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BK Blog Post
Everyday, technological advances give us more and more ways to connect with other people, more and more outlets for reading the news or getting some cheap entertainment, and more and more opportunities to develop annoying or harmful habits out of pure repetition. The impulse to change yourself—fixing some unwanted quality, characteristic, or habitual, destructive behavior—is a timeless one, but with all the time we now spend on our phones and computers, there are always new ways to exhibit the same old counterproductive behaviors.
These counterproductive behaviors are what Noah Blumenthal called self-addictions in his book You're Addicted to Yourself. They're the same old qualities everyone hates in themselves: anger or a lack of assertiveness, pessimism or perhaps groundless optimism, laziness or workaholism, and so much more. Blumenthal calls them self-addictions because they're attitudes or characteristics we've internalized through constant repetition, so they need to be addressed through the language of addiction—recognition, support, replacement, accountability—rather than through the traditional self-help lenses.
In today's world of social media and constant-connectedness, there are more opportunities than ever to develop bad habits or negative behaviors we want to change. It's more possible than ever to develop self-addictions that get in the way of living your best possible life. This warrants a fresh look at the book to see how the age of smartphones makes Blumenthal's suggestions as helpful and meaningful as ever.
1. The Opportunities for Self-Addiction Are Constantly Evolving
Blumenthal argues that people have so much trouble changing themselves because every negative quality is really an addiction. A pessimist isn't intrinsically, unavoidably pessimistic, they're simply addicted to pessimism. It's habitual, reflexive: developed perhaps out of a defense mechanism protecting the person from disappointment. Similarly, negativity and shyness and over-talkativeness and so many other unwanted behaviors and characteristics are really self-addictions and should be approached as such.
All of the possible self-addictions Blumenthal addressed in his book still apply, but every day brings a new venue for decidedly modern self-addictions. People who are perfectly kind and normal in real life can be anonymous jerks on Twitter or in websites' comments sections, while normal, well-socialized and sociable people can get sucked into various social media, wasting time on Facebook or Instagram instead of being more productive.
Of course, in many ways these are simply new ways of exhibiting old behaviors. (There's nothing original about rudeness or time-wasting, after all.) But whereas before we might need to repeat a behavior—thousands of times over the course of our lifetimes—new, particularly digital self-addictions can develop so much more quickly with all the time we spend staring at our phones and computers. With the rapid pace of technological innovation, the opportunities for developing self-addictions are constantly evolving, making it ever more difficult but necessary to take the time to identify and address them.
2. As Always, Willpower Alone Is Not Enough
Blumenthal wrote You're Addicted to You because, as he put it, "too many people believe that change is a matter of willpower," while willpower alone simply will not do. Instead, we must "unlearn the old behavior and learn to replace it with a new one."
This holds true today, with all of our new impulses. If my self-addiction is wasting time on Facebook (even after I've stalked all my high school exes and looked at every single photo of all my friends' new babies and there's nothing else interesting there), telling myself, "Okay, I need to have the willpower to stop wasting so much time on Facebook" will not be enough. Replacing that time with something else—something more productive or healthy—is necessary if I'm truly going to kick the self-addiction. Likewise, if someone's self-addiction is sending out rage-filled tweets during sporting events, trying to stop cold-turkey will only last until the next (perceived) bad call by the referee. They will only kick that self-addiction by replacing it with another, healthier, preferably off-line habit.
Of course, technology is here to stay, so it's not like we can go full Luddite and abandon it completely. It can be difficult to, as Blumenthal writes, "recognize the situation as one where you might do the wrong thing, and do the right thing instead" while staying online and connected. That's where our communities come in.
3. Supportive Communities Are as Important as Ever
We're online. All our friends are online. We're all connected to each other all the time, from our phones, tablets, computers, and, increasingly, watches and glasses. With our communities increasingly online—and with our self-addictions increasingly online as well—it's all-too-easy to surround ourselves with enablers. In fact, as conspiratorial as it sounds, in many cases everyone we know (or at least our Facebook friends, Twitter followers, or other community members) are what Blumenthal refers to as "co-conspirators." The line between normal friend and co-conspirator or other sort of enabler is increasingly blurry.
For this reason it's important to be honest about our self-addictions and find someone to hold us accountable. I may need, for example, someone close to me IRL (that is, in real life) to talk to about how much time I'm spending staring at my phone instead of talking to the people around me or sitting in bed looking at pictures of cats on Instagram instead of going for a run. Or I may need someone IRL to hold me accountable for using internet slang IRL. Lol.
4. Remember That These Are Self-Addictions
Developing a self-addiction that manifests primarily online is not, ultimately, the internet's fault. Blumenthal writes that self-addictions develop through four stages:
I've spent most of my time here discussing the self-reinforcing nature of online self-addictions, developing through our constant online presence, and they negative consequences. But it's important to remember that they started with positive benefit: If I'm wasting time online, that self-addiction began out of an impulse to connect with my friends or my work peers or the greater world around me. Constant repetition reinforced it and turned it into a habit hurting my real-life relationships—just as if my self-addiction was shyness or rudeness—but still I can't shake it.
Back in 2007, Noah Blumenthal gave us an excellent and effective method for approaching self-help, creating a system whereby we can identify and address what we want to change about ourselves. With the last seven years' worth of technological advances, the potential reasons for wanting to address our own behaviors, characteristics or habits have changed—and continue to change every day—but his system is as relevant as ever.
Buy the book here.
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