There is nothing pathological about having fun and about feeling enjoyment. We were created with these feelings and this potential. Engaging in a pleasurable activity is not inherently wrong. But the line between activity and addiction lies at the crossroads where an activity that is positive or neutral takes a decidedly negative turn. With addictive behaviors that do not involve chemical substances – such as social media – there are a series of conditions you can use to determine severity.
Importance: How important has it become to your sense of self and the way you life your life? You can determine importance not only by how much you’re doing it but also by how much you’re not doing other things. Priority equals importance.
Reward response: Does doing it make you feel better, more in control? Does not doing it make you feel worse? This the dopamine response. Doing things you enjoy makes you feel better. Avoiding things you dislike can make you feel better, at least initially. There is a positive payoff to all this activity that can obscure the negative consequences.
Prevalence: Do you find yourself doing it more often and for longer periods of time than you originally planned? This is the never-enough compulsion that I talked about in one of my books, Gotta Have It! If you feel compelled to say, “Just a little bit more,” all the time, you’re carving out more and more space in your life for those activities. The question becomes, in order to carve out this time, to what else are you taking the knife?
Cessation: Do you feel anxious or uncomfortable if you cannot do it or if you just think about not doing it? One way to gauge how important these things have become to you is to consider doing without them. Your initial emotional and physical response can be highly instructive. The higher the level of panic and pain you anticipate, the stronger the hold they have over you.
Disruption: Has doing it disrupted your life and your relationship, causing interpersonal or personal conflicts over what you’re doing? The more new stuff you’re trying to pack into the drawer of your life, the more pressure it puts on the things and people already there. Who and what are you shoving aside and jostling to make more room for your tech toys and online distractions?
Reverting: Do you often say to yourself you’re going to do something different but then turn around and keep doing the same thing – or doing it even more? This is the “I’ll diet again on Monday” syndrome. If you’ve already made room in your virtual file drawer for something fun and pleasurable or at least distracting, just thinking about depriving yourself of it brings up a wealth of rationales and reasons why “right now” is just not the best time to stop. A part of you may recognize there’s an issue, and that part may even gain temporary ascendancy; but like a helium balloon it eventually runs out of gas, and those good intentions fall. Before you know it, you’re right back to doing what you did, and more.
The above is excerpted from chapter 3 in #Hooked: The Pitfalls of Media, Technology and Social Networking by Dr. Gregory Jantz.
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