You're Addicted to You: Why It's So Hard to Change -- and What You Can Do About It

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9781576754276: You're Addicted to You: Why It's So Hard to Change -- and What You Can Do About It
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All of us have things about ourselves we’d like to change. Maybe you want to be more organized, healthier, thinner, or more outspoken. Or perhaps you want to procrastinate less, quit smoking, listen better, or be a better leader. Whatever you want to change, you probably believe that your success depends on your conviction. The fact of the matter is, willpower alone won’t get you to change.

Noah Blumenthal illustrates how each of us becomes so thoroughly conditioned to act in old, counterproductive ways that negative behaviors become part of our very being. In a very real sense we become addicted to ourselves. The problem, he explains, isn’t that you aren’t trying hard enough, but that you’ve never learned the right way to make difficult changes. Here, he details a proven three-stage strategy—illuminated with practical tools, techniques, and exercises—for breaking self-addictions and conquering damaging behaviors like anger, workaholism, risk aversion, procrastination, overeating, under-exercising—just about anything. We all want to change our counterproductive behaviors. Here, Blumenthal offers a step-by-step guide for how to do it successfully.

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About the Author:

Noah Blumenthal is the founder and president of Leading Principles, Inc., a consulting company specializing in executive coaching, leadership, and team development. As a consultant and coach, he has worked with corporations, not-for-profit, and educational institutions including MetLife, Bank of America, Pfizer, Johnson & John- son, Accenture, Leo Burnett, First Energy Corp, New School University, and Fairfield University. Noah has coached hundreds of executives on making difficult changes and has trained new and seasoned
coaches, HR leaders, executives, and managers in the art of coaching. He studied psychology as an undergraduate student at Brandeis University and organizational psychology as a graduate student at Columbia University. Noah is a renowned speaker and workshop leader delivering talks on changing ingrained behaviors, building executive teams, and developing effective interpersonal relationships.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction
Understanding Self-Addiction
Questions to get you started:

What is self-addiction?
What are your self-addictions?
Renee calls herself a New Year’s Health Nut. In early January she is a regular at the gym, but knows that by February she will have forgotten her New Year’s resolution to stay in shape, given up on her exercise crusade, and disappeared from the gym until next year.
Denise is a self-proclaimed “control freak” whose behavior hurts her personal and professional relationships.
Jonathan is an engineer-turned-manager who constantly points out the errors and problems in other people’s work. His inability to provide positive feedback is turning his team against him.
What challenge do Renee, Denise, and Jonathan face? They are each addicted to themselves.

2
What does it mean to be addicted to yourself?
People use the word addiction to describe a variety of behaviors and conditions. There are alcoholics and shopaholics. There are drug addicts and sex addicts. There are compulsive gamblers and compulsive shoplifters. People say they are addicted to food or fitness, chocolate or basketball. But what does it really mean to be addicted to yourself?
There are many different addictions, some of which (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.) can destroy people’s lives. This book is not meant to be a substitute for treatment of clinical addictions. The addictions I discuss in these pages are behaviors you exhibit on a daily basis. They are your habits and routines. They are the actions you take with your coworkers, your spouse, and your children. They are the behaviors that come out when you are angry or hurt or nervous or unsure of yourself.
These behaviors come out in all areas of life. Someone criticizes you and you turn silent. Perhaps you know that you should try to understand and work to improve, but you are addicted to your silent, cold response. Another time your spouse leaves the kitchen a mess for what seems like the tenth time this week. You may know that yelling about it won’t help the situation or your relationship, but you do it anyway. When you go into work you find several co-workers congregated in an office complaining about the new marketing strategy. Maybe you realize that you’re only making the situation worse by joining in, but it feels so natural you can hardly help yourself.
Whatever the behaviors are that you wish to change, you may not feel like an addict. You are certainly very talented in many ways and may be an exemplary parent, spouse, leader, and friend. Perhaps you are on the verge of being a perfect ten, if only you quit being so accommodating, paid more attention to your kids, or did a better job of delegating. We all have ways that we can improve ourselves.
Have you ever wondered why self-help is one of the fastest growing industries? Why are there so many books to help people change themselves? Is it that people have so many things that they 3 want to change, or is it that we are simply not very good at changing? At the time of this writing Amazon.com had over 170,000 listings for “diet.” Yet, we certainly are not a particularly thin nation. There were over 120,000 items under “leadership.” Walk into any corporate executive’s office, and you are bound to find a handful, if not dozens, of leadership books. Imagine what work would be like if all of the corporate executives in the country actually practiced half of the leadership skills described in the books they read.
Why don’t these leadership and diet books work? Because they provide new behaviors and supply wonderful ideas, but they don’t help us address our addictions to our behaviors. We have had our behaviors shaped, molded, and reinforced thousands of times over the course of our lifetimes. We have been conditioned to act in a certain way when faced with certain types of situations. We can’t simply come up with something better and turn off the old behavior. It takes time to unlearn the old behavior and to learn to replace it with a new one.
Steven is a learning and development professional who works for a Fortune 500 company. He is also a recovering alcoholic. When I asked him how long it had been since his last drink, he replied, “Every day is a new challenge.” He wasn’t being vague; he was telling me that it didn’t matter how long it had been. The power of the addictive behavior is so strong that if he isn’t vigilant every day, it could come back to overwhelm him. Later he shared with me that it had been 17 years since his last drink. Your behavioral addictions may not take a lifetime to overcome. However, the example of alcoholism presents a valuable lesson that a deeply ingrained behavior doesn’t change overnight.
The fact remains that you can change. Whether you are trying to change something for the first time or you are struggling with something that you have tried to change many times in the past, you can make the change you desire. People have difficulty with change because they don’t know how to change. They know what they want to do, but they don’t know how to adjust when they get into situations that bring out their bad habits. The truth is that you can change if 4 you have an effective plan for how to do so. This book is dedicated to helping you lay out that plan and break your self-addiction.
What are some common self-addictions?
Self-addictions appear in every area of life. You may wish to be a better parent, a better spouse, a better leader, or you may wish to make changes for your own sake, so you can be a better person. In some cases, you may wish to eliminate a behavior that you feel harms you (e.g., controlling behavior). In another situation you may want to begin a new behavior (e.g., regular exercise). Unwanted behaviors may occur in your interactions with others (e.g., yelling at people), or they may occur when you are alone (e.g., criticizing yourself).
Maybe you already have an idea of an area in your life that you wish were different. If not, the checklist on page 5 might help you identify some areas where you’d benefit from change. This exercise is not meant as an opportunity for you to catalogue all the things that you wish to change. Do not get down on yourself if you share many of the behaviors on the list. Instead, focus on those areas you most wish to change now. Also, do not feel restricted by the items listed. Feel free to add your own.
This exercise should start to give you a sense of where some of your self-addictions may lie. Step 1, Identifying Your Self-Addictions, is dedicated to exploring more fully what your self-addictions are and what you most wish to change.
For now, it is important to simply understand that a self-addiction can be any behavior that is used inappropriately. You may even notice that some addictive behaviors are flip sides of the same coin. For example, telling others what to do and doing what you are told can both be self-addictions and illustrate that self-addiction isn’t so much about the behavior itself as it is about the inappropriate use of the behavior.
For every addictive behavior listed, you can construct situations in which that behavior makes sense. You can create circumstances in which the behavior is a good and maybe even the best course of action. 5 Of course, you can also invent situations where the behaviors would have negative, or even disastrous effects.
See Table
Throughout the book we will follow the stories of four individuals who have worked to overcome their self-addictions. Karen, the first individual we will follow, works in customer service for a travel services company. She describes how the very behaviors that served her well in some circumstances were actually self-addictions because of how they hurt her in other situations.
The Pushover
I have always loved making people happy. Luckily, I found a job where I am expected to do just that. When people take vacations with my company, I want those vacations to be perfect. If my customers want 6 a particular dining experience, theater tickets, or a room with a view, I find a way to get it done. People aren’t always happy when they come to see me, but I do everything I can to make sure that they leave happy. My job is to take care of people, and I do it pretty well.
I always thought this was a good thing until it sparked troubles for me at home. My husband and daughters have busy lives and lots of needs. I had gotten so good at saying “yes” to people that I didn’t even realize how much it had crossed over into my home life. At work I got rewarded for saying “yes.” The customers were happy, my boss was happy, and I was happy.
At home I got stuck with the lion’s share of the family responsibilities. Every time my daughters needed me or my husband to do something, I was always the one who did it. When it was time for us to decide where to go eat or on vacation, or what color to paint the walls, I never got my choice. One day I realized that I was getting more and more frustrated and resentful toward the people who were most important in my life.
Unfortunately, I had become totally committed to my giving behavior. I don’t think anyone intentionally took advantage of me. It was my own fault. For years I had consistently made my needs irrelevant.
Karen’s giving behavior had become so ingrained that the situation did nothing to influence her actions. She was unable to identify when she should stick up for her own rights and desires rather than simply accommodate the needs of someone else. This accommodating behavior was a great benefit to her at some times, but a disadvantage at others. So, self-addiction can’t be defined by the behavior alone. In order to better understand self-addictions, let’s look at where they come from.
Where do addictions come from?
Addictive behaviors serve many purposes, but they all develop through the same four stages:
1. They provide or provided some positive benefit.
2. They become self-reinforcing.7
3. They result in negative consequences.
4. You continue to engage in the behavior despite the negative consequences.
Positive Benefit
We become addicted to our own behaviors because at some time, for some reason, we benefited from our actions. Our behavior may have made us feel good about ourselves at some time. It may have boosted our self-esteem and raised our confidence. There are great reasons why our behaviors evolve. They help us to be happier, cope better, improve our performance, decrease our anxiety, or in some way enhance our perception of our lives. These are the reasons the behaviors begin and, if they ended there, they would simply be coping mechanisms, not addictions.
John developed his self-addiction because the behavior made him feel good. Here is how he describes the development of his addictive behavior.
The Talker
I love being around people and making people laugh, but it hasn’t always been that way. I was kind of socially inept as a kid. Then I did a class play one year and it was really funny. With someone else writing the words for me I was able to play the part and capture everyone’s attention. After that experience, I tried out for every play my school did. It was fantastic. There I was, this kid who no one wanted to talk to normally. But once the curtain went up, it was like I had a room full of friends. I think that the whole experience of theater really built my confidence, and that improved my ability to be social. I started to take the same approach to normal conversations that I had taken on stage —I had to be entertaining.
Getting attention gave John a boost to his self-esteem, which was fine in itself. It became a problem down the line, however, when 8 he needed this attention more and more to simply feel good about himself. That led to problems such as not listening to other people and monopolizing conversations.
There are two ways people benefit from their actions: the actions bring pleasure or take away pain. While John’s actions benefited him by making him feel good, other people take action to remove some pain they feel in their lives. Many behaviors are grounded in helping you stop the pain you are feeling. Stopping the hurt can be a very useful action to help you get through difficult times. That’s what happened with Susan.
The Worker
I don’t think I was a particularly serious student when I got to law school. I made sure to prepare for class, study for tests, and write my papers, but I also made sure to go out and have a good time. There were people in my program who lived in the library, but that certainly wasn’t me in the beginning. Then my father was diagnosed with cancer. When he got sick, I simply didn’t find things exciting the way I had before. I would go out with my friends and everyone would be having a good time. All I’d be able to think about was how my dad had taken a chemo treatment that day or how he was getting weaker and weaker.
My only escape was studying. I could look through old cases or work in the library at school for hours. I could sit down and study all day without thinking about my father. That may sound callous, but I think it might have been the only thing that kept me sane during that time. My father got sick when I was in the middle of my first year of law school. I ended up finishing at the top of my class because of my father’s cancer. I only wish he had been there to see me graduate.
As with John, there was nothing wrong with Susan’s behavior when it first developed. It was an effective coping mechanism during a difficult time in her life. It was later that this behavior became problematic, when she used her work to escape from her family and avoid developing deeper relationships with her husband and children.

9
Self-Reinforcement
Behaviors that outlive their original purpose do so because at some point they become self-reinforcing. When the original purpose or reward for a behavior no longer exists, a new reward can arise from within. This internal reward is strong enough that it can sustain the behavior with or without the original rewards. So even though we may no longer feel the pain and get the praise we once did, those positive associations from our past are enough to reinforce within us that the behavior is good.
Consciously or unconsciously we convince ourselves that the behavior helps us and/or those around us. This pattern persists for long enough that the behavior is cemented in our natural routines. We perform the behavior without even thinking about it. It is our natural response. Even now, it is not an addiction. At this point it is merely a habit, something that is characteristic of who we are. It is only an addiction if we continue to use the behavior in the face of negative consequences.
Negative Consequences
Many behaviors that start out healthy turn unhealthy over time. Sometimes the negative consequences are internal, meaning that we create the consequences for ourselves. These could be physical or psychological and include:
· Stress
· Depression
· Self-criticism
· Self-doubt
· Excessive anger.
Sometimes the negative consequences are external, meaning that t...

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