addictions
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This article is written by Ramanuj Mukherjee, CEO, LawSikho.

Imagine each bad habit and addiction as a tax that you pay to the government or someone else. Would you not be outraged by how much you are giving away? 

Each bad habit costs you something. Most likely, you have become numb to the cost, and you do not even register the outflow of precious resources, opportunities, wealth, time and well being. That is the only reason you can continue going on living with those habits and addictions.

There are some habits and addictions in all our lives, that we either do not realize are bad or we simply refuse to acknowledge as bad habits or addictions in the first place. 

For a long time, I was not really present to the cost of smoking and drinking on my work life. I thought that I am not doing it too much, just a little. It must be harmless.

In reality, when I started tracking my smoking and drinking using a journaling app, I realized that I smoke and drink on more days than I don’t. And binge drinking and binge smoking when I am tensed or under pressure are not as uncommon as I would have liked to believe.

However, while I knew my habits had a bad long term effect, I did not quite realize the massive impact it had on my creativity, clarity of mind and ability to maintain discipline that is very necessary for success. My addictions and bad habits were really holding me back, and I did not even realize for years.

I was never quite present to the full cost of those habits, and that is the only reason I could continue for almost a decade. 

I was scared of lung cancer. I could convince myself that I would not get lung cancer, because I will quit soon. Just one more cigarette could not cause me to have lung cancer. So it went on.

But I was not even aware that smoking caused me to be more stressed and reduced the amount of energy and mental clarity I had, which is a very precious resource when you are trying to get a lot of things done every single day as I do. 

I wanted to be a high functioning person because that is what made me feel very satisfied. But smoking and drinking reduced my productivity, and I did not even realize it. If I was clear that smoking and drinking was having a clear adverse impact on my work, I think I would have given up much earlier. 

I realized the loss I suffered due to these habits only when I stopped smoking and drinking. After being off smoking and drinking for 2 months, I can see the massive difference. I did smoke and drink on two occasions in between, and both times, I regretted the same very much on the next day, because the impact was immediately obvious to me!

However, while the full impact may be less than clear, most people, including those who smoke and drink often will agree at least technically that smoking and drinking are injurious to health and are overall bad habits that compromise one’s quality of life over time.

However, there are so many other bad habits that reduce our ability to take a shot at the success that we really deserve, and we do not recognize them even when we stare at them.   

Here are the worst 7 addictions that are probably wreaking havoc in your life, without you really realizing what you are losing, because you may not recognize them as bad habits or addictions to start with:

Phone addiction 

Your phone is addictive. 

Addiction to smartphones is ubiquitous. It is leaving a large part of the population broke but busy!

Technology companies have spent billions of dollars to learn how to make phones and apps more and more addictive so that people would spend more time inside the app. As a result, smartphones today are more addictive than heroin. 

Excessive cell phone addiction is leading to car accidents, massive loss of productivity, sleep disturbances, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as per studies.

I use my phone a lot. However, how much am I using my phone towards a specific, clear goal, and how much do I use it being lost to the highly addictive algorithms that manipulate our brain using dopamine secretion?

I try to keep a tab on that. I also use software that limits my daily usage of certain apps. Also, I use an app called Flippd that I used to block my phone off for 4 hours whenever I realize that I am unable to concentrate on work, or go to sleep on time because I am compulsively using my phone, or engaging in a useless twitter argument. 

You can almost take it for granted that you are addicted to your phone, you just need to understand and figure out the pattern, and change the pattern of use.

I manage to keep myself productive on my phone by installing a lot of my work apps on my phone. Starting with Google Doc and amazon kindle, I use my phone to spend more time on being productive. My phone is also my go-to place for keeping up to date with the economy, current affairs, and politics, all of which impact my work in some way or the other.

Even on social media, I make it a point to follow the kind of people whose content I can learn from, implement and benefit from.

There is also the false satisfaction we get sometimes from reading lots of emails and messages and news when in reality we are just wasting time instead of focussing what really matters. Phone addiction can take many shapes.

Curation and awareness are key.

Entertainment addiction

I have a serious entertainment addiction problem. It causes a lot of problems in my life. I frequently tend to go on NetFlix binges. I can spend a day or two just watching a series, and until I finish watching the whole series I may not be able to stop. For this reason, I am really scared to begin to watch a new series. 

I am sure that many of you have the same problem. And our phones often exacerbate our addiction to entertainment. 

I have an app that restricts me from watching NetFlix at night after certain hours when I need to sleep. It also restricts how much time I can spend in a day watching NetFlix. This has been a real boon! I happily pay for the app because it saves me hundreds of hours a year!

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It also ensures that I sleep enough at night and do not jeopardize productivity the next day as I have done on many occasions,

Still, entertainment addiction means that at night, when I go to bed, I want to watch something before I fall asleep.

I realized over time that this has been happening to me since I separated from my wife and began the process of divorce. I am busy throughout the day and rarely have a chance to feel a thing about it. But when I go to sleep, I feel lonely. And entertainment addiction is a way to fill that void. 

The awareness was a turning point. It helped me to manage my entertainment addiction and to see it really for what it was. 

It was not “hey I worked hard all day and now I need a bit of downtime”, which I bought into for a while. 

It was not “hey I am a big fan of marvel universe” so my irresponsible consumption of that content is justifiable!

I was just addicted and I wanted a distraction, and the price I was paying was too heavy.

Carbohydrate and food addiction

When I quit smoking, the immediate next response was to use food to replace that addiction. 

You may not realize, but food is very addictive. Especially carbohydrates with lots of dense calories. 

I first experienced how addictive food can be when I quit eating grains for 2 years when I was still in law school. I read about the paleo diet and its benefits and stopped eating bread, rice, rotis and so on. 

Within a week, I was feeling withdrawal syndromes. I could smell rotis being made from far away. White rice being served to others will feel extremely tempting. In malls, I could smell the pizza over everything else. When I started reading up on a hunch, I discovered that when we eat starch, such as from regular grains, it appeals to the opium receptors in our brain!

Carbohydrate is quite addictive.

Potato chips and other high carb starchy food items can be highly addictive too. A lot of fast food was designed to be addictive, with proper R&D investment into how to make cheeseburgers or icecreams addictive, just like smartphones and apps. And not only fast food, you can also be addicted to natural food too. 

Just like entertainment, food can be used to cover up any pain or distract us from discomfort. Those who face emotional trauma, also tend to eat a lot to compensate.

It is not just bad for our body, it is tremendously bad for our mind and our brain. The cost on our productivity, self-image, energy to pursue our interests and threat to well-being is no less than that of smoking or alcoholism. 

If you are addicted to food, please pay attention. You would want to address the underlying reasons for addictions.

Addiction to validation

I have seen so many friends in the thrall of validation, that people around them totally pull their strings by giving and withdrawing validation. We are all used to some form of this because our parents often controlled us in exactly the same way as kids.

Drink your milk – good boy.

If you don’t drink your milk – very bad girl!

Good girls don’t do this, good boys don’t say that.

Good boys get good marks in exams, good boys don’t get into fights, good boys listen to parents, good boys marry the girl we choose for you and whatnot. 

If you do certain things you are good, if you don’t do them, you aren’t good. Even commercial brands often use our addiction to validation to manipulate us. 

So do abusive life partners, bad bosses, manipulative colleagues, politicians, social media companies and lots of other evil people. 

How many things in your life are done with closed eyes, without thinking, without using your judgment as to whether you really want to do it? Chances are that addiction to validation is a key reason.

It is hard to go after what you really want in life, after the big wins, after the difficult challenges because there would always be people who would not approve of the same. It becomes hard to take a tough stand. It becomes hard to call a spade a spade when you are addicted to validation. It becomes hard to say no even when you need to.

My parents did not approve of me studying law, or quitting a well-paid job to start my own company. My parents did not approve of my lifestyle or belief systems. Many of my former colleagues did not approve of my management style or how ruthlessly I sometimes pursued my agenda or the tone of my marketing.

If I was a slave to approval and admiration and validation of others, I would be in a very difficult place in life. I had to learn the hard way to get beyond that.

Gaming and gambling addiction

I never engage in gaming, because I realized as a kid how addictive it is while playing games like Max Payne and Serious Sam! 

I stay miles away from gambling because I believe it messes with my head – especially the effort-reward instincts that are hardwired into the brain. Same reason why I stay away from gambling on stock market too.

I only do long term value investments. That is my mindset. I do not want to win based on luck. 

In the long term, those who stay in the game and follow a sound, good strategy always win. That is exactly the mindset I want to build, preserve and promote around me – which is of putting in hard work with discipline and let my efforts and results compound over time. Luck and chances only have minor influence over the final outcome in the long term. And that mindset is cannot co-exist with gambling habits.

It is a hard mindset to cultivate, and I am not going to ruin it with indulgence in gambling. 

Sex addiction

This one is relatively hard to talk about. I did not even know it existed until I saw some of my friends being diagnosed with the same.

I had an intern who would not be able to work, ever. He would spend all his days at his desk, planning his evening, for a salsa class or a date. He got really good at getting into the pants of the opposite sex, but it ruined his career. He attention span became very poor. He got fired from one job after another because he simply could not concentrate on work. 

He sought my help time and again, and I did my best by connecting him with coaches and training organizations that had helped me with some other issues. That’s how he discovered that he had a sex addiction. It was not easy to get over that, but today he is a hard working, diligent lawyer and I am quite proud of the way he is turning out. He will probably be reading this article too. 

Seeing that struggle also made me aware of the issues I faced. I did not have as severe addiction as the person above, but there was a time in my life when I was very weird about sex. 

I felt that I had to have a lot of sex with lots of different partners to be worthy. I developed the idea that having a lot of sexual partners is some kind of success. It became a preoccupation and really compromised my quality of life and my focus and dedication towards my work. 

It is hard to know and say how much an addiction really takes away from you until you are de-addicted. I was shocked about how much clarity of mind and will power I had, once I stopped squandering it away on sex addiction.  

Shopping addiction

Shopping is another common addiction. I have seen friends working in top law firms, earning 2-3 lakhs per month, still having a credit card debt because they shop so much! In some ways, shopping addiction perhaps can be connected to addiction to validation. I know people who would buy shoes and bags and cars they can’t really afford just to look good to others.

Luckily, that is not me. I live very much within my means, and love to see my investments rather than my bills grow. 

Addiction to abusive relationships

How can someone be addicted to an abusive relationship? But it is a real thing. It is called traumatic bonding in medical parlance. 

Every time you get into a fight with someone you love, you are likely to feel a terrible low, something like a withdrawal symptom. When this is immediately followed by making up, you feel amazing. You have good hormones flowing through your body abundantly. When this cycle of conflict and making up and feeling good repeats enough number of times, you get addicted to the same. 

Being addicted to an abusive relationship will destroy your life, as much as extreme addiction to alcohol or some other hard substance will.  

I have lived through an abusive relationship in my early twenties, for 4 years, and decided that it was not going to happen to me ever again. 

I hope you never fall prey to this addiction either because it is perhaps the worst of the lot!

Is it really possible to stay away from addictions?

It seems that a lot of good things in life lead to addiction. Food. The drinks we celebrate with. The smartphones that changed our lives in so many good ways. Entertainment. Shopping. Even sex and relationship. WTH?

Are we supposed to say no to every good thing in life and retire ourselves to a hermitage?

Not what I am suggesting or advocating. 

I believe that we need to really replace the addictions that do not serve us with addictions that help us to get where we want to get.

We need to dismantle the bad habits we have but we must create new good habits in their place so we do not fall back to the old ones. You can use your addictions creatively. 

I love a healthy celebration. So I only drink very rarely, when there is a real victory to celebrate. I have begun to earmark the victories I will celebrate with a drink. 

I love a good movie or a series, but I have milestones I got to hit before I watch something. And currently, that milestone is that I need to finish reading a book before I watch the next series or movie! I almost always read business-related books that are relevant to my work, so that works great for me. 

So when I have the urge to watch something, I have to pick up the book kept next to my bed, which may be half-read, and try to finish it before I can watch NetFlix. I could also read something from my phone’s kindle app.

I am totally addicted to working out regularly and checking how I am making progress in the mirror! Feels amazing.

I am totally addicted to writing and sharing my thoughts with you on social media and I am totally addicted to working insane hours for LawSikho.

If we are doomed to be addicted to something else or the other, let it be addictions that lead us to our goals and our life’s vision faster rather than slow us down. 

Just like you have to replace a bad habit with a good habit so that it does not come back again, you need to replace your bad addictions with some good addictions. 

Want to be addicted to learning? I run a company called Addictive Learning Technology Private Limited, and we try to make courses that can make you addicted to learning practical and useful legal lessons that would help you to become a better lawyer or have a competitive advantage as a professional. Check out LawSikho.com.

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