We all have that guilty addiction.
Hands down, mine is Netflix. If I could find a way to inject The Office in my veins, I would. As it is, I have spent record-breaking hours watching and rewatching it; sometimes, I’ll even find myself trying to talk like Jim or Michael during my regular life. When you start shrugging at empty air like you’re talking to an invisible camera, you know you might have a problem.
I’m not alone in my guilty addictions either. 70% of Americans are addicted to binge-watching T.V., usually sinking in five episodes per watching period. United States consumers spend an average of five hours every day looking at social media sites, costing 51% of their time. Candy Crush, a game that advertises as “free to play,” made over 1.3 billion dollars on in-game purchases in 2014.
Media often portrays these addictions as acceptable, even laughable, as demonstrated in the meme below:
However, when these guilty pleasures become guilty addictions, it’s time to make a change in our lives.
The prophets are clear about where they stand on such valuable time being wasted on these guilty addictions. While they acknowledge that technology can be a powerful force for good and is inherently harmless, addiction can be extraordinarily harmful to our spiritual welfare:
Richard G. Scott (April Conference 2013)— “For example, many of us have a personal electronic device that fits into our pocket. We are seldom without its company; we may refer to it many times a day. Unfortunately, these devices can be a source of filth and wasted time. But, used with discipline, this technology can be a tool of protection from the worst of society.”
Now, I’m aware that addiction to social media, Netflix, and iPhone games is bad. But somehow, I can’t seem to help myself diving head first into countless hours spent on all of the above.
There are ways to break the cycle. If I can approach my guilty addictions with a knowledgeable mind and actively work to discipline myself and create productive habits, I know I can overcome them.
The first step is to know your enemy. Here are a couple of ways common guilty addictions reel you in.
1) Knowing The Hook
The more you know the more you’ll grow.
Addiction is a battle. Knowing the enemy’s secrets can give you the leg up that will decide between victory or defeat. I will use two examples of some common addictions that I have faced the past year to illustrate my point.
It may come as no surprise to you that Netflix wants you hooked.
When you used to watch a show on TV, you’d have to wait at least a week for the show to return to be able to find out what happens next.
Not anymore. Netflix’s streaming services offer all the episodes at once, so cliffhangers can be resolved if we wait another fifteen seconds for the next episode to play. Cliffhangers actually cause stress that our mind feels it needs to resolve, and if we can ease that stress by hanging on to one more episode, most of us will keep watching.
We also experience reward sensations when we watch Netflix. Small amounts of dopamine are released when we finish a series or episode; dopamine is the same chemical that is released in harmful drugs that cause serious addiction. This can lead to psychological dependence.
Netflix isn’t the only guilty addiction using psychological warfare on its users. The same strategy that casinos use to keep gambler addicts in their doors is used on the “free-to-play” games you may play on your phone.
Initially, it’s free to download, but oftentimes the more you get into the game, the harder it is to succeed without spending money. In-game purchases include “currency” that costs real money, but without holding that currency in your hand, it produces a dissociation technique that makes it easier to buy.
Like casinos, they also use “progress gates” that halt your ability to play until a certain time has passed. Hard progress gates come in the form of a slot machine, where you have to pay each time you fail. FTP games use softer progress gates that disable your ability to play for an hour and then require a low sum of money so that you may continue playing there and then.
The more money you spend, the more rewards you get, feeding the reward center in your brain as mentioned above. It costs the company nothing to produce fake currency, and so they are making pure profit on their confidence that we will be frustrated enough to pay through the nose to make it to the next level.
When we spend our time obsessed with these guilty addictions, we are in the end participating in something that isn’t even real.
This is a concept known as “The Treachery of Images,” named by the painter René Magritte in his famous surrealist painting of a smoking pipe.
The inscription reads “Leci n’est pas une pipe” which means “This is not a pipe.” His point was that even though the image is of a pipe, the image is real but the pipe is not.
We can apply that same attitude to our guilty addictions. From Candy Crush to The Office, what you are watching or participating in isn’t real. The trophy you got for clearing a level is just a digital representation that has no value, and Jim Halpert never really married Pam. While these things may be nice distractions from our day to day life, unhealthy time spent on them dissociates us with reality, and in the end, we have to ask ourselves a simple question:
Do we want to live in the real world or not?
2) Breaking The Chains
The first step to solving any addiction is acknowledging you have one.
I’ll admit it, this article came at a timely moment in my life. As a college student struggling to balance school, work, social demands and personal writing goals, the time I spend on Netflix can be severely damaging to my future.
Coming to terms that I needed to break up with The Office was a difficult decision, but one I knew I finally needed to make. Once I took that step forward, I was able to use it as a leaping point to escaping the hooks of Netflix and other guilty addictions.
Once you acknowledge the issue though, it’s time to get down to the business of fixing it.
A) Turn off the show in the middle of a boring part.
I realize how difficult that might sound.
The reason you might be hooked, however, is the neurological need to figure out what happens next on the TV show. If you eliminate that need by turning off the show in the middle before a cliffhanger, you are teaching your mind to be disciplined about the time it spends on Netflix without feeding its “nicotine habit.”
B) Stop multitasking as you engage in your guilty addiction
Attempting to multitask while you watch Netflix or play video games or check on social media encourages you to feel as though you are getting things done. Don’t do this. It feeds your habit and endangers your ability to focus. Forcing yourself to participate in your guilty addiction and do nothing else may make you feel the time being wasted, therefore making it easy to discard as a habit.
C) Replace your guilty addiction with another habit.
This doesn’t mean you should replace it with a difficult habit at first, like exercising or extra homework time. Start with something enjoyable but more stimulating, such as reading a book or developing a productive hobby. This will still feed the reward section of your mind without over stimulating it to the point of addiction.
The Rich Young Ruler
The story of the rich young ruler Christ encountered gives us a warning about becoming attached to material things.
In the story, Christ encounters a rich young man who asks Him what is required to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Mark 10:19— Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.
20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.
21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.
Just like the rich young man, I have been oftentimes reluctant to give up my guilty addictions to pursue nobler things.
On occasion, I have put watching Netflix before reading my scriptures at night. I have also watched movies and tv shows that are not appropriate for the Sabbath Day. When this happens, I am showing Heavenly Father that I’d rather be entertained than progress.
At the end of the day, as I approach my Heavenly Father on my knees, it helps to ask a single question: What have I done today to show God I am willing to put Him first? If I can follow the process mentioned above by acknowledging guilty addictions, understanding what makes them addictive and working hard to overcome that addiction, I can close my eyes knowing that I have given the Lord a satisfactory answer.