Know what to do when they appear and how to address the deeper desires behind them.
During a recent flight home from Chicago, I notice my neighbor flipping through the latest edition of a celebrity gossip tabloid. I'm aghast. She seems intelligent—I can't understand why she'd want to read this trash! And yet, trance-like, I find myself peeking over her shoulder to learn the latest tantalizing news about the people we love, hate and admire. I, too, am enjoying this fix of celebrity news.
I feel a little bit out of touch, and I can't tell if it matters that I haven't been following pop culture. Seems like there's always something competing for my attention these days: my always-on cell phone, my favorite Netflix series du jour or grabbing my favorite comfort food in the frozen food isle. Why are these small indulgences so appealing to me and everyone else? They feel good momentarily, but here's the catch: after a while, no matter how much entertainment or food I consume, none of it brings me any lasting satisfaction—or contributes to my well-being.
Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the occasional magazine browsing, web surfing or scrolling Twitter for interesting news or inspiration every once in a while. We all need to poke around whatever's out there to fill the spice rack, so to speak. I'm talking about serious offensives, where we sacrifice several hours from our days or week to indulge in mindless pastimes that leave us feeling remorseful, guilty or unfulfilled. There's a lot of research on why these indulgences are popular and continue to be a part of our lives, despite evidence of their detrimental effects. They've been grouped into a category of habits called "soft addictions," coined by Dr. Judith Wright. She reminds us that, too often, we confuse deep desires with surface needs. We desperately fill our trivial cravings with things that provide instant gratification, but do not fulfill our soul's larger hungers.
One of the most popular pastimes today is the digital device addiction, where we have reached critical mass. Nielsen's 2013 Media Cross Platform Report revealed that American consumers, on average, own four digital devices that are connected to the Internet.
I decided to take stock in my own digital device audit. How preoccupied was I with my digital accouterments on any given day? I never considered myself an addictive personality, but with technology, I felt this way. Why wouldn't I want to see who texted me when a cute little chime goes off? After a few days of monitoring, I discovered that, during my waking hours, I averaged only 90-120 minutes of time not conected to a digital device. Ouch.
How is that possible? The fabric of my life is a tapestry of technology: computer, entertainment and social media diversions created to make me believe that my life would collapse without them. This tech tapestry is commonplace. I fit right in with the Nielsen statistics. And that's very scary.
I know I'm not alone when it comes to adopting my cell phone as my digital crutch. After my soft addiction audit, I was determined to engage more with the outside world and deliberately take technology breaks, or what I like to call pauses. After a while, the technology tapestry feels heavy. Some days, a lot of days actually, I just want to be free from its weight and fling it off my shoulders.
Here's the truth. My 'status' doesn't depend on my knowledge of celebrity culture, the latest app I've downloaded or the volume of email still left unread. And at the end of my life, I can't take any of my social media accounts, favorite shows, or foods to the grave. So why do I focus on them so much?
If you're like me and you're realizing that your own indulgences are bringing you down, I’ve cobbled together a few tips.
Tips for Indugence Therapy
- Take inventory of your own indulgences, or soft addiction(s). First, admit it. You can't address any addiction if you don't know what it is. Make a list and ask yourself and others who know you well. Create an open discussion around everyday activities you enjoy indulging in. If you are resistant to accepting one particular activity as one of your diversions, chances are, you've found your soft addiction.
- Recognize when you are indulging. This is a difficult skill because often these activities happen without us even realizing we are doing it. Before bedtime, reflect on your day and see if there's anything you consider a soft addiction. With a little practice you will notice when something you repeatedly indulge in or want to partake in comes up, especially after taking inventory of your own indulgences.
- Notice how you feel when you want to indulge. Chances are how you feel is linked to a deeper desire you want to fulfill. Are you pissed off, upset or exhausted when you indulge? The feeling can be linked to a deeper desire you have. If you find yourself endlessly scrolling through Facebook because you're curious about what your friends are doing, perhaps you want to connect with your friends or feel engaged. Do you feel sad? Left out? Isolated? Plan a lunch date or see a friend. Exhausted from a newborn? Perhaps you need to prioritize some self-care to rejuvenate. Do you zone out watching TV? Call up a friend for a deeper connection with loved ones who can remind you how important you are.
Tips for Fulfilling Deeper Desires
- Connect more often and more sincerely with others. Discuss your habits to raise awareness with friends & family who may benefit from learning about soft addictions and how to monitor them. Focus on connection and meaning, not just pleasure or satisfaction for the sake of it.
- Meet up or call someone you want to see later in the week or ask a colleague to lunch, instead of surfing endless status updates, news reports, and so on.
- Work to find peace within, instead of focusing on the readily available stream of entertainment or superficial cravings that satisfy those surface indulgences. Go for a walk outside, leave your cell phone at home (on purpose) for an outing, or schedule some time for yourself to rest or connect with a friend.
- Unplug. Take a digital device pause and unplug for a set-time every day. This can be a family activity or daily activity. Without digital devices you can lean on yourself to follow other desires like a favorite hobby, sport, or visit you wouldn't ordinarily take. You can even partake in National Unplugged Day or create your own version to connect with you and others without the help of technology.
- Do something different. Think about something you have been putting off or wanting to do for a long time. Take a trip or learn a new skill. Learning and new experiences create different impulses in the brain which stimulate thinking about things differently.
Do you feel possessed? What are you aware of? I invite you to share what you plan to do about it in a comment below or on my facebook page or comment below.