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Has the Coronavirus quarantine left you with some questionable time-wasting habits?
One gift from the last year has been a slowed-down pace of life. Before the pandemic, many of us were living in a mad dash day-to-day, where we were overwhelmed with packed schedules and obligations.
Although there have been many struggles as we’ve adjusted to life during the Coronavirus pandemic, positive benefits have also emerged. The time at home with our loved ones has helped many of us reflect on what we really want and what’s most important to us. As we’ve adjusted to doing our jobs remotely, we may have realized how to maximize our time and how to achieve more in limited pockets of focus.
This “great pause” has also given us a moment to step back and assess our path. Many of us have asked, what is it we really want in our lives? What do we want more of, and what do we want to free ourselves from?
As we’ve looked at our pre-pandemic (and current) lives, we’ve likely identified a few seemingly harmless habits that we realize can detract from our sense of wellbeing. But how do we weed out these timewasters? How can we break our bad habits so we can go forward, adding in more of these positive and nourishing activities we’ve discovered?
It’s no secret that our lives have changed, in many cases, dramatically over the last several months. Our priorities have shifted, and our focus has adjusted. Many of us have also changed our habits. Perhaps we’ve said goodbye to some pre-pandemic activities that were no longer serving us…but in the meantime, we may have replaced these not-so-great habits with others.
We refer to seemingly harmless habits and timewasters as soft addictions. These aren’t habits that are obviously bad for us (like drinking, drugs, or smoking). Soft addictions are the habits that can mask as productive, even positive activities—and in the right circumstances, they are!
The problem with soft addictions is that they get in the way of our satisfaction and happiness. We use them to zone out, to numb ourselves to what’s going on around us, and to escape. Initially, they may even feel good, but ultimately, they don’t satisfy us. In fact, they can take our time and attention from the activities that nourish us, and instead, they leave us feeling empty.
Maybe you’ve been binging on movies and tv series. Or perhaps you’ve developed a nightly ice cream habit, resulting in gaining the “quarantine 15.” Has your glass of wine with dinner turned into a bottle? Maybe you use social media and news as a distracting way to zone out from the activities that require more focus but ultimately result in more joy (like succeeding at work or spending quality time with a partner).
Eating, shopping, even working out can become soft addictions or bad habits when we start engaging unhealthily. Plenty of people even turn working into a soft addiction. Overworking may be especially problematic right now, when there’s no natural delineation in your days, and no clear boundary separating work time from home time. It becomes easy to avoid daily activities and throw yourself into work.
Compounding these soft addictions is the disruption of norms. There’s no “normal” escape or respite. We can’t get energized by going on a date night, grabbing coffee with our best friend, or going to the theater for a mindful experience. Our typically coping mechanisms are on hold.
The extra ice cream, the items in your Amazon cart, or a Netflix binge won’t kill us. We don’t usually die from soft addictions, but we don’t really live, either. Yes, some are unhealthy, but they aren’t immediately life-threatening. Still, these addictions rob us of our time, numb us of our feelings, cost money, mute our consciousness, and drain our energy. There’s a surprisingly high cost to these seemingly “harmless habits.”
We’re especially robbing ourselves of time. It’s not just the time we spend watching YouTube videos or scrolling through social media. It’s the extra time it takes to get back on track after being distracted. Researchers have discovered that work interruptions can eat up to six hours of our day! One minor disruption (like reading an email) can take us twenty or thirty minutes as we try to reengage and get back into the flow of our task.
We’re also really good at telling ourselves little white lies about our soft addictions. We may think, “I’ll stop looking through social media after this one video,” or “I’m just going to shop for ten minutes.” But then one thing leads to another, hours have passed, and we come away feeling empty and even guilty.
We’re all experiencing a wide range of feelings during the ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately, many of these feelings are uncomfortable and even painful. We may feel fearful about our job, worried about our loved ones, frustrated about the political climate, and more. We could also be lonely from isolation, feeling disconnected from our friends and family, and generally feeling sad.
Our soft addictions are attached to our craving center—the wanting center in our brain, but there’s no satiety in our wanting centers. We keep wanting even after we get the item we think will satisfy us—we just want more. Anyone who’s purchased something they’ve admired for weeks, only to feel a little blah or let down after, has experienced this phenomenon.
As with any addiction, we crave more and more because we hope that it will scratch that fulfillment in our brain. Studies of gambling addicts showed that their pleasure centers lit up even when they lost. Why? Because losing meant they could keep playing, and the thrill was in the risk, not in the reward.
Soft addictions read as less harmful than gambling, drinking, or other vices. After all, how bad can a little shopping be, right? But anyone who hides their purchases from a loved one out of guilt, or who’s worried when their credit card statement arrives, understands that shopping doesn’t lead to joy and in many ways, it leads to more stress.
Everyone engages in these harmless habits at some point and in some form. There’s no reason to beat yourself up or feel like a failure because you’ve developed some habits you’d like to kick. Identifying these distractions is an essential first step to breaking them. The more conscious we become of our actions, the more we can discover ways to make each moment genuinely satisfying and fulfilling.
We teach our students that one way to curb your soft addictions is to engage in the “Math of More.” Remember that we all have only a finite amount of resources—time, money, and energy. We can only fit so much into our day. We must identify what really brings us fulfillment and meets our yearnings and fill our day with those activities. When we start adding those items into our lives, we naturally subtract our soft addictions.
Something incredible happens when we start to add more nourishing activities into our lives—we discover that those timewasters ring hollow. We don’t crave them with the same intensity. We realize when we choose a timewaster, we’re forgoing something that could be more satisfying. Many of our students are surprised to discover how they stop finding social media as riveting and no longer spend Saturday nights on their couch with Netflix, once they start really engaging in the activities that are satisfying and fulfilling.
When you add nourishing things to your life, your soft addictions don’t seem as attractive. Think of it as a delicious piece of chocolate cake. When you’re hungry, you can hardly resist indulging in a big piece of cake. But if you’ve just had a nourishing, healthy meal, you may still enjoy a few bites of the cake at dessert. You likely won’t want a giant piece, and you’ll walk away feeling satisfied (without a stomachache).
We’re all hungry for care and comfort in whatever we do. It’s a great time to fill ourselves with activities that help us learn and grow. Look for things that satisfy you, challenge you, and really hold your attention. Don’t settle for timewasters, but instead feel your time with the activities that matter.
If you’re wondering about your soft addictions, take our quiz to see if there are some seemingly harmless habits you should break and then work through the underlying cause with the soft addictions template. In my book The Soft Addiction Solution, we explore all these little activities that rob us of our time and joy and go into this topic in depth. Right now, in this challenging time, it’s especially attractive to seek out escapes. Instead of zoning out, zone into habits and actions that bring you MORE joy and satisfaction. You deserve to live a life that leaves you fulfilled!