June 27, 2018

When Interest Becomes Addiction

And what to do about it.


What is addiction?

Taken straight from Wikipedia: “Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.”

Just think for a few minutes about how many things in your life might fit into that category. No really, think about it. It’s probably a simpler definition than you might have expected. Now, obviously I’m looking at addiction in a pretty low level, but even so, at a low level the effects can be more than just noticeable.


By the way, I’m not claiming to be an expert on any of this. This is simply an exploration in my own life.


Discovery

As I grow older, I discover more and more. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest parts about getting older. One might assume that once our early years are over, those years in which everything is new and everything is interesting, that life quickly becomes boring, and the lack of discovery over time leaves an empty place in our lives. however, I’m finding things to be quite the opposite. The more I learn, and the more I try, the more I’m realizing that I’ll never be done discovering new things. Even if they’re tiny things.

With new discoveries come new interests. With interests might come new hobbies, new research, the discovery of other, related interests, etc. I’ve been having quite a few of these lately, and it’s been wonderful! Life is more exciting, my time more fulfilling, when I can fill them with things I’m truly interested in. Many of these interests have, for me, turned into hobbies.

“No one wants to grow old feeling like they didn’t do enough in life–didn’t explore or cultivate enough of their interests.

That, in and of itself, is not bad. In fact hobbies are very important to have. Not only do they allow you the fulfillment of something physical in return for your interest in them, but they, very simply, give you something to do. If there is ever a day alone or an extended period of free time (lol, I know), I always have something to do because of my hobbies. This feeling of doing physical–yes, even playing computer games is physical–things to fill time will lead to a more fulfilling life. No one wants to grow old feeling like they didn’t do enough in life–didn’t explore or cultivate enough of their interests.

So what?

So far this is all sounding very good! More hobbies must be better! So what is this all about? When and where do things go wrong? There are a few ways in which things can start to have a negative impact in your life, and in the lives of those around you. If not careful or intentional with your interests and hobbies, they can be counterproductive, they can be financially straining, and they can have a negative effect on the relationships you have with those closest to you. now, if it’s not obvious, I’ve discovered these things through first hand experience.

Counterproductive

How have I seen my hobbies and interests become counterproductive? For those of you who don’t know me, I play a lot of computer games. However, I used to play more computer games. Even after paying for and going to school for graphic design, and despite not being satisfied in my job after collage, I still got home each day and just played games. Computer games in and of themselves are not bad. In fact, there are plenty of benefits to them. But, when put before things you could be doing to pursue your goals in life, then I’d argue that they’ve become quite counterproductive.

Financially Straining

Now, how hobbies can become financially straining is probably pretty obvious, but if you’re like me, you can slip into that issue quite easily, and possibly quite frequently. This has happened to me with almost every hobby I have! Why? Because we like to buy things–instant gratification and all–and due to hobbies’ nature to make us feel better and more fulfilled, buying things for them feels that much more justifiable.

Over the last 4 years, I’ve spent hundreds on mechanical keyboards and mechanical keyboard parts, thousands on phones, gaming PCs, or laptops, and even a couple hundred dollars on fountain pens. That’s all money I could have been putting towards our house, debt, or any number of things that will have a much higher impact on my quality of life. Oh, and those 4 years I’ve been robbing that money of my wonderful wife, as well, because the third way in which a hobby can start to become an addiction is when it starts to take priority over your…

Relationships

Another thing that can go awry when hobbies are taken too far is your relationships with the people closest to you. I’ve seen this happen first-hand with my wife. Nothing extreme, but enough to be noticeable. Spending too much time or money on anything can make it hard to spend those same resources–because that’s what they are–on your relationships with others. More money spent on insert your hobby here might mean fewer dates, vacations, or trips home to see your friends or family. It’s easy to want to put more into hobbies, but relationships take work, and usually should take priority, but it’s easy to slip into a routine where that isn’t what happens. I know it does for me, and I almost always end up regretting it.

I’ve never regretted spending time with someone.

So what can you do about it?

Well, this is all still pretty new to me, and I can’t claim to have it all figured out, in fact I catch myself letting these things happen all the time, but I wanted to share what I’ve been doing and thinking to help myself with these new-found “addictions.” The first things I’m doing is considering and acknowledging which of my interests and hobbies might be causing some of the aforementioned issues. What have been the pain points in life, and how have your hobbies potentially contributed to those? For example, I usually prefer to go out to eat than stay home, but we often can’t afford to. At the same time, I’ve spent more than enough on pens and notebooks in the last few months to go out with Jess at least a couple times.

”…the parts that are the most fulfilling are rarely where most of the time and money are going.

Now that I’ve acknowledged that my spending in regards to my pen “addiction” is negatively affecting my happiness elsewhere in life, I can make a plan. For starters, I took some time to assess how I’m treating the hobby, and what aspects of it are the most fulfilling. This is important, because the parts that are the most fulfilling are rarely where most of the time and money are going. In my case I realized that I was getting much less enjoyment from buying new pens as I was using the ones I have. I found more pleasure in using an old, almost full, notebook than I did from opening a new one. From there I can determine what I can do to cut spending and time, while still allowing myself to enjoy that hobby. It’s also important to continue to allow yourself to have and enjoy that part of your life. Don’t cut it out all together.

Once you have an idea of how to move forward, write it down. No, really, with like, pen and paper. If, in a couple months, you find yourself slipping away from your goal, you can go back and read it. Writing it by hand will also make it feel more binding and real, which will help you want to keep at it.

Also, tell someone about it, especially if your behaviors were affecting that person. Share with them that you understand what was wrong with what you were doing and how you’re going to change it. Apologize, if necessary (it often is), and be open to critique or suggestion. Talking openly about these things will build trust with those people, and they can help you stay accountable. Only share your goals if you intend to pursue them. Not doing this can lead to even more mistrust.

Keep loving life and the relationships you have.

Sometimes, I find the easiest way to break a bad cycle is to focus on other things completely. Just ignore the hobby for a while. I haven’t looked at a newsletter about mechanical keyboards in months, and the cravings to build another one or buy a new keyset are practically nonexistent. And, if something does come up (thanks r/mechanicalkeyboards), I know now that I haven’t been missing what I don’t have.

Spending quality time with friends or family, or just doing something different, can make a huge difference.

End

If you’re reading this and feel like you can relate, I hope this has helped in some way. These things might seem small when compared to the world’s larger and crazier problems, but when it comes to our ability to enjoy and feel fulfilled in life, they can be just as important.

© Chris Colvin 2018