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How to do what matters

Have you ever forgotten your responsabilities, or what you wanted to do? Something like you were aware, and suddently you are unaware. When you wake up again, maybe a few hours have passed, and your situation seems worse than it was before: the things you need to do are still there, you have less time to do them, and even less time to do the things you want to do.

So what happened? Maybe you were playing a gripping video game. Maybe you were watching something on Netflix, or having fun on YouTube. But either way, you want to blame yourself. “How could I have wasted so much time?” Obviously, this isn’t something out of your control, yet while in the act it appears to be so.

Staying in the machine zone

In Addiction By Design, early on there’s an interview of a casino worker and her time at the slots; another activity where you are destined to lose, yet keep engaging with. So why does she engage? She describes the machine zone in more detail:

It’s like being in the eye of a storm, is how I’d describe it. Your vision is clear on the machine in front of you but the whole world is spinning around you, and you can’t really hear anything. You aren’t really here — you’re with the machine and that’s all you’re with.

Many activities today yield a similar experience. The modern phone bombards you with notifications, each more important and colorful than the last. The puzzle game on your phone is fun enough to play one more puzzle, and a month later “Level 1023” is displayed in the upper corner.

They offer a zone that’s closed off to the rest of society: whereas everything seems uncertain, the zone is always constant, and offers a nice, pleasant experience. It’s one that you want to engage with for longer periods of time, and if left unchecked can consume your life.

All of these give you a lingering, worthless feeling after the deed is done. Why? Because: is finishing that puzzle game level going to improve your life?

Escaping escapism

Usual addictive substances, like cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs aren’t the only experiences you have to keep far away. Things like internet addiction, for example, are much more insidious and can end up very effective.

If you are currently struggling with these kinds of activities, it is not your fault. Awareness is the first step. The thing that I found the most helpful to fight against it was, whenever I had an urge, even for watching YouTube, I would stop, then breathe. After that, think: “What do I really want to do?” What follows is: “What do I have to do before I do what I want to do?” And if you have nothing to do, then start doing what you want - that’s how you can break free.

And I’m not advocating for a complete ban. Sometimes you do need time to breathe. But even then, in most cases, there really is a better use of your time.

Finally, don’t blame yourself. Accept who you are now, and start working towards who you want to be. Is he spending hours on YouTube, or making way towards his goals, whatever that may be?

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