The Worst Human Addiction and 3 Steps to Get Clean

It was late, and I was lying in bed thinking about the day. I spent it teaching a workshop for psychologists and psychiatrists who work with veterans.

We covered everything from: new developments in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy (which has been shown to cure symptoms of post-traumatic stress), to why veterans should seriously consider forgoing college in favor of options like boot camps (that didn’t go over well). Unfortunately, there was a lot of pushback.

I always have fun speaking and working with groups, but it was clear that many in the audience hated any ideas that involved growth! It was like they didn’t want to hear any ideas unless they required no work, or zero percent risk. They grew especially uncomfortable when I suggested that post-traumatic growth was something that could (and should) be engineered. When my audience heard this, they dug their heels in. It was like they wanted to fight tooth and nail for every problem their patients had.

That night, before I fell asleep… I couldn’t help but wonder why do so many people hate the concept of post-traumatic growth? I know the basic answers… humans are cognitive misers, thinking makes most people uncomfortable, etc.

But I couldn’t understand why growth was such an off putting topic. After all, everything around us is the result of post-traumatic growth! Life is one big cycle of living things being traumatized, harmed, and then forced to make choices:

Do you stagnate and die?

Or do you recover, adapt, and evolve?

All of life that is antifragile and evolving has chosen post-traumatic growth.

But that night, I couldn’t put my finger on why so many people became combative when they were presented with the growth solution to their problems. Eventually, I fell asleep.

The next morning, I checked Twitter. In my notifications, I saw that Huff Post Live reached out. They asked if I wanted to ask Tony Robbins a video question for his interview that day.

I knew exactly what to ask Tony. I grabbed my phone and shot a quick video asking:

“Whenever I talk about veterans affairs issues, the real challenge is getting the focus to be on post-traumatic growth, instead of obsessing over all the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. I know you’ve helped a lot of veterans. What are some results you’ve achieved and how do you get people to embrace the concept of post-traumatic growth?”

I sent the video to the Huff Post Live team, and a few hours later, they played the question on air to Tony.

The @HuffPostLive team is on top of it! :)

Tony’s response was on point. In it, he illuminated the biggest human addiction. Like the best technology, this addiction is often invisible.

Pictures courtesy of:

Tony’s response was:

“First of all, I’m impressed. I can tell you’ve done your homework. Most people know about PTS, they don’t even know about PTG. So everybody understands what he’s talking about, you have to understand that, we’re all going to have extreme stress in our lives. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how rich you are, how many people love you, how many wonderful children you have, extreme stress is part of life. It’s only a matter of WHEN it’s going to happen. The difference is how we deal with it.
And so, we all have a choice. We can have post-traumatic stress, when I say it’s a “choice” it sounds avant-garde. If you’ve been in Iraq and seen things none of us have seen, you’re going to have PTS. But post-traumatic growth is what CAN happen. Research shows that if you do certain things, you can take the most painful things in your life, and you can turn them into muscle. It’s like if you can get through hell on earth, on the other side of it, a couple things happen. Number one: you know who your real friends are, cause they’re the ones that are really there. Number Two: you know what you’re really made of.
So I’ve worked with a lot of wounded warriors, and I’ve done films with them where somebody comes on stage and the guy is shaking; he’s got his eye glasses from light oversensitivity, and he’s got migraines. I was on CNN with one of them, and it took me about two hours with him to help him rewire himself so things can be done. But the biggest challenge I’m hearing you echo is, people don’t want to hear about growing, because…
the biggest addiction we human beings have… It’s not alcohol, it’s not drugs, it’s not food, it’s not cocaine, it’s not pot, it’s PROBLEMS.
Because the deepest fear we all have is that we’re not enough. We’re not sexy enough, smart enough, rich enough, young enough, old enough, something enough, and we’re afraid that if we’re not enough, we won’t be loved… What I want to say to you though is, when that GROWTH happens, that growth will really happen if we give up our addiction to problems.”

Wow. The hardest part about Tony’s answer is internalizing how prevalent and ingrained in our psyche this desire for problems can be.

The #1 Human Addiction is Problems

When you start to look for this, you’ll find it, and begin to recognize it everywhere. Maybe you can think back to some personal experiences in your life when you’ve tried to help somebody and take away their problems. They’ll often lash out at anyone who offers them a solution. Just wrapping our heads around how deep this addiction runs can be terrifying.

So what are three steps to get clean?

1. Become a ninja at identifying problems. We must stop them before we: start, buy, or spread them.

Observe and scrutinize your own life. Examine where your time is spent. Do you acquire solutions? Or do you purchase and invest your time into problems? Are you acquiring technology that solves your problems? Or are you acquiring more (and better looking) distractions? Those two questions helped me start the process of getting clean. Now whenever I acquire new things, or when I make purchases, choices, or interactions, I start to think in terms of, “am I just gravitating towards a problem in a new size or shape? Or am I moving towards fewer problems?”

The old business mantra of, “people buy solutions” is only partially true. I think that people buy things for comfort or to save time. But I also think that subconsciously, most people know that buying a steady supply of stuff ensures that they’re always mired in problems.

This habit of acquiring our problems through purchases gives us alibis (in perpetuity) and keeps us from doing work that matters. It also crushes the possibility that we’ll ever be able to find the time (or build the mind necessary) to enjoy sitting alone in a room by ourselves.

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone” — Blaise Pascal

2. Get clean. If we move through the withdrawals and recover, we’ll become vitalized.

Once we recognize our addiction to problems, we can begin to get clean. Often the greatest inspiration is to look around at others. It might sound mean to judge, but I don’t think that it is. Oftentimes what we see in others is a reflection of our own inner state. So feel free to quietly judge others with uncompromising sincerity, but be aware you might be looking into a mirror.

When you notice others who have problems, the first thing you’ll spot are what look like solutions. But be careful about pointing them out. The art of presenting solutions is a learned skill, and requires some finesse to do in such a way that doesn’t result in a violent backlash. Until you are clean from your own addiction to problems, helping others is impossible.

Get clean first, and eventually your presence will inspire more introspection in others.

“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that, you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”―Joseph Campbell

3. Ultimately, we have to transform our desire for problems, into a hunger for mindfulness.

Another word for mindfulness might be awareness, or even learning. Whatever you want to call it, it is a fight that must be won, every single day.

The simple place to begin is to watch your desires as they arise. Are they useful? Not useful? Do they bring you closer to problems? Our desires can lead us from one problem to another. But, if we fight for awareness, we can find it, and move through the withdrawals, into a place where we become disinterested in problems.

When you’re learning (fighting to be mindful) problems lose their appeal. Your mind becomes content without them. Once you trade in your addiction to problems, and replace it with an addiction for mindfulness, you’re well on your way to inspiring others to get clean.

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

To sum it up, the three steps to get clean from problems:

1. Become a ninja at identifying problems. We must stop them before we: start, buy, or spread them.

2. Get clean. If we move through the withdrawals and recover, we’ll become vitalized.

3. We have to transform our desire for problems, into a hunger for mindfulness.

Humanity is addicted to problems. But it’s not something we should feel shame about. We all struggle with it, and we can all overcome it.

That journey is a battle. Along the way, there is a pull to help solve everyone else’s problems. When you feel this, be careful and remember that sometimes this is an unconscious urge to aquire more problems.

The best way we can help solve the problems of the world is by first eliminating our own, and replace the desire for problems with a hunger for mindfulness.

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