Updated: Jul 2
We are barely surviving. We have been massively addicted. The breakneck speed of human evolution since the advent of technology transported humans into the so-called "modern world" leaving the brain and its survival mechanisms in caveman times.
“Have you noticed how human beings are more frightened by spiders and snakes than by automobiles despite the fact that deaths from traffic accidents are much more frequent?” New York Times bestselling author, Paulo Coelho wrote in his novel Adultery. For which he answered: “This occurs because our minds are still living in caveman times, when snakes and spiders were lethal.”
Our fright of spiders, for one, threatens us. Our “fight or flight” reaction to it is our survival mechanism as we are naturally inclined to self-preservation--to survival. Or are we? Sure, we are. Our brain still directs us to do so when confronted by danger. But does our brain evolve in the same pace with environmental changes to meet the demands of survival?
The sharp contrast between cars and spiders (causes of fear), caveman times vs. modern traffic (periods of brain evolution) tells precisely that our brains are not coping up with the demands of our survival.
As the rate of change massively conflicts with the brain's pace to read its environment, the brain's behavior-regulating function is left at the mercy of confusion. Confused, its ability to set limits has been undercut. In turn, we are compelled to excesses. We succumbed to addiction.
“We have arrived in these times, apparently far less able to regulate our behaviors just when we need to be far more able to regulate our behaviors. Here we are, in the modern world, in the face of opportunities for endless excess—excess in consumption of refined sugar, low quality carbohydrates, alcohol, drugs, gambling, spending, and a host of other compelling substances and activities.”--Dr. Angela Miller, Rewiring Yourself to Break Addictions and Habit.”
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Straight out of caveman times, human being's head was shoved in an era where it couldn't seem to get a hang of its environment. Fundamentally misplaced, it is unable to properly read essential feedbacks from the environment as it does in its older environment.
The older environment which is a lot slower allows it time to master survival by recognizing natural processes. These processes lack the automation and immediacy of modern times. Thus, the brain's "fight or flight" survival mechanism in its new environment could not function properly. The arbitrary processes, high volumes of production, and availability of resources in its new environment have cost the brain its ability to rely on its environment for setting limits.
What could we be addicted to?
The automated environment and the brain's confused behavior-regulating function have their repercussions. They created existential malaise, boredom, overworking, poverty, stress, and abuse. People then seeks cure and escape from these cruel realities through the means available at their--cigarettes, illegal drugs, legal drugs, illegal substances, legal substances (e.g. coffee and sugar), alcohol, gambling, gaming, pornography, etc.
It is important to note, however, that consumed on the right amount and for suitable reasons, many of the given may not lead to addiction at all. But it certainly leads to it if the consumer's brain is incapable of restriction and regulation--a function largely undermined by the modern environment. It pertains to the patterns it creates in the way we use them. And the factors associated with the patterns that does not serve the result we want from it.
How problematic patterns of our behaviors are formed?
"I eat stress for breakfast," said an old adage. Obviously, it does not refer to an actual stress one eats for breakfast.
However, like stress, which is a feeling or sensation, or like what the idiom means, being ready to take on something hard, brain (and body) can make desires of feeling, sensation or self-affirmation. Without aid of outside substances such as drugs or alcohol, the brain can brew or construct mental chemistry to meet the feeling or sensation it desires.
The incalculable amount of information the brain processes, though, makes it too good to be true for a claim to control of our mind-brains. And yet, we really are entitled to a claim. We are in control to a very minimal extent.
At least the kind of control where we are able to decide when our mental chemistry produces sadness, happiness, pleasure, etc. Basically, it refers to our say on our mental chemistry on the conscious level.
But the brain's ultimate hard works takes place in our unconscious. It processes myriads of information. As such, it could only present a mere fraction of the data it processes to our consciousness. Just the amount fair enough for us stay sane.
Our consciousness cannot be overflooded with a colossal amount of data the mind-brain processes and stores. In turn, we go on with our conscious dealings and the brain is left hard at work processing data and information our organism receives from its environment. It is in its working in the unconscious that problematic patterns of behaviors are formed without notice.
"The patterns the brain builds... collect all (data) they need to reinforce themselves, to lure us into replaying the pattern’s cycles again and again, to addict us to the patterns (and their cues and triggers) most hungry for our attention."
Once caught in the pattern's lure, we are bound to feed it so it does not only survive--it gets stronger. So strong it has redirected the workings of our mental chemistry from working for us to working for these problematic patterns. As our mental chemistry continue to veer away from working for us to organically create sensations or feelings we desire, external influences e.g. drugs come in.
The brain now needs aid from these artificial substances to form mental chemistry that produces happiness or pleasure--something our brain used to produce on its own. This is how "outside regulation" through the aid of artificial substances has become, quite unfortunately necessary for the entire human species.
Three Ways to Break the Negative Patterns of Our Behavior
1. Ignore the dead hand reaching out
That concept of the dead hand could well be understood in legal terms. Think of a will a dead person left. It serves as basis for what to do with the possessions left by the deceased. The dead hand then, reaching to you is influential as the dead’s will that affects the fate or lives of the living.
When we’ve nurtured our habits for a long time, it will simply be hard to break away from it. That is because “the behavior has been repeated so often that it has worn a memory pathway through the brain and nervous system.” So much physical motions and gestures have been stored in our memory as we went through the rhythms of our addiction. Because of it, whatever triggers yields an automatic response from the addicted person.
The countless times actions has been repeated for addiction makes for an automatic response from an addicted person e.g. in chugging an alcohol. Without deliberately paying attention to what we do, we will simply chug the alcohol in sight.
One instance of trigger a sight or smell of it, and as if a waterfall, a surge of information gushes through the memory pathway and rekindle the motions, emotions and memories associated in one’s addiction. In other words a powerful programming has been instilled in the addict’s mind.
Change seems totally nowhere in sight. Neither it seems within reach. Hopelessness lurks. But so is hope. There is a science for breaking out of addiction. There are concrete tools one can use to manage or rehabilitate one's life.
Apps such as Rewi for example, helps one track your progress and keeps your record if you use it to start to break out of addiction. Life management tools will help the addict pay attention to details of the things going on, to the dead hand reaching out and to the development one makes to prevent the dead hand from finally grabbing one’s hand one more time.
Only a deliberate paying of attention to the slightest details in one’s life will the addict be wary of slipping back to addiction. By being mindful of its triggers, one can avoid it. The tools will help one finally override the desire to slip back to addiction.
2. Overcoming Programming
You have probably chugged a five-year supply of alcohol now. To put that into perspectives, that’s 20, 000 swallows if you swallow four glasses a day assuming one bottle per day and one bottle amounts to four glasses. That’s the same count as to how many times you’ve poured the alcohol on your glass and lifted the filled glass to your mouth.
All these physical gestures alongside emotions, feelings, desires, atmosphere, places and the people around while drinking are remembered. The sparkle on that glass, the biting taste of the alcohol, the burning sensation in the throat, the hype it creates once it reaches the stomach is just simply so pleasurable.
By chronically repeating doing so, besides remembering the people or atmosphere in the act of drinking, the person has now programmed himself in associating the act of drinking with the people the atmosphere and the booze.
Very soon, memory of the feelings associated with the act of feeling reactivates the programming. “Addictive behavior is automatic and subconscious.” Like a code, your memory now simply follows the programming. To override it, one must pay critical attention to the very action of drinking alcohol.
Only a hefty amount of paying attention could finally get you out of the fetters of that programming.
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3. Doing Something New
With the memory pathways created by addiction and with programming now ingrained in the addict, a pattern in one’s life is already established—a pattern that has made one’s life interwoven with addiction that’s within this pattern.
One then must see through the pattern’s details to know what consists it. In a “trigger-urge-response” pattern, a chronic smoker must distinguish what triggers the craving for smoking, and then what urges you to grab a cigarette and the response made to the urge.
A restraint from responding to actually lit a cigarette would keep the dead hand reaching out at bay and the gushing of the flows of memories which rekindle the seemingly good and sensational feelings associated with the addictive behavior.
Paying attention would help override a strong feeling to give in since it would make one redirect one’s attention to doing something new that breaks out the pattern—a horseback riding for instance.
Just as addictive behaviors create programs, memories and patterns so does new experiences. And this time, experiences that are not counter productive or compromising of your physical and mental health. To really override it, is to allow new experiences be, those just as exciting to be part of our system.
1. Browne-Miller, A. (2010). Rewiring your self to break addictions and habits: Overcoming problem patterns. Praeger/ABC-CLIO.
2. Coelho, P. (2014). Adultery. Alfred A. Knopf, New York
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