In this issue ~~
Do you ever feel you expect too much of life? That, in fact, you're being greedy even thinking of asking for more than you have? Often, we're taught to lower our expectations so we won't be disappointed. It's a way that we protect ourselves from pain, but it also shields us from the exciting things in life. We feel safer, but miss the adventures that life could offer us.
In her powerful new book, There Must Be More Than This: Finding More Life, Love, and Meaning by Overcoming Your Soft Addictions, teacher, speaker and author Judith Wright says that rather than asking for too much, most of us ask for too little. "Too many people just don't want enough. They settle, talk themselves out of it, like they're greedy or vain or selfish."
Wright advocates that instead, we aspire to a life of More – one that includes those things you long for and often deny yourself. Wrights claims, "We all have these. I call them 'spiritual hungers' or 'deeper hungers' – to create, to express, to love and be loved, to be known, to matter, to make a difference, to belong."
While these are the things that make our lives delicious, these callings may demand a lot of us. They may open up possibilities that are tantalizing, but frightening. They may require that we leave behind our current social group. They will often take us away from the comfortable and familiar. So, rather than respond to our passions and hungers, we turn away from them. But the longer we deny our heart's longing, the more painful it becomes. We then use what Wright calls "soft addictions" to numb the pain.
Soft addictions include things like surfing the Internet, reading magazines, checking e-mail, shopping, exercising, hanging out, sleeping, overworking, complaining, buying designer clothes and numerous others. These may not be problems when done with purpose and in moderation. They become addictions when we do them mindlessly and overindulgently to avoid the pain of not satisfying our deeper hungers.
Why, you might ask, would someone avoid pursuing their passions and instead indulge in mindless pursuits? Wright pointed out that opening to your creativity makes you vulnerable. "With the creative process, you're always going into the unknown. To create means to make something that hasn't been done before. That's vulnerable. It's not tried and true. It takes a lot of courage to keep doing something that hasn't been done before, a thought that hasn't developed before or an artistic impression."
When you're open and creative, intense feelings can come up. Very few of us were taught how to deal with that. "We don't have good models," Wright explains. "We haven't been that well trained with it. We have mistaken beliefs that our feelings are wrong somehow or they make us weak. We don't recognize or admit them, and then we're threatened by them. So, we either avoid situations that bring them up, or we numb it with our soft addictions."
When we dream of More and it feels so beyond our grasp, it's easy to lose hope and settle for what we think we can have. Wright understands this firsthand. "It hurts. I know for myself, I was really hungry for More, but I was kind of hopeless about getting it in my life. The way I dealt with it was to do a lot of achieving, in my career and school and things like that. I was using a lot of soft addictions to try to numb or distract myself from trying to touch that place that had given up."
Soft addictions ease that pain, but they also keep us locked in habitual routines, preventing us from seeing possibility beyond them. Wright illustrated how that happens: "The positive intention behind our soft addictions is to make ourselves comfortable, but it's not the highest calling for us. We think if we can keep things the same, then we'll be safe, then we'll feel okay.
"Soft addictions are tried and true. You know when you watch a television program, it's pretty predictable. You know what you're going to feel like when you eat a candy bar. You know the buzz you're going to get from overshopping. You don't know how you're going to feel when you start working on a creative project. And that's what causes the trouble. It makes us live kind of stagnantly and keeps us from taking the risks we need to grow."
One way we perpetuate our soft addictions is by using what Wright calls "stinking thinking," the use of justification, denial, defensiveness, postponing, lying, minimizing the problem and many other strategies to defend our soft addictions. Wright spoke of one example: "I work with some people that compare themselves to others. These people have immense potential; there's so much more they could be doing. So, it's actually not relevant to compare themselves to somebody who's not even playing the same game as they are. You're trying to soothe yourself with that comparison, but it doesn't honor who you really are and what's possible."
What makes this more poignant is that while our soft addictions may seem harmless, they have a price. Wright points out that "the failure to realize and develop our gifts is perhaps the greatest cost of our soft addictions. They really rob you. They take a lot of time. The average American, for example, spends about 4 hours a day watching television. So, by the time you're 50, you've spent 7 years watching TV. A lot of creativity could happen in that 7 years. You're spending your time, energy and money in going *away* from life."
So, how do we deal with our soft addictions? Is it the same as dealing with "hard" addictions? Wright clarifies: "So many people look at the process, and the minute I label it 'soft addictions,' they think, I have to go cold turkey or I have to give up something. And I figure, we're already feeling deprived, that's why we're going to these soft addictions. So, yeah, sometimes we need to curb or subtract things to make a little bit more room in our lives.
"But what I think is even more important is to recognize how much self-care is really important for us and how to add more nourishment to our lives. That's what really fosters the creative process. Sometimes, you set up this thing like, 'Well, I don't deserve to take care of myself, because I haven't written yet today, I haven't done what I was supposed to do.' It's an awful process that way.
"What I found in my own creative process is that the more I tended to myself and set up a beautiful surrounding to write, with music, flowers on my desk, lighting a candle, saying a prayer before I write, taking a little tea break, the easier my writing. Or I go to a certain hotel and sit in the lobby – it's really beautiful, with fountains and flowers and things. I sit and work with a cup of tea, and hours can pass without distraction, and that's really nourishing."
Wright concurred that it's not about being a suffering artist; it's about making the process more enjoyable. "It's tough enough to face your fears, it's tough enough to face a blank page or a blank canvas. Why shouldn't we make that as easy for ourselves as possible?"
To help us manage our soft addictions and stinking thinking, Wright emphasizes the importance of developing a set of tools and techniques. Here are a few to start you off:
The One Decision takes what might be random acts and gives them direction and consistency. And, Wright adds, "You can use that to guide your smaller decisions. With my One Decision, if I've got a choice between what to do or to eat or to think or to feel, I can think, 'Which of these things is in alignment with my One Decision?' And it's pretty easy to sort that out. That One Decision makes a great difference, a kind of a contextual decision to guide the rest of your life."
* Finally, reinforce your new choices. Put Post-its on your bathroom mirror. Have people remind you. Send yourself e-mails. Use your to-do list. Wright herself uses such reminders, "and I freshen it every once in awhile, or I might do it another way. I have it in my wallet, I have it on my computer screen, or I ask someone to send it to me periodically as a reminder."
Living a life of More is a choice, choosing where to spend your time and energy, as well as your money. If your creative hungers are not being fulfilled and you're confronted by fears and doubts, you'll probably turn to soft addictions to numb out. Choose instead to face the fears and doubts and do it anyway. Eliminate or reduce soft addictions to make time for what's really important. Once you're doing that, your deeper hungers will be fulfilled, and the soft addictions will lose their attraction.
Wright concludes: "And you will still do the soft addictions, but with the One Decision, you can say, 'Wait, why did I go and eat all that right then?' Or, 'Why did I say that nasty thing?' Or, 'Why am I on eBay right now when I should be writing?' If you look at it, your One Decision can actually help you learn from the soft addiction. 'Oh, boy, I was sad, I was scared, I was nervous, I was angry.' You can use it to find out things. Otherwise, you're just indulging yourself without learning anything from it."
A life of More is yours for the asking. Open yourself to the possibility, monitor your soft addictions and stinking thinking and give yourself the gift of expressing your creativity. The false satisfaction you get from your soft addictions will soon be overshadowed by the true gratification of fulfilling your deeper hungers and living a life of More.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
My sincere thanks to Judith Wright for this interview. Please visit her website at www.judithwright.com to learn more about the Wright Institute and access lots of great tools and resources.
Learn to identify, understand and find positive alternatives to your soft addictions using the Soft Addictions Template at Judith Wright's website. Go to www.softaddictions.com/template.php.
"When we are motivated by goals that have deep meaning, by dreams that need completion, by pure love that needs expressing, then we truly live life."
"'Now' is the operative word. Everything you put in your way is just a method of putting off the hour when you could actually be doing your dream. You don't need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating."
"Convincing ourselves that we lack any real gifts or have nothing to contribute leaves us with an aching void that we often fill with soft addictions. Our fear of failure and our perfectionist approaches bar us from fully engaging in life. We are willing to just get by in order to distract ourselves from our fear. If we believe we have nothing to contribute, we don't fully engage in life and we seek solace in soft addictions. Since we only discover our gifts by engaging in life, we may miss finding the gifts we surely possess."
(click on the book graphic to see a description at Amazon.com)
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