Maintaining Well-being

          Welcome to stren #97, Habits of Daily Living.  For most people, “addiction” is a bad habit, something to get rid of.  This stren addresses habits and addictions that are worthy to cultivate, that will greatly enhance the quality of your life.

Habit: a constant and often unconscious inclination to perform some act acquired through its frequent repetition
Addiction: a step beyond habit – giving oneself over habitually or compulsively, to be controlled
Dependence: requiring support, subordinate to someone or something needed or greatly desired; being influenced or controlled
Physical dependence: includes biological changes that demand some physical agent to return the physical and mental aberration to a normal state

          “Addiction” commonly means we acquire a habit so powerful that it wants to be repeated; and it occurs automatically, with little or no effort, and with such force that it requires great will power to resist.  Sometimes it includes physical effects.  The alcohol addict may experience irritability, shaking, see imaginary things, have convulsions, and even die.  The heroin addict who fails to supply his acquired drug habit experiences muscle and intestinal cramps, nausea, diarrhea, restlessness, and sometimes spontaneous unpleasant orgasm which is described as “draining” and weakening.  The addict may notice little or no physical response but have severe mental and/or behavioral effects such as cravings, preoccupation with specific thoughts, and/or performance of specific acts.  Consider what occurs with the gambler, smoker, coffee abuser, the “food-aholic,” the praying of the “religious addict,” the guilt and/or resentment of the “blamer,” the perfectionist, and the more gender-stereotyped “addictions,” such as preoccupation with sports, or the “appearance addict” whose discomfort grows with their perceived need for makeup, a regular visit to the hairdresser, and concern about their body’s size and shape.  I recall one woman who was so constantly convinced that her teeth were ugly (they were actually quite perfect) that she persistently worried and refused to smile in public.  Habits, and their more demanding relatives, addictions, have powerful physical, mental, and behavioral components.   

          Addictions and habits need not be negative!  Indeed, they can be beneficial, even life-saving.  Consider one simple acquired habit: looking both ways before crossing the street.  It protects our life and warns us with a bit of discomfort should we fail to exercise this action.  Positive addictions enhance our well-being and often prevent us from acting in a nonproductive manner.
 
          Positive addictions are very important.  Because they occur and reoccur relatively automatically with little or no effort, they spare our energy for new activity, new enthusiasms.  Positive addictions ensure the consistent regulation of our mental and behavior actions just as our heart and liver manage our physical well-being.  Here is a critical insight:  Most habits and addictions are within our power to create!  Once established, they remain faithful to their purpose.  Wouldn’t you like to have an assistant, who will quite merrily work on your behalf, for your health, happiness, and well-being, with little or no demand for payment?  Wow!  Is there much else that compares to such a good deal?  Wouldn’t it be worth the initial effort to establish such faithful assistants?  Wisely answer “yes” and please read on. 
 
          Positive addictions are so useful that I have identified some of the ones I consider most worthy of cultivation.  Each is readily teachable and learnable, as explained in the preceding strens, and directions are widely available.  You already have many positive addictions.  Can you name them?  Accurate labels bring a specific habit to consciousness and make it easier to cultivate that specific habit.  Could you imagine the fantastic benefits that we experience when we create many such “servants” to support us?  I have prepared this list for your consideration.  Why not cultivate the ones you like that you presently lack?   

1.    Faith that your efforts count: the belief that you can become responsible for yourself. 
The process of taking charge of our life’s experience, what has been called “becoming our own person,” begins with the faith that what we do does matter.  Absent this belief, there is a tendency towards apathy and/or to blame “others” for not providing what we can do for our self.  Science does not bridge the leap to faith.  However, the mere observation that many others, including those with the most severe limitations, can make their life fulfilling is one inspiration to acquire the required faith to start with the premise, “Yes, I can!  I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”  Recall the marvelous child’s story, The Little Engine that Could.
 
2.    Self-endorsement: skill in habitually conversing with our self as one best friend would with another.  Just as we have a minimum daily requirement (MDR) for vitamins and physical nourishment, we have a MDR for mental endorsement.  As adults, we don’t expect others to support us, feed us, clean us, attend to our bowel needs; yet, we commonly neglect to teach ourselves to regularly provide our MDR of mental and emotional endorsement.  Multiple self-endorsement skills are offered in earlier strens and may be found elsewhere.  
 
3.    Loving, friendship: by filling our needs through self-endorsement, we “spill over” love and share with others.  Love is a willing “gift” that is offered without strings or demands of “repayment.”   Giving to get is too often an act leading to disappointment.  The act of giving of ourselves, what we have created, is inherently self-satisfying.  In cultivating meaningful relationships, we also expand the opportunity for our personal growth and knowledge that comes with sharing.  Consider stren #57, Love Creation, and related strens there indicated.      

4.    Chronic enthusiasm: the habitual use of our energy for rewarding action. 
Whatever the goal, success is most likely when pursued with chronic enthusiasm.  People who consistently feel good and do good generate enthusiasm by rewarding themselves for working towards a desired goal.  

5.    Belonging: Just as we consist of many internal organs that make us whole, we are each a part of a greater community.  Developing the habit of doing good in addition to feeling good sustains the harmony we attain through our communal interest.  
 
6.    Wisdom: the constructive application of abstract thinking, reason, probability, and the knowledge acquired through the past and current experience of “others.”  An addiction to seeking wisdom is the key ingredient to enhance the well-being of ourselves and our community.  Too often, the will power we acquire with self-mastery is harmful when applied without wise direction. 
                Self-mastery + ANWOT + wisdom ==> peace-of-mind, peace-for-humankind

7.    Work: the application of our energy to attain a desired goal.  Work enables us to fulfill our needs and wants.  It can be very fulfilling to experience “a good tired.”  We are not inherently lazy; we willingly work hard when we foresee a productive outcome.  Freud concluded the two human endeavors that make for a satisfying life are “lieben und arbeiten,” to love and be industrious.  What a marvelous combination when we learn to love our work!  

8.    ANWOT: acquiring the words, ideas, and assumptions of the new way of thinking (ANWOT) compatible with becoming one’s own person.  The “native” language we acquire through repetition, when our mind is undeveloped and our body is immature, addicts us to a childlike manner of thinking, and thereby feeling and acting.  It shapes our thinking to have unrealistic expectations from others, overdo blame and guilt, and remain dependent on the prescriptive and either/or two category processing of information that sustains the prejudices of our upbringing.  ANWOT is the substitution of newer words and concepts that promote rational problem-solving above reaction and action through instinct and habit.  Our early manner of thinking emphasizes trial-and-error learning from mistakes and role-modeling.  ANWOT emphasizes prevention, “no-trial learning” through forethought and rational mental processing of alternatives before action is taken.  Most people are unaware of the degree we remain mentally addicted to the perspectives of our genes and nurturers.
 
9.    Life style, nutrition, and exercise: promoting the habits of daily living that grow and maintain our physical well-being.  The skills regarding specific life styles are now widely promoted as their benefits are increasingly understood.  Acquiring ANWOT strengthens our will power to more regularly do what we understand to be in our best long-term interests.

10.    Mental growth, education: Addicting ourselves to the chronic pursuit of practical knowledge and its beneficial application throughout our life, and especially in our later years when our physical resources are declining.  Habitually exercising our mind is just as important, if not more so than the measures we take to promote our physical health.

11.    Risk-taking: the willingness to let go of established patterns to make way for newer, more appropriate and effective ones.  We cling onto what has worked in the past, even when we recognize that it is no longer effective or appropriate.  Necessarily, “old friends” die and sometimes it is our task to aid in their passing.  Risk-taking is a frightening ingredient of change, yet it is essential to grow from immaturity to maturity to super-maturity.  I like the analogy provided by Gail Sheehy in Passages: like the crustacean, we must allow ourselves to become vulnerable as the old shell is shed to make room for our new place in life. 

12.    Optimism: anticipating the positive outcomes of our participation in life’s activities.  The use of forethought, fantasy, and mental creation of positive possibilities enhances our energy and directs it to constructive use.  It is the opposite of “worry,” or dwelling on the worst unlikely outcome of our life experiences.  Too often we waste our energy in worry, creating unnecessary anxiety, phobias, and the like, when we would be wiser to “optimize.”  When we’re objectively processing the data of our life’s experience, optimizing can be very productive and certainly a better choice than worry when we do stray from reality. 

13.    Know our assumptions (world view, religion): recognizing the beliefs and values, based on faith upon which we base our actions.  Was this Socrates’ wisdom in stating, “The unexamined life is not worth living”?  Science provides facts; it does not instruct us in values and morality.  Our moral life is largely the outcome of faith in our assumptions and beliefs, and our religion.    We commonly become “addicted” to our values and religion early in our life, based on the authority of our nurturers.  Our morality, expressed in our actions, is primarily composed of assumptions supported by faith!   In this sense, every person is “religious.”  Our religious values, habitually expressed day-by-day, support (or detract from) harmony within, and harmony (or its lack) in the world around us.  Habitual reflection and growing awareness of our assumptions, our beliefs, our prejudices (“pre-judgments”), and our “religion,” are habits worth cultivating.

14.    Patience: the ability to delay satisfaction by mentally gratifying our self now to attain greater benefits (or avoid pain) later.  We are all born wanting what we want “now!” on getting it “faster!”  We are initially addicted to impulse, to “sell our soul” without forethought until we acquire effective means of thinking.  Patience is one of the more difficult addictions to acquire; unfortunately there is no “crash course.”  It is acquired gradually but surely with skill in self-endorsement.

15.    An attitude of gratitude: acquiring the skill to habitually appreciate what we have attained, what we have available to us now, and what we may attain in the future creates a state of mind that leads us to feel good and do good.  Too often we take for granted the plenty we already have.  Alcoholics Anonymous is a staunch advocate of this important habit. 

16.    The three “success” skills: accurate empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence.  Research and observation show that these qualities routinely lead to successful outcomes in both individuals and programs that exhibit them. 
a.    accurate empathy: the ability to empathetically experience the perspective of the “other” and convey that we understand (not necessarily agree)
b.    unconditional positive regard: experiencing and conveying respect and concern for the well-being of the “other” (if not necessarily their ideas and/or actions)
c.    congruence: being consistent and reliably conveying the above, not so one day and quite different the next.      

17.    Music, song, dance, movement: rhythm and engaging the symbols of music may enrich our mind, provide entertainment, influence our mood, invigorate thinking, and promote cooperation and mutual understanding through shared participation.  The physical benefits are evident.  Enriching activity tends to “squeeze out” negative preoccupation.  Such activity is readily and in most cases freely available, irrespective of status, and usually harmless to others.

18.    Hobbies: in addition to the pleasure innate in their pursuit, the acquisition of chronic enthusiasms promotes and sustains our vigor.  David Starr Jordan, first president of Stanford University, wrote a book extolling the desirability of acquiring multiple interests in our youth, more than we can possibly fulfill, so that they can sustain us when we have difficulty generating new enthusiasms.  

19.    The “reasonable best” measure of self-endorsement : given our limited time and energy, habitually complimenting ourselves when we do what we reasonably can.   We frequently don’t succeed in our goals, often due to circumstances beyond our control.  Commonly, we have other more important priorities; and of course because we are human, we are certain to make many mistakes.  Perfectionists make themselves unnecessarily miserable due to their unreasonable expectations.  Notice the “reasonable best” measure is an “input measure” that is within our control, unlike the “outcome measure” more commonly and unwisely used to judge oneself.  

20.    The Magical Sentence: “What is most likely to work for me and you, for now and the future?”  Dealing with life’s challenges using rational problem-solving is usually more productive than the automatic responses we acquire through instinct and/or habit.  This powerful sentence promotes the mental “habit” of no-trial learning through reason in dealing with life’s challenges.  Teaching ourselves to habitually guide our actions by this sentence is most likely to promote wise and beneficial outcomes to our actions.  While not “magic,” it works so well, it seems like it is.

21.     Actively and regularly experiencing sexual gratification: Addiction to sexual pleasure is nearly universal.  Sexual activity has many positive and negative aspects.  My assumptions around its positive addictive qualities are clearly open to alternative opinion.  

a.    Sexual activity is generally considered our most pleasurable natural physical
experience.  Sex is paramount because survival of the species depends on it.  Animals seem chemically “required” to risk their lives to perform the rituals of reproduction.  While we are also powerfully driven, we do have a choice.  Instinct, pleasure, curiosity, culture, parental and/or other social interests powerfully motivate sexual activity.  Sexual gratification brings both discharge of “sexual tension” and intense pleasure.  Sexual tension builds up with thoughts of re-experiencing pleasure, and cyclic interest is established.
b.    Sexual interest occurs throughout the majority of our life.   Sexual activity intensifies at puberty when nature’s biological clock begins to tick.  It does so through many decades until aging brings a gradual decline in performance, and sometimes in interest.  This may be due to the direct “wearing out” of our sex-related biology, or the indirect effects of other physical and psychological changes.
c.    Sexual tension is 100% satisfiable.   Self-satisfaction is readily available, free of charge, regardless of status, race, religion, creed, etc.  It is not harmful to oneself and need not involve anyone else.  Physically, our sexual organs are receptors of physical stimulation; they receive information irrespective of the source and transmit it to pleasure centers in the brain.  Thus, sexual gratification is available at one’s will, without involving anyone else.  It has been said that the only time you can be certain of the sincerity of your partner is when it is yourself. 
d.    Studies indicate that people regularly experiencing sexual gratification enjoy greater well-being and longevity.
e.    Sexual activity with a partner commonly fosters related positive experiences: social sharing, intimacy, companionship, love, cooperation, and procreation.
f.    Suppression of sexual gratification commonly leads to deviant forms of expression
that may be harmful. 

Humans are “interpretive” creatures.  What has been said above about the positive aspects of sexual addiction may be reversed by one’s personal assumptive views, or cultural and religious beliefs. Sexual activity can be a source of significant harm when unwisely expressed.  There are clearly consequences that can turn a positive addiction into a negative one.  Appropriate, honest information and preparation increase one’s likelihood of making sexual pleasure a positive addiction.  Knowledge is only recently exceeding the role of raw emotion as appropriate sex education is more widely available.     

What positive addictions do you have?  Are there some you’d like to develop?  What would you add (or subtract) from my list?  You can readily enhance and add to your positive addictions.  What are you willing to do about positive addictions that you might want for yourself?    

RECOGNIZE, PRACTICE, AND ENJOY YOUR POSITIVE ADDICTIONS
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Let’s reverse the process.  Can you identify current habits where harm exceeds benefits ... especially those most common?  It is more difficult to “extinguish” an established habit than it is to create a new one.  However, there is very good news.  By creating a more preferable competing behavior that we regularly repeat, we may not even have to directly address the negative habit; it will weaken and atrophy from disuse.  Here are some prominent ones that you might consider:

  1. Blaming: This is the most common and dangerous “addiction” because it is prewired in each of us to automatically lash out when we experience frustration.  It is the fight part of the fight or flight instinct.  Harmful aggression, physical and symbolic, is apt to get us into trouble locally, globally, and collectively.  The rage response is a common reason our prisons remain full. 
  2. Guilt: This learned habit is unique to humankind, because it is so linked to the use of sophisticated language and morality.  Putdowns support hurting oneself, apathy, and depression.  The same energy would better be directed to problem-solving. 
  3. Avoidance: Like blaming, avoidance is a prewired “addiction,” but it expresses the flight part of our innate fight or flight behavior.  Avoidance has many new forms of expression in modernity such as substance abuse, procrastination, and withdrawal, to name a few.
  4. Hopelessness/helplessness: This learned “give up” behavior is perhaps the most dangerous because it shuts down our energy factory leaving us dependent on authority, even though common sense wisdom could provide the creative actions that are in our best interest. For example, it is the main reason we fail to unite to unleash the pent up energy for world peace that would be unstoppable.   
  5. Worry: To “what if” and anticipate the worst, to see the hole rather than the donut, the empty rather than the full part of the glass is a modern expression of the prewired habit once required to anticipate danger in a savage environment.  
  6. Physical maladies: The extreme reflex physiological changes of a sustained stressing event account for the “psychosomatic” disorders that affect virtually every organ system; additionally, the head, neck, and back pains related to sustained muscle tension are examples of our prewired mind/body connection.  We neglect the learned habits that can prevent these problems, such as progressive relaxation  (my favorite), meditation, yoga, self-endorsement skills, on and on.  
  7. Impatience: We are born addicted to the motto “I want what I want when I want it.”  Creativity and skills require putting off immediate gratification for longer term gain.  Patience, which is among the most important habits we can acquire, is neglected in our standard education.  
  8. Dependence on approval: During the first decades of our life, through our need for support and approval we become “love junkies,” addicted to other’s approval for our self worth even though we have acquired more than we need to assume responsibility for our own self-worth.
  9. Self-putdowns: Demeaning and negative self-talk is a habit learned when we make unrealistic expectations and fall short of our goal.  Much creativity is lost to the world because the mistakes required to get back on the correct path are labeled “failures,” lead to self-denigration, and often abandonment of problem-solving action. 
  10. Your specific harmful habits:  Once you label a harmful habit, you position yourself to seek the competing behavior(s) that will direct your energy to more positive outcomes.

Others have found the way.  Find those others and learn from their success.  This collection of wisdoms is one source among many of newer ways of thinking gladly shared by successful individuals so others can benefit.  

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1 See strens #23-24
2 http://www.progressiverelaxation.org/; 
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_muscle_relaxation; http://www.hypnos.co.uk/hypnomag/jacobson.htm