How To Use Your Additctive Personality To Your Advantage
In middle school and high school, I played Nintendo 64 and GameCube. Not for normal amounts of time. It took up a large part of my day. I don’t even want to think about how many hours I spent playing.
I wish I had done something better with my time than play video games, like learn how to program or practice guitar more. I can see now that I was addicted to video games. I have an addictive personality, and I am prone to doing things excessively.
I don’t drink, partially because my parents don’t drink, and partially because I know that I would be an alcoholic. I have self control in some areas but not in others, so I want to play it safe. It’s better to stop while you’re ahead, and I want to prevent my life from any unnecessary downward spirals.
I’m not unique in this regard. It’s embedded into our brains to do things which make us feel good, because the things which make us feel good are also what gives us the highest chance of reproductive success. Being happy at successes means that we attribute the successful action with a positive feeling, which makes us more likely to repeat the action.
But video games exploit the same types of feelings that you gain when you actually accomplish something, but in reality you’ve done little to better your life or other’s lives. Unless you’re playing to relieve stress or enjoyment. Or to map neurons in a freaking video game. But I was playing because I was addicted.
When I was a lowly undergrad, I discovered that I had this excessive desire to know things. It didn’t happen in all of my courses, only in the ones that I was most interested in. But for Computer Science courses, what I was able to do was exploit my addictive personality to work on hard problem sets and solve interesting programming problems.
I want to know why things work, and have to know why they don’t work. Otherwise I would be a terrible software developer. Most of my time is spent figuring out why something which was previously assumed to be a good solution to a problem is either a terrible solution or not a complete solution. Every day I see how the results of human intention, usually my own, are misguided and don’t always lead to the desired outcome.
Because I want to know why things work, the act of figuring out what piece of knowledge I was missing to complete an assignment was a powerful reward in my brain. The feeling of finally understanding a complicated idea feels really good. There’s a certain feeling I’m chasing, which was when I first visualized solids of revolution in Calculus. If I can get that feeling again while learning something, I would be really happy.
And it makes sense, too. When we learn things that are important to completing a task, if our brain receives a reward in terms of positive feelings, then we are most likely to be successful at future tasks because we will have the drive to seek out that reward again.
But ultimately, this worked only for me. My brain allowed me to exploit this feedback loop of learn, reward, success. I must have observed that the rewards precede successes which reinforced the learning process even more.
Find out where you can create a successful feedback loop. It was unconscious for me, but designing addiction that helps you accomplish tasks isn’t impossible.
If you want to write a novel but can’t sit down for long enough to get to chapter 2, start writing something smaller. Start doing things which you can get instantaneous feedback once you’ve finished a single sitting. If you want to start running, run for 3 minutes and then stop. Then run for 3 minutes and stop again.
You can build up your endurance later so you can focus on larger tasks, but you need small successes before you can get the big win.
Make writing or running a part of your daily practice. Then you’ll feel off if you don’t do it. That’s when you know you’ve successfully made it a habit.
If you want to read the classics but you aren’t in the habit of daily reading, spend a few minutes a day reading something which you can talk about. I read because a book is interesting, but at the same time I want to get something out of what I read. The effects aren’t always tangible when you read, but when they are, talking about reading reinforces your reading habits until they become normal.
If you want to eat healthier, start to notice the nutrition facts on everything you eat. You don’t have to become a nutritionist overnight. Just begin slowly increasing your knowledge of nutrition. Then you associate eating with knowing what’s in the food, and then you can begin to figure out if you’re getting the right types of one vitamin. Slowly, you increase your knowledge and associate your action with something that you want to do, and begin to become better at eating healthier.
Then you’ll notice that there’s too much sodium in your diet, or that you are eating too much protein, or you aren’t getting enough vitamins. You can’t figure out the little details if you don’t even start, and we don’t start because we don’t get into the daily practice from having a habit.
I started waking up around 5 AM this week. I’ve been associating the morning with reading and preparing for my day mentally. Last year I was a senior in college and I was never on time for anything. I used to wake up right before I left for work.
If I’m successful at keeping this habit, then my whole day will feel off if I don’t start it out by reading. Then no matter what, I’ll have no excuse for being late, I’ll have no excuse for not keeping my mind open to new ideas. Writing this post helped me to see that I subconsciously engineered this to happen. And writing this post is, itself, a positive reinforcement of my daily practice.