How To Make Any Behavior Addictive


The first association people usually have when they hear the word “addiction” is a negative one. A nicotine addiction for example gives you certain high but it also wrecks havoc on your health, not to mention that you also need money to sustain it. In this sense an addiction is something negative.

But what if you could make a certain desirable behavior addictive, on purpose? Is it possible to have a positive type of addiction?

Let’s suppose that you have a tendency to put off work and generally are lazy. Is it possible to turn yourself into a workaholic?

To get an answer to this question, we need to have look at the underlying driving factors of human behavior. What makes us do what we do? Tony Robbins defined 6 fundamental human needs. These are:

  1. Certainty. The assurance that by taking this action you avoid pain and gain pleasure. No one will do something when the outcome does not hold a reward or is outright negative.
  2. Uncertainty/Variety. The need for new, unknown, situations, people, challenges and stimuli.
  3. Significance. The need to feel unique, important, special or needed. Having a purpose.
  4. Connection/Love. The need for closeness or union with someone or something. This can be human relationships but it can also be belonging to something higher, like a group or a cause.
  5. Growth. A continual expansion of capacity, capability or understanding.
  6. Contribution. This is described as a need to be of use and helpful to others, providing service and support to the world around you.

These are similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but the focus here is on the upper levels, as it assumes that the biological needs have been met.

Now for a behavior to become addictive, at least 3 of these needs must be fulfilled. We aren’t going to talk about drug addictions as those are chemical rather than behavioral in nature, but we should note that we all have the same nervous system and the same reward circuits in place — which makes it possible to replace a destructive addiction with a productive one.

So how would you go about turning yourself from being lazy and unmotivated to being excited and motivated to push through?

Chances are that your current job isn’t satisfying these fundamental needs. Workaholics love working because their job satisfies a majority of these needs. It could be the growth opportunities (milestones, a way to track their progress, a way to advance to a higher position), or the fact that they get to see different places, clients or projects on a regular basis (variety) or maybe they are good at their work (certainty) and are highly sought after for their expertise (significance), or perhaps the work has a meaningful and visible impact on the world around them (which is the reason people volunteer to work for free).

So instead of trying to find motivation to do something, it’s better to find ways on how you can make achieving that goal more fun and rewarding, tying the process into the fundamental human needs.

Perhaps you lack the certainty component, not knowing if your work will bear fruit and thus doubting yourself. A good way to increase certainty in your job is to get better at what you do or to look at how other successful people have done it.

Many complain that they lack variety at their jobs, having to plow through routine and monotone work. Even if the nature of the work is in itself boring, are there any arbitrary milestones that you could set yourself to keep you going? It can be something as simple as achieving a number. For example, the Striiv Pedometer, a pedometer that counts how many steps you take, has an interactive feature that sets up different random challenges which consist in achieving a certain number of steps. Sounds simple, but as you can see in the video at the end of the article, people actually got addicted to this little device, waking up in the middle of the night to walk.

Significance cannot be faked, unfortunately. If you’ve got a lowly job and you can be replaced at any moment, it’s clear that you cannot have too much significance there. However, a good employer knows how to make his workers feel needed. What you can do is to keep an eye out for the next job, scouting for positions that are important for the company or place you want to work at.

The need for connection/love is one if not the strongest human need of all. We are social animals and we work better if we have like-minded people around us. Even if your work is solitary and you don’t have any teammates, you can still look around and join different clubs, industry events, forums, social networks and other group activities with people who do similar things as you do.

Growth in a job can be about going up the career ladder, learning new skills and perfecting your current ones or achieving clear milestones which indicate your progress. If you don’t see some kind of improvement in the work you do, chances are that you won’t be motivated to continue doing it for anything but monetary compensation (and even that can lose its appeal after a while).

Lastly, does your work bring any kind of contribution to the world around you? The tiniest change in the manufacturing process of a product can be seen on a large scale. If there is no immediate visible benefit, try to think how your work affects the world on a macro-level. Janitors and street cleaners may not be the most glamorous jobs, but without them we would all be living in dirt.

This step-by-step need-analysis can be applied to any behavior to make it addictive. When setting goals, try to look at how your goal can fulfill these needs. It’s better to be drawn in effortlessly to do something rather than to find the “motivation to do it”. If you’re trying to curb an addiction, it’s best if you replaced it with another, more productive addiction rather than to try and abstain from it altogether. Will power can only last for so long.

Lastly, this TED talk by Zoe Chance will show you how a company designed a harmless device that literally made addicts out of people. The secret? It skillfully tapped into the 6 fundamental human needs.

Now you have the map on creating addictive behavior. Go forth and become successful, yo!

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