I just finished Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz about new thinking on the nature of addiction. In her book, she makes the argument that addiction is a learning disorder, not a disease. In one particular chapter she discusses the role of desire and learning:
Desire fuels learning, whether it is normal learning or the pathological “over learning” that occurs in addiction. You learn what interests you because desire motivates. In contrast, it’s far more difficult to learn something you don’t want to understand or care to comprehend.
Although addictions are examples of extreme learning, over time we all learn both health-promoting and health-degrading ways of engaging with life. What pulls us in an unhealthy direction, is not enjoyment but the learned connection between these behaviors/substances and relief.
What pulls us in the direction of healthy habits — eating well, being active and taking care of mental health and well being — are the learned positive effects these behaviors have in life, work, and relationships. In other words, it’s not just about getting short-term relief but solving problems. Feeling good now (and later), outweighs the short-term pleasure from watching TV, eating sweets, drinking, you name it.
With healthier coping styles there is no struggle because the desire is in the right place, meaning activities that could be used as relief (watching TV, eating sweets etc.) are simply enjoyed but there’s no desire to do them excessively.
This week, let’s mindful about what we have learned — or are teaching our kids — that creates desire towards, or away, from health. How can we actively move in the direction of healthy habits so they are learned and preferred?
Don’t miss my interview with Maia Szalavitz on The Healthy Mindset Podcast.