Battling with Life’s Many Addictions

We are hearing a lot about addictions these days. It used to be a word that applied to drug or alcohol dependency, but has now been expanded so that we hear of people being addicted to food, to love, to expectations, to clothes, money, exercise, and the list goes on. Some “addictions” are seen as positive, and others are seen as dysfunctional.

The problem with generalizing the usage of a word like this is that it can be very disempowering. Addiction implies a situation over which we have no conscious control. When we call a habit an addiction, we are saying that there is little we can do about it: we are controlled by the habit.

Let’s look at some concrete examples. Consider smoking, overeating or high cholesterol levels. These are all factors which influence health directly, and ultimately, lifespan. Many individuals, upon recognizing the threat to their wellbeing, make a decision to quit smoking, lose weight, or lower cholesterol levels. They then proceed either on their own, or with outside help, to follow through on this decision, and often the change is permanent.

For others though, changing unhealthy habits can be a lifelong struggle. They may say that they’ve tried, and just can’t seem to change. Perhaps they feel that their addiction is too strong, or that they just don’t have enough willpower. They may try for a while, quit smoking for a few months, lose 10 pounds, cut out some high cholesterol foods, but then gradually drift back into the old habits. This confirms for them that they don’t have enough willpower, and that the addiction is stronger than they are.

This kind of thinking, however, is a way of avoiding responsibility for one’s own health. And ultimately it may cover up the fact that the person does not really want to give up old habits. On a deeper level it may reflect anxiety and insecurity about life. One might prefer immediate short-term pleasure that is certain, over caring for oneself in ways that might contribute to a longer life, which may not be so certain.

Our life expectancy now is longer than ever before, so it makes sense to opt for vibrant good health. If this is the choice we make on a very deep, life affirming level, then ALL of our habits begin to shift in that direction. This is what empowers our will. So let’s change the way we understand willpower. You can have as much of it as you want when you stop saying “I can’t” and start saying “I will”. When you put all of your power behind your will, you can accomplish just about anything. And no short-term pleasure can match the long term rewards of feeling energetic and fit at any age.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.