Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Obsession

No, I'm not talking about the Calvin Klein fragrance.

Although when you get right down to it, the weirdness and stupidity of those old Calvin Klein cologne commercials (sorry if I seem judgmental, but I really thought they were weird and stupid) fits with the weirdness and stupidity of obsession itself.

I'd like to think that the fact that I can say that and see it quite clearly means that I'm at least poised to embark on the road to recovery with my own current problem.

In my case, the obsession is really more of a compulsion. If you're wondering what the difference between the two is, it's the difference between a thought and an action.

An obsession is a recurrent thought. A compulsion is a recurrent action. You can do something compulsively without really being aware that you're doing it. In the case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, the two are wedded: a person worries constantly about germs, said person compulsively washes and cleans.

In my case, I've found that the summer months have led me to compulsively check a particular Facebook page, even though I know there's no valid or worthwhile reason for me to do so. 

Because I know that, I was able to stop for a bit, but then I fell off the wagon this weekend. To such an extent that, yesterday, I began nattering on about it and a friend eventually said the word "obsessed" (forcefully).

My friend is very patient and understanding, but let's face it, no one needs nattering, particularly when it's become anxious, emotionally overwrought nattering. (I think this means it's technically no longer nattering, but I really want to use that particular word, so ... there 'tis.)

And no, I'm not going to tell you what page it is, because I don't want others to suffer, I don't want to drive traffic to said page, and--most importantly--I don't want you to look at it and think, "I don't get it... THIS is what you keep looking at? THIS?"

On that particular point, I can't handle the truth. So simply swap in some internet site or FB page that has you in its cyber-clutches and move on here.

Because let's face it, I'm not alone in this. It's a common problem. And in a minute, I'll explain why.

I think that, for the most part, my FB checking is compulsive--under normal circumstances, I don't get caught up in worrying about it. But clearly, it does have the ability to cross that line and turn into a source of worry.

So what is an (Over) Thinker to do?

Well, first of all, I did what any sensible person would do: I went out and bought a book, so I can read about it.

Then, I did what any sensible person would do: I read an article. This one in particular. 

As Begley points out, the way that Facebook works is a recipe for compulsion, because it taps into what our brains are wired to respond to: it offers "intermittent/variable rewards."

Sometimes, there's something "good" and we feel like we've hit the mother lode. Other times, not so much.

Actually, most of the time, not so much, but that doesn't matter. The fact that it happens intermittently and variably means that it creates a situation of "low-cost, occasionally high-reward activities" that  are "catnip to the brain." (Being a cat-lover, I love when a writer assumes that we're all basically cats.) 

Compulsive checking of Facebook is also a way of relieving anxiety (theoretically). At some point, however, it can reach a tipping point and it's now a source of anxiety... and yet, we keep checking, to try to alleviate the anxiety that the checking has caused.

Stop. The. Madness.

Easier said than done, of course. Some people are able to white-knuckle their way with willpower until they've broken the cycle. Some people are able to come up with other distractions and over time, the compulsion dissipates.

Until it's baaaack.

I decided that I want this compulsive checking gone, though, so I'm breaking out the big guns.

If you want to change a behavior, you need to track it--so that you cognitively recognize what you're doing and hold yourself accountable.

I've already been using Marshall Goldsmith's idea of "active questions" to stay on-task with other behaviors I want to implement, so I decided to add this to my list of questions that I ask myself at the end of the day: "Did I do my best not to compulsively check this particular page?"

But then, because I know me, and I can be a bit of a slacker at times, particularly if I manage to convince myself, "Oh, what's the harm??" I decided that simply scoring my success wouldn't be enough.

Don't get me wrong, I'm the girl who wants to get the highest grade in the class. So on the one hand, the idea of scoring how well I'm doing is definitely a good approach for a personality like mine.

But I decided that, since I really want to kick this habit, I'm going to up the ante. And I decided the best way to do this would be to tap into my other obsession.

No, not cats. The other one.

Yarn.

There is some seriously expensive yarn out there in the world, my friends, and I. Want. It.

But the frugal, sensible Thinker in me can't rationalize buying it. My inner yarn-hedonist has tried, oh, how she has tried.

"If you're knitting something with it, it's never wasted money." "Whatever you make would last forever... you could will it to someone when you die, so then it would be, like, more useful." "You could just buy a little bit of it and make something small--it's not like you're thinking of making a blanket with the stuff...".

You get the idea. I've withstood this self-induced pressure for a while now, because in some way, I know that if I succumb, I will feel guilty that I spent too much and that I hadn't really "earned" it.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

So here's what I've decided: I get 10 points every day that I stay away from that FB page. When I've accumulated 1000 points, I can buy the nice yarn. If I stay on track, that will fall right around my birthday, so that would be a win-win, guilt-free extravaganza, as far as I'm concerned.

If I slip up on any given day ... I lose 100 points.

The funny thing is, the minute I put this system in place, my brain was like, "Done. So now we wait... and in the meantime surf yarn websites and figure out what color yarn we want and what pattern we're going to use."

I think what happened that caused this to "click" with me is simple. Previously, there was never any incentive for me to not check it (low risk), and nothing ever-present to my mind that reminded me how much it paled by comparison with the things I value and enjoy spending my time on.

Problem solved. The fact that checking this might lead me to lose out on (or delay) my achievement of something that I want--and the fact that I now have a very concrete reminder of what that is--turned the situation from an abstract problem to a concrete goal.   

Today will be my first 10-point day. Only 99 more to go. I'd better get cracking on the yarn searches.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."