Lost in e-mails, unending to do list, dozens of opportunities, few breaks.
By the time I came home, I was fried.
Tired from the non-stop running and mental hamster wheel.
Tired from the buzzing phone, unread notifications, tiny chrome tabs, and momentum.
Sure, I loved what I was doing (I told myself). And I was tired.
Before dinner, I only wanted to have two of them.
Instead, I ended up consuming a dozen.
I remember finishing the full box of cookies (with milk, of course) and laughing.
I was laughing because I was not at the driver’s wheel.
I was not proactively living in that moment. I said I only wanted to have two cookies. I had a dozen. I set a boundary for myself and I broke it uncontrollably.
Autopilot mode left me reactive to my environment.
This is not based on a true story. This is a true story.
And, ahem, it may have happened more than once until I realized what I was doing.
Yes, I realize cookies are playful.
I could have easily replaced cookies with other addictive tendencies I have had in the past. Addictive tendencies towards my work, my smartphone, reading, or at my worst, pornography.
What is addiction?
Dictionary.com defines addiction as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.”
Wikipedia says addiction is a “state characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences.”
Psychologytoday.com says addiction is “a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health.”
I’m a fan of simplicity. My definition:
Addiction is an activity that has power over us.
Addiction renders us powerless.
Addiction is the difference between having a habit and a habit having us.
Addiction occurs when we’re in autopilot and hurting ourselves and cannot takeover the controls.
This isn’t good or bad, it’s just our reality.
As human beings, we can be addicted to almost anything.
The obvious, drugs, work, smartphones, gambling, overeating. Or maybe it’s exercise, or running, drinking caffeine, or an addiction to information.
We learn to stop (or control) the addiction when we realize it’s hurting us.
We each define our own reality of “what hurts us.”
Until we see the opportunity cost, or see what we’re missing out on while in the middle of the addiction, we remain addicted.
Or maybe we stop with newfound awareness of how something affects us or the value we can get from something else more productive.
Or maybe we stop when we realize personal growth is not personal. It’s about how we affect others.
Or maybe it’s not by choice.
Maybe we’re loving confronted by family members or a close friend.
Maybe our body forces a surrender because the addiction is not sustainable.
Maybe life deals us a circumstance that is a result of our addiction.
(I’ve been on both sides of all 3 of these scenarios.)
We’ve defined addiction, but let’s get more specific.
What is an addictive personality?
According to Wikipedia, an addictive personality refers to “a particular set of personality traits that make an individual predisposed to developing addictions.”
Biology aside, Alan R. Lang found that there are several “significant personality factors” that are involved in an addictive personality (Wikipedia).
Value on nonconformity combined with weak commitment to socially valued goals for achievement.
Sense of social alienation and tolerance for deviance.
Heightened stress and lack of coping skills.
Now, think of someone you know who identifies as an entrepreneur and tell me if you see the above factors in this person.
Maybe, think of yourself.
I advocate that underlying an addictive personality are unhealthy belief systems. That’s all they are, beliefs. Stories we tell ourselves. (Which can be changed)
If I believe I am powerless (or I don’t understand power), then I surrender my power to my addictions.
If I believe I am “not good enough,” I create internal tension and escape through addiction.
Knowingly or not.
Conscious or unconscious.
Beliefs, that’s all they are. I am not attacking anyone or anyone’s identity.
I am writing this article because this truth lives in my past, in my family, and it will appear in my future.
Why addiction is often ignored
As an Introspective Agent, I play in our mental world.
Before I share why addiction is often ignored, let me share a real world example.
Friction is a force that reduces motion. Friction stops or slows down movement.
I enjoy mountain biking, let’s use a biking analogy.
Think of a mountain bike with big tires (2-2.3 inches in width), a durable frame, and suspension. Intended for use on rough terrain with dirt, mud, rocks, ruts, drops, and more.
Now, think of a road bike.
A road bike is built for the road. Skinny tires (about an inch in width). Light weight frame. No suspension. Intended for use on a smooth paved road.
A road bike has less friction on the road than a mountain bike has in the mountains.
Said another way, a road bike moves easier on a smooth surface due to the surface and skinny tires. A mountain bike with thick tires on rough terrain has more friction. Suspension helps to reduce the friction over rocks and other objects in the path.
Back to addiction…
Back to the mental world.
When you think of addiction, do you associate it with something that is good or bad? Positive or negative? What is your connotation? How do you feel about it?
If you believe addiction is bad, and not good, and if the thought of it does not make you feel good, then you create your own friction.
You create your own friction to accepting the idea of addiction.
When we fear what we don’t understand, sometimes we create our own friction due to lack of awareness. (I’ve been here)
This is why it’s easy to ignore addiction. We create our own friction. We create the resistance.
This is why acceptance is often difficult.
Internal friction. Internal dissonance. Cognition distortion.
Biology may have a role, but… guess what?
Our thoughts and beliefs can overpower and shape our biology.
What do we get out of addiction?
It feels good.
It feels good.
Eating feels good.
Drugs feel great (I’ve heard).
Getting drunk feels great (while drunk? I’ve heard).
Video games are fun.
Or, said another way, addiction is an escape.
It is a coping mechanism to deal with life.
That’s it, nothing more here.
(Until we realize how it affects the future we want for ourselves)
The visible truth about addiction
This is a story about an evolving awareness.
Unaware, you may believe this, which affects how you experience the idea of addiction.
One myth around drug addiction is that if 10 people use heroin, 10 people will become addicted to heroin.
This was initially tested with rats in the 1950s and 60s to prove the point.
This set the standard for a common belief around addiction.
Put a rat in a cage.
Give the rat a choice of regular water versus cocaine-infused water.
Observe how the rat always uses the drug-infused water until they overdose.
All it took was one man to change a commonly held belief.
His name was Bruce K. Alexander.
He saw this initial experiment and decided to do more tests differently.
He built Rat Park.
Rat Park was a paradise.
16 female rats and 16 male rats.
The walls were painted to mimic natural environments.
The floor was covered with fragrant cedar shavings for the rats to nest in.
There was boxes and cans for the rats to hide and play in.
16 male/female pairs of rats meant the rats could play, fight, mate, and interact.
There was a social life.
In this Rat Park, there were two different types of water: regular water and drugged water (cocaine).
When alone, rats overdosed on the drug-infused water 100% of the time.
When together in Rat Park, rats never overdosed.
100% versus 0%.
Specifically, there was a 19x higher consumption rate of the drug-infused water when the rats were alone.
The difference? Environment.
Alone or together with others (along with other attractive elements of the environment).
It’s easy to write this off as, “Yeah, but these are rats.”
This truth is simple and obvious…
Let’s strengthen it with a human example.
In 2001, Portugal did something hard to understand by many.
Instead of shaming addicts and stigmatizing them, they decriminalized drugs.
Yes, Portugal legalized drugs.
Instead of using money to cut off addicts from society, Portugal’s policy reconnected them to society. They created a place for addicts to have jobs. They offered micro loans for small businesses.
Guess what happened?
(This doesn’t require too much thinking)
Drug usage went down by 50% (according to British Journal of Criminology).
Overdoses are down.
HIV is down.
Addiction in everything is down.
Tying the Knot
In a powerful TEDx talk on addiction, Johann Hari’s last sentence was this:
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.“
I am taking this a level deeper.
Are you ready?
I have said this dozens of times and I am saying it again:
I believe the human experience (HX) is about connection.
First, we are connected to ourselves. We are connected to the thoughts in our mind and our biology.
Increased mindfulness helps us understand these connections.
Next, we are connected to others.
After that, we are connected to our existence.
Connection to our existence improves, along with our connection to others, when we learn how to connect to ourselves.
The inverse of Johann’s conclusion is disconnection.
Disconnection creates addiction.
Are you still with me?
In the experiment with rats, it is obvious that when a rat is alone, disconnected, they will choose the drug-infused water, overdose, and kill themselves.
Would you want to live in a disconnected environment?
(There is a reason why one of the “strongest” punishments is “solitary confinement”)
The Portugal study worked because the policy gave addicts a reason to wake up in the morning.
They connected them to something beyond themselves.
Now, here’s the thing, we’re talking about the physical world.
I play in the mental world with entrepreneurs to inspire legacy.
When you live with secrets that nobody knows, what are you doing?
When you put on a mask and when you don’t allow yourself to be seen, what are you doing?
When you “fake it until you make it,” what are you doing?
When you pretend to be strong for your team and avoid the slightest sign of weakness, what are you doing?
The answer is simple.
Engaging in these behaviors not only disconnects you from yourself, it disconnects you from others.
These behaviors prevent connection.
These behaviors become behaviors because of certain beliefs.
I am not talking about being alone physically (although our external world is the result of our internal world).
I am talking about being alone mentally.
In your mind.
I am tying the knot between entrepreneurship and addiction because this is common.
It is common because being addicted to our business can serve us (until it doesn’t anymore or we end up hurting those around us).
It can only serve us until we get in our own way.
Remember, if you believe addiction is bad, not good, and if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you create your own internal tension.
Addiction runs within my family.
If left unchecked, it runs within me.
I have also heard deep stories from entrepreneurs and CEOs. I hear it in family stories. I hear addiction between the words.
Having the ability to focus on our work and being uncontrolled in an obsessive focus are different.
In one version, you have the habit. In the other version, the habit has you.
This is why allowing yourself to be seen is important.
Do not “fake it until you make it.”
Do not pretend to be “strong for your team” because you believe they need you to be that.
Do not hide yourself from others and think you are helping others.
I realize I will be fought. People will push against me.
I get it.
Entrepreneurs, CEOs, business leaders, we do not need more financing, longer runways, or rockstar developers.
We need more courage.
Addiction is about an escape from ourselves due to internal tension. Internal friction.
This is why there is power in vulnerability. In a Business Insider article regarding the recent suicide of CEO Austen Heinz, the last line was quoted from a friend of Austen: “I so wish I had seen his pain.” Others cannot see us if we do not allow them to.
This is about beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves. This can all be changed, too.
This is why self-awareness is powerful.
When you don’t allow yourself to be seen, you may have a bear in your blind spot and not even know it. What are you protecting, anyway?
The same challenge that leaves someone with addiction is the same cause of depression.
We can provoke fear and threaten disconnection (which creates more fear, by the way) when we think of addiction. Or we can connect with others in a meaningful way. What do you want to do? For others? For yourself?
I believe the human experience (HX) is about connection.
I believe the human experience works.
If you believe in connection, share this post.