
Exercise 7: Combat Boredom, Anxiety, & Access
According to Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen in their book The Distracted Mind, it’s critical to reduce accessibility to the object of your addiction or bad habit. It’s also important to combat anxiety and boredom. With the addiction questions in this exercise, reflect on the authors’ approaches and consider actions you can take to embrace them.
- On a typical day, how much access do you have to the object of your addiction? What actions will you take to limit this access?
- How often do you feel bored, either at work or at home? In these moments, do you find yourself drawn to your addiction? Why or why not?
- Gazzaley and Rosen discuss strategies such as listening to music, changing your environment, and setting daily goals. How might you use these or similar techniques to keep yourself on track and avoid getting bored or anxious?
Exercise 8: Question Your Unconscious Beliefs About Alcohol
The questions about addiction in this exercise are specifically about alcohol, but you can adapt them for many other addictions. According to Annie Grace in her book This Naked Mind, your unconscious beliefs about alcohol can make it hard to commit to sobriety. Reflect on these beliefs and whether there’s any truth behind them.
- Describe your drinking habits. When, where, and why do you typically drink alcohol?
- What’s one unconscious belief that might influence your drinking habits? For example, if you drink alcohol when you come home from work, you might unconsciously believe that alcohol relieves stress.
- Grace argues that your beliefs about alcohol are often shaped by the society you grow up in. What do you think has influenced this belief you have about alcohol? For instance, perhaps your favorite TV show portrays characters drinking to relieve stress after work.
- How does drinking truly make you feel? Does alcohol provide you with the short-term or long-term benefits you hope to get from it?
- Instead of drinking, what can you do to satisfy your needs or desires? For example, you could take a walk or listen to music to relieve stress.
Exercise 9: Envison Your Future Without Addiction
Making a plan and having something to look forward to can be extremely powerful when it comes to quitting undesirable behaviors. Now it’s time to picture what your future would look like without addiction.
- Pick one of your addictions that you would like to quit. What are the short-term pain and long-term rewards you can expect to receive from abstaining from this activity? For example, cutting out junk food will cause intense cravings for a couple of weeks, but eating healthier will eventually help you feel less bloated and sluggish.
- Imagine what you want your life to look like in five years.
- Reflect on your relationships five years from now. What will your family look like? What will your friendships look like?
- Reflect on your hobbies and career five years from now. How will they have changed? What achievements do you imagine feeling most proud of?
- Reflect on your character five years from now. What habits have you successfully strengthened? What vices have you overcome? What mindsets have you left behind that were holding you back?
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