Creating Good Addictions

We only ever think of addictions as bad. I’ve grown up trying to stay away from drugs and booze, so my drug of choice ended up being food. It was my main coping mechanism for dealing with overwhelming stress that I did not even know I felt. It was comforting, predictable, and soothing. The problem is the aftermath. Am I right? The inner guilt and the shame being the short-term punishment. The long-term pain is two-fold: the love handles and the shame for being fat.

As I work through the REASONS for this addiction, I know that I’ll be able to better manage it in the longer run. But in the meantime, maybe I can use what I’m learning to create good addictions!

What to learn from Candy Crush and the Gaming Industry

During stressful times, we turn to our coping mechanisms, like — Candy Crush. It’s a time suck, that’s for sure. But there is something crazy satisfying to have every move count for something. Points! Explosions! Sugar Rush! The little BOOMS, especially the ones that string together a bunch of them to destroy the whole screen, oh, just so gratifying, like I accomplished something.

The people who brought you Candy Crush know their stuff. They’ve made it easy to make lots of points. They’ve made it satisfying to crush candy. They make it super easy to pass the beginner levels, so you think, Oh yeah, I can do this. I’ve got this. I CAN ROCK THIS. Then they slowly slowly make it harder and harder so that you feel challenged and may even fail a level or two or a level quite a few times. You start slowing down your domination of each level. I mean, hypothetically of course, this is all in theory, not that I spend a lot of time on my iPhone playing Candy Crush.

My husband and boys are gamers, so I see them progress through the learning levels and very quickly become incredibly adept at very complicated combinations of actions, tasks, and objectives. They play with randos or friends, they navigate sometimes toxic environments, and they get very excited about their accomplishments. They furrow their brow over a particularly tough spot where they keep getting killed. They respawn and keep trying until they get through it. Sometimes they will stop playing a game if they are stuck too long and move on to another one. I hear them chatting with their friends. laughing, negotiating, directing, following directions, and strategizing.

And I think to myself, wow, how did something this hard get so addictive for them? They are learning, they have agency, they have no fear of failure. That is to say, they can see themselves progressing and learning new things. They have control over what they do and when. There is no real adverse consequence to failure.

What does mean for parenting?

Firstly, we can apply this to ourselves. We can create some good addictions for ourselves!

Build a gaming approach for ourselves:

  • Identify what we think we want to change without judging ourselves for it. Don’t worry about how we got there and that we aren’t there yet. Just aspire to something we want to get done or change.
  • Go easy on ourselves when we don’t execute something perfectly, when we haven’t been a perfect parent the way we define it, and when we don’t get it right.
  • Break it down into tiny steps we want to get done right. Focus on each tiny step and take our time to practice it.
  • Celebrate each small accomplishment with a tick on a checklist or a mental pat on the back.
  • Celebrate big accomplishments regularly.

Secondly, use some of the tactics for our children. We can break some of the bad habits we have built and create some new positive ones.

Apply the theory behind the gaming approach for our kids:

  • Have the assumption that they are naturally curious, because they are. But they are not necessarily curious about the things we WANT them to be curious about.
  • Remember that they aren’t adults yet. They aren’t always going to be logical. They aren’t always going to be able to articulate what they are thinking or worried about.
  • Know that they would prefer to do their best and make you happy.
  • If they feel like they are failing you day in and day out, that will be the unconscious driving voice in their heads and a trigger for all that they do: force themselves to succeed without hearing their own suffering, rebel against everything you want them to do, or a combination of both.
  • Give them plenty of room for failure and learning. Observe without judgment. Video games don’t judge. They are factual.
  • Children can’t learn if they are scared of disappointing us or worried about failing. Or they might seem like they can, but the cost is invisible for now and high in the longer run.
  • They won’t learn if the experience is always unpleasant.
  • They will eventually either do it because they have to (you gave them no choice) or disassociate.
  • Helping them get through challenges is not just telling them to do it. We need to help them learn how to break it down into chunks they have confidence they can do.
  • We have to help them see what they are doing well, not only what they are not doing well compared to our standard.
  • Consistently having expectations that a child cannot reach, but cannot escape from, will cause long term mental health issues.

I’ll leave you with an old Chinese parable. This is one of my favourite stories. One reason is because in grade 7, we did this in a play and I played the wife of the farmer. The other reason is because it really illustrates in a physical biological way what we might be doing to our kids mentally and emotionally.

The Farmer Who Pulled His Crops to Help Them Grow

During the warring states period, in the state of Song, there was a farmer who was tired of working in the field. Year after year, season after season, he had been working in the field to look after his crops. Planting, seeding, plowing, irrigation, removing weeds & insects, working under the burning sun or pouring rain, all this hard work filled his life.

One year, in the spring, he was working in the field to fertilize the field in order to make the crops grow better. Looking at those short young shoots in the field, he really hoped they could grow faster so he could harvest the next day!

Ding! He came up a smart idea: he would like to “help” them grow “faster” by pulling them up taller. He did this to all the crops in the field quickly. After it was done, he felt very happy when all the shoots were much “taller” than they were before.

He went back home happily that day and told his son proudly: My son, I helped our crops grow much taller today by pulling them up; now they are all two inches higher than they were yesterday!

By hearing this, his son knew what would happen to those poor crops. He rushed to the field immediately but it was too late. All the “taller” young shoots were withered and dead under the sunshine with their damaged roots out of the earth.

From by Yi Liu

You’ve got this. You can do it. It takes as long as it takes. No rush. Trust the process!

Published by Sherry Yuan Hunter

Sherry Yuan Hunter is a certified trauma recovery coach and certified parenting coach. Taiwan-born American-Canadian Chinese, married, working mother of two, Sherry identifies as a Sandwich Parent, Third Culture Kid, an untigering Mom, and Recovering Shouldaholic. Based in Toronto, Canada, Sherry has been working in student success programs at University of Toronto for 20 years, supporting students, young professionals, new managers, working moms, and new immigrants to success.

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