Addicts share a spread of similar characteristics, including impulsive behaviour, depression and anxiety, antisocial tendencies, attention seeking, low self-esteem/confidence, the tendency to feel like an outsider and feelings of insecurity in relationships. The symptoms are also similar among those who have addictions and can span a range of manifestations ranging from secretiveness and attempts to hide the addiction, to a lack of interest in activities they used to like, to outright lying and defensiveness, to work and family issues as well as moods swings and financial problems.
It's also important to remember that addictions are not limited to drugs, alcohol, sex and gambling. Experts agree that lesser known behaviours like compulsive exercise and dependence on technology can also be addictions - though these same experts can't always agree on the exact definition of addiction or what, precisely, makes an addict. This said, the majority of experts will agree that on the loose definition of an addiction as a dependence and/or compulsion that can occur in relation to any behavior or substance. Vague, granted, but the spectrum of addiction is only beginning to be understood, and in more recent years, opinions on how to treat addiction have changed dramatically.
I'm not going to get into the politics of addiction though; it exists, and it can destroy lives. That much we can agree on. It's in the spirit of avoiding loss and total ruin that I want to help you understand the difference between mindlessly engaging in activities/behaviors (which can lead to addiction) and doing things with purpose and intention (which stems from mindfulness). This means realizing the difference between going for the high and needing the high and aiming for growth and development and being contented.
Steps Toward Mindfulness and Acting with Purpose
Pete loves poker. He plays every day. It's fun, it’s exciting. He wins more than he looses. At first. Winning gives Pete such a wicked high that he starts wanting it more. In fact, he starts to depend on it to feel good about himself. He can't feel good without it. This means he just can't lose. Literally. Pete can't stand to lose. If he does, he has to play again. And again and again at whatever the cost until he wins, and when he does win, it's amazing. That high. There's nothing like it. But inevitably, the high fades. Pete chases it. He plays again, and he may win again, but of course, he will eventually lose too. It's the nature of the beast. Even poker, which is one of the most skill-based of card games, still involves a degree of luck. Even the best players will lose (they’ll just lose less and their profits overtime will outweigh these loses). Unfortunately for Pete, he is not one of the best players. What separates Pete from the upper echelon of poker pros is his inability to act with purpose; to act in a way that focuses on personal development, NOT getting a high.
Don't get me wrong: winning is a high, and there’s nothing wrong with digging this kick. Just because you get a thrill out of winning doesn't make you an addict. Needing to win to make you happy, on the other hand, may. A good way to gauge where your motivation is coming from is by simply asking yourself this question: am I acting out of mindless habit or am I acting with the intent to develop myself? With poker in mind specifically, ask yourself: is my desire to make this play motivated by ego or by reason? I'm not saying that you have to keep your feelings out of it - there's a lot to be said for playing with a sense of feeling - but your emotions should not be running the show.
With this in mind, here's a checklist you can run through next time you find yourself facing a tough call.
10 Tips for Mindfulness
- Accept that your thoughts are just thoughts; you don't always need to react to them, or even believe in them. They aren’t necessarily a reflection of anything real.
- Take deep, full breaths in and out to help calm and center you in ‘the now’.
- Don't judge yourself. Being mindful is not about sitting in quiet judgement. Think of it more as passive, gentle observation.
- Let go; of the past, of doubt, of distraction. Try being 100% present in the moment.
- Be still. You don't only need to focus on slowing down your mind, but you should also slow your body. Don't fidget.
- Sit up straight. While we can practice being more mindful in any activity, it is often best to begin the practice seated and with a straight spine. This position requires both a degree of relaxation and an attention to full, open breathing.
- Practice doing nothing. Yes, nothing. Start by putting aside five minutes every day, and then try to increase it. Simply sit and be aware of your breathing and thoughts - and as the thoughts come to you (and they will), remember to let them go.
- Don't worry. Worrying creates a self fulfilling prophecy. The more you worry about the future, the less present you are in now, and the less present you are in the now, the more likely it is that you will make poor decisions in the present, and as a result, your future will suffer.
- Recognize that feelings are simply visitors. Let them come, and let them go.
- Be present during interactions. This is especially important for poker players, since being able to hone in on other players is incredibly helpful to your ability to make the right calls. In general it’s good to give people your full attention. Really be there. Don't think about what you're going to say or do next. Listen. Soak it in.
Using these basic strategies for mindfulness will help ensure you’re staying focused on actualization, and not slipping into the dangerous category of addiction-based actions and reactions. Being proactive is one of the best things you can do prevent unsavoury outcomes, and being present and engaged in the now is one of the best ways to do this. It keeps your eyes on the prize and prevents you from getting waylaid but dangerous thoughts, behaviours and habits.
Proactive not reactive. This is your mantra. Live by it.