Addictions are usually thought of as behaviors that damage and hinder your life. But addictions and compulsions are on a sliding scale. Some, you could argue, are more useful than others.
There’s very little upside to being a heroin addict. But there are many other habits that are considered addictions, which are far less severe, that give you a high while delivering positive tangential benefits.
The point of this post isn’t to enable anyone to slide deeper into a life-ruining addiction by rationalizing it as “positive” (nor am I saying that people addicted to hard drugs should be able to swap it out for anything on this list). In fact, I’m not even talking to people with severe addictions or unhealthy obsessions.
This is for someone who has been struggling to get to the gym or to save up money and lives paycheck to paycheck.
It’s meant to encourage those who might not be leaning enough into the areas, so you can choose better addictions that help you build momentum.
Let this encourage you to get off your butt and inspire you to get after it! Let yourself be driven towards one of these things in a way that you have previously not allowed yourself to, whether that’s because you were afraid of what other people might think or didn’t believe it was possible.
First, we have to understand the difference between positive addictions and negative addictions.
We all have negative addictions, whether we admit it or not. And they serve a purpose. They’re our coping mechanisms for stress, pain, and anxiety. They’re our ways of self-soothing, unwinding, and taking the focus off of uncomfortable feelings.
Dr. Gabor Maté, an Israeli-Canadian addictions expert, defines conventional addiction as any behavior you consistently engage in that you cannot stop despite the experience of negative consequences. It serves the purpose of coping with pain. On a neurochemical level, it’s an automatic reflex that’s somewhat beyond your control.
If you have the conscious intention not to smoke a cigarette or do drugs, binge eat, or do other things you feel a loss of control over, but you find yourself doing it anyway, you might have a problem with negative addiction.
What we’re usually after when we engage in negative addictions, like doing drugs, eating junk food, or constantly checking our phones, is dopamine. It’s the brain’s reward chemical that makes you feel “high,” and also plays a main role in facilitating the pain-killing effects of opiates like heroin.
Whether an addiction is positive or negative, dopamine is the hook you’re addicted to.
The few examples of addictions I’ve mentioned so far are negative, in that their cost outweighs any upside they provide. In a negative addiction, the detrimental impacts of engaging in the behavior are greater than the high, or relief, that it temporarily offers.
But in a positive addiction, you’re still chasing a high, or that dopamine hit, but it doesn’t come with negative health or social consequences. Engaging in positive addictions creates beneficial by-products that serve your life in some way. For example: making a sale, improving on a musical instrument, or breaking your record running time.
“But, Jordan, shouldn’t we just be focusing on having no addictions? Wouldn’t that be a better goal?” Sure, wouldn’t it be great if we could be completely free of desire, all vices, or the urge to seek distractions, and be completely in control and zen 24/7? But that’s just not realistic. People have always needed diversion and a point of focus.
Even animals have been getting high for millennia. Many species are known to repeatedly eat plants or consume toxins they know will get them high. It’s just part of our nature. Zen masters were also known to get drunk on rice wine on a regular basis. And they would also agree that the obsession with eliminating addiction in itself becomes an addiction at some point.
I say the best we can do is leverage the awareness of our basic need for dopamine hits and distractions in order to choose more positive addictions, and thereby give ourselves a chance to guard against letting negative and unhealthy ones fill that gap and hold our lives back.
You need to get high, so you might as well rack up some wins and build yourself up in the process. In a sense, that’s really it: I want you to get addicted to winning.
Before we look at some suggestions for positive addictions, let me say one last thing.
As I said, addictions exist on a sliding scale. Yes, workaholism is very real. Exercise bulimia is a thing. There are people who are so obsessed with the pursuit of money that they ignore every close relationship in their lives in order to acquire it. There is always an extent to which things can be taken that tips into unhealthy and negative.
But assuming you’re not operating with massive amounts of buried and unhealed trauma, you should be able to check yourself and operate with the balance and awareness necessary to sustain a positive addiction.
Now that we’ve set the stage, take a look at these four positive addictions you should indulge in.
Here are 4 positive ‘addictions’ that make life more meaningful:
1. Mastery in your career
Developing mastery takes thousands of hours, mentorship, and hard work. It sounds overwhelming, but it’s a lifelong pursuit that could be the defining journey of your life.
Mastery in your career is an excellent place to develop an addiction because the energy you invest into it pays huge returns. And not just financially — it also generates a sense of purpose. Your efforts here ultimately feed back into your long-term happiness and fulfillment.
There are a few primary ways that a dopamine high is triggered naturally without any substances. One is through working out, and the other is progressing toward and reaching a goal.
When you create and reach your own goals, you’re hacking the internal reward strategy nature developed over millions of years. It keeps us engaged in things that serve the survival of the individual, and the species, like hunting, foraging, and seeking mates. Our brains release these feel-good chemicals when we complete them or hit milestones along the way.
This way, we’re constantly incentivized to continue the labor-intensive lifestyle required to survive on this planet.
Careers are essentially the modern replacement for hunting and foraging. They not only allow us to eat, but they are bottomless wells of milestones and goals to strive for. And there is an unlimited supply of opportunities to be impeccable.
The keyword to remember is excellence. Get addicted to doing your best and being your best, no matter what your workplace is. Yes, people recognize excellence, but this is about something much bigger than being recognized by others. This is about what happens when you build self-respect and self-esteem. You start to feel like a boss.
Plus, money flows to people who are organized and valuable. Those who refine systems and strategies, and bring ever-increasing value to the marketplace, are rewarded with wealth. Too many people are focused on doing just enough to be employable, while too few people are focused on being irreplaceable because they’re so skilled, creative, and committed.
It doesn’t matter if you’re selling phone plans, flipping burgers, or running a country. You can commit to excellence and begin the path to mastery in any situation. When you do, you’ll start getting high every day while improving yourself and your life in the process.
If you don’t have a career you feel inspired to invest in and master, I’m going to give you some counter-intuitive advice: Don’t just quit or continue being disengaged while wondering what would actually excite you.
Life and opportunities respond to your attitude, emotion, and enthusiasm. If your outlook is dominated by complaining and pessimism, you aren’t exactly in a state of flow.
Great things aren’t going to wander your way any time soon. But if you stoke positivity, commit to making the best of any situation, take pride in your every day, and keep an open mind, solutions will begin to reveal themselves.
In his book Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport dismantles the classic “follow your passion” hypothesis around picking a career and makes a fantastic case for work ethic and excellence being the real secrets. Purpose and passion, he says, are something you create by committing to whatever you’re doing, and doing it impeccably.
Through this commitment, you develop skills and mastery over time, which creates feelings of passion, allowing you to climb higher when the next step reveals itself. I think this is dead on, for the most part. So long as the company’s activity and products/services don’t run counter to your personal value system, or have a toxic work environment, then, yes, focus more on how you’re showing up first, rather than where you’re showing up.
It’s not so different from the truth of the relationship. There’s no single magic partner out there, but many compatible partners who we either choose to do the work with or not. Hoping to find a magical unicorn, who will be a perfect fit with no work required, is only setting you up for disappointment and failure.
But when you start doing the work, and focus on being your most awesome self and learning as much as you can, rather than focusing on not having what you want, beautiful surprises show up every step of the way.
2. Saving money and making smart financial decisions
Money can be the most complicated relationship in our lives. Love it or hate it, at the end of the day, it’s the resource that fuels our lives. The people who have a lot of money have developed an addiction to being smart with it, rather than bleeding out cash to fund more negative addictions.
Admit it. Depositing cash or checks into your bank account feels good. You get pleasure from seeing higher and higher numbers on your balance than ever before. On the other hand, it can be the biggest source of stress when things aren’t going your way. Struggling with bad finances affects every other part of life.
Choosing to get your highs from earning more, saving more, and investing more, has huge upsides.
Taking money seriously is a reflection of taking yourself and your success seriously. Not only will you end up with more in the bank, but you’ll also end up feeling more powerful and mature.
Making a smart financial decision, and getting the hit from it, makes you feel like you’re taking charge of your life. You feel in control. That sense of power you get also comes from a sense of capability. Having more money means you can make more things happen, like erasing debt, solving problems, living healthily, and helping others.
It’s absolutely possible to be a workaholic and make your life suffer. But most of us aren’t coming anywhere near running that risk. We over-prioritize comfort and ease. We usually have plenty of extra time and energy we can afford to sacrifice without becoming dysfunctionally work-obsessed.
Fixate more on taking work opportunities. Yes, social life is important, but you don’t need to go to everything. All the FOMO your brain produces is a lie. You’re rarely missing anything genuinely interesting.
Just take that extra shift rather than going to a party, or put in an extra few hours into a marketing plan or book project on Sunday. The emotional and financial payoff for putting work ahead of goofing around is way higher in the long run.
Getting wins with money requires energy, which means you have to make some compromises and sacrifices to feed energy into it. When balanced, looking for these sacrifices is part of a healthy success-positive attitude. You love your hustle, earning more, and getting better in the process.
Begin putting more positive attention on money. Track where it’s going, and where it’s coming from. Brainstorm ways you can earn more. If you can free up a little cash, research investment opportunities. Save even a tiny amount each month and hit a modest goal to double down on the dopamine reward.
If you have a terrible relationship with money, and you think of it more as a burden than a tool, you might need to do some deep inner work around it. Your first investment win is to purchase You Are a Badass at Making Money, by Jen Sincero.
It’s all about mastering the wealth mindset ditching your baggage and limiting beliefs around finances. It will be the most brilliant, practical, funny, and insightful guide you can find on the subject. And if you’re truly bad with money, the good news is you have many more opportunities to have breakthroughs, improve, and win.
3. Exercise for your body and mind
Next to achieving goals, exercise is the other primary way you can naturally activate the core chemical hooks of addiction. Chasing the high from workouts has the obvious side effect of creating an excellent body, which you should absolutely nurture.
Indulge whatever vanity you might have. Let yourself relish in feeling and looking sexy, and watching yourself get fitter and fitter over time. Recruit your shadow side and put it to work for you. If you can let yourself accept this energy, it might just be the most powerful motivating force that keeps you going.
But even more importantly than your body, exercise also creates an excellent mind. Like financial strength, the feeling of physical strength translates into mental strength. Your self-confidence, attitude, and belief in what you’re capable of get boosted and supercharged.
You become more resilient to the difficulties of life. You can start feeding off the moments of internal resistance because you’ve practiced doing it in the gym. You can carry that over to a whole other addiction of smashing through any moments where your inner dialogue tries to talk you out of pushing further or trying something new.
What makes exercise the ultimate positive addiction is that you can double down and leverage both natural dopamine-delivering activities at once: working out and hitting goals.
There is a nearly limitless supply of numbers to beat. You can track and measure your fastest mile run on the treadmill, the number of reps at any set weight, your max lift for a single rep, or your total body weight. Beating any of these numbers by just one pound, or second, delivers a hit and makes you feel like a champion.
Measuring and beating yourself also lets you engage your competitive side and self-pride, which will keep you pushing and having fun while getting fit.
In the long game, nurturing this addiction will massively pay off as you can maintain mobility and suppleness as you age, which we rarely think about while our bodies are still working properly without requiring much maintenance. An exercise addiction isn’t just a short-term investment into your current self… it’s a down payment on a great future.
4. Having a healthy lifestyle and diet
Most people are addicted to things that destroy their health, like sugar and smoking. What if you were addicted to something that improved it?
I swear to you, it’s possible. You can actually start craving a salad instead of McDonald’s. All you have to do is interrupt the input of trash for a few weeks so your body can remember what real food feels like. You could fall in love with the buzz you get from lion’s mane mushrooms as a cognitive booster, the clean-burning energy from having a green smoothie for breakfast, or the increased mobility you get from foam rolling.
Some people might roll their eyes at that sentence. But that’s exactly what’s keeping them down. Everything is a choice in mindset and behavior. Don’t let other people’s lack of love for themselves poison your own mind.
It takes time to develop good health addictions. First, you have to experiment with different foods, supplements, and routines before you can find what really works and feels awesome for you. Then, you have to bring enough consistency to doing it so you can actually begin to feel the results and create an upward spiral.
Once you get there, and tap into that high, there’s no going back. When you’ve seen and felt the contrast between feeling bad and feeling your best, it becomes much easier to feel the compulsion toward pro-health habits.
For example, I’m obsessed with cooking my own healthy meals. It feels so good to know I’m taking care of myself, not to mention my body loves it. It gives me sincere pleasure. In that way, I’m addicted to healthy food. It makes me feel powerful. I love saying “no” (more often than not) to the voice inside my head that wants to eat junk and find or make something awesome for my body.
I love taking maca root powder and pine pollen because of how much focus and energy I get from them. I see the results in my creative work, and I can’t get enough of it.
Positive health addictions are essential because there are no second chances or do-overs. You either start putting in the time now, or you’ll be screwed in just a few years. It’s as simple as that. Next to actually feeling good and enjoying your life in the present, what motivation could you possibly want?
In the end, I want you to know that you are allowed to be healthy. You are allowed to have more money in your chequing account than you ever have before. You are allowed to be an absolute beast at the top of your field in a purpose-driven career. You are allowed to be fit. And you can be all those things.
All you have to do is build wins and highs into new positive addictions like these, curb a few negative ones, and soon you’ll print your own ticket to greatness.
Jordan Gray is a five-time #1 Amazon best-selling author, public speaker, and relationship coach with more than a decade of practice behind him. His work has been featured in The New York Times, BBC, Forbes, The Huffington Post, and more.
This article was originally published at Jordan Gray Consulting. Reprinted with permission from the author.