I’ve been talking to business owners about addictions lately. My filing cabinet of client notes reveals some interesting trends amongst business luminaries and addiction is a big one.
If you’re a business owner reading this blog, I’ll take a bet that you’ve struggled with an addiction. It might not have been the exciting kind of drugs (after all, we’re entrepreneurs not politicians) – maybe it’s food or my personal favorite, caffeine.
Whatever it is, entrepreneurs have a disposition to addictive and compulsive behavior. Left unchecked, these habits can ruin lives and businesses, derailing your goals of freedom, wealth and impact.
By understanding what drives the entrepreneurial mind to addiction, you can master your thinking and behavior, ensuring phenomenal success with no nasty Charlie-Sheen meltdown.
Eating, drinking, smoking, drugs. These are the uncomfortably common addictions that get between us and our health and success. There are some less conventional addictions that are just as problematic though. Addiction to whining, to exercising (beyond what’s healthy/useful), to television or to shopping… are addictions nonetheless.
Every human being suffers from a compulsive need, usually several times a day, to change their state. At the heart of any and every addiction is our need to make ourselves feel something different.
When an entrepreneur is burning the midnight oil, developing the project and shooting for the deadline, her brain starts to turn to fluff. She begins to feel overwhelmed. When she pops outside for a quick cigarette (or IN, to the fridge and that slice of pizza) she’s resting worn out neural networks and injecting some happy chemicals into her brain.
In other words, she’s changing her emotional state. Eating and smoking does that. She’s clicked the mental “refresh” button and has bought herself another thirty minutes or so of focused work… before another brain chemistry shake up is needed.
We all do this, to some extent, even if we’re not scrambling to ship an important project out the door. Even if we’re not smokers or chronic over-eaters.
You’re drifting through different chemical states throughout the day. Occasionally, you enter into that magical “zone” where good stuff just happens, time vanishes and you do fantastic creative work. Then your state changes and you’re flighty and distracted. Later, you’re drowsy and bored.
Everyday, we traverse a multitude of different states of mind. The explanation for why this happens is too complex to be really useful – it has a lot to do with what we’re working on, what we believe (really) and what we’re putting into our bodies (blood sugar etc).
Addictions have been present amongst all humans, entrepreneurs especially, ever since we learnt how to use external stimulus to artificially change our state.
Feeling bored? Watch TV. State changed. Check.
Feeling stressed? Smoke tobacco (or other herbs). State changed. Check.
Feeling procrastinate-y? Eat something delicious. State changed. Check
Sure, it may be terribly temporary, but it works.
We all have several strategies for changing our state, each one suited to the different situations we have to deal with in our lives. In times where extreme state change is required, we tend to defer to the fastest working state change tactics we know. This is why cigarettes are so damn addictive by the way – they produce excellent state change in record time!
Even the healthiest person you know is addicted to state change. They have a yoga habit.
There lies my point. My biggest message to the people who ask me “How do I eat/drink/smoke less?” is to focus on and surrender to your need to change state.
It’s something you’ll never escape.
People with addictions they don’t like try to “quit” by removing the behavior from their lives. Quitting cold turkey. The problem with this is that the (valid, healthy) need for state change goes unfulfilled – creating a shit-storm of emotional (and often physical) turmoil that is no fun at all. This is sometimes known as “withdrawal symptoms”.
Once you’ve surrendered to your need to change state, the next step is to honor it. If you want to eat less crap or stop taking drugs (of any kind), success will be yours only when you figure out how to give yourself that same state change – through healthy, sustainable and accessible behaviors.
Cigarettes may be fantastic at instant state change, but it comes at an enormous price. Kind of like getting a 60 inch plasma TV on hire purchase – you feel fantastic about it when you plug it in today but start crying when the bill arrives. Yoga, on the other hand feels miserable tomorrow morning at six am but transcendental in six years.
You can’t quit anything cold turkey. You can only swap one addiction for another.
The health and success of an entrepreneur can be measured by the effectiveness of the state-change behaviors they choose to be addicted to.
I’m curious. What behaviors do you use to change your state? Are there any habits you’d rather swap for healthier ones?