In this thought-provoking series, I will share the stuff of addiction that is “in between the lines,” the afterhours thoughts if you will, the bubbles above our heads. Not that training, education and all sorts of counseling are not helpful. Of course they are. But in the understanding of addiction we forget that for the fullest level of knowledge around anything, we must know “what is” and “what is not.” The latter is especially tricky to arrive at when the brain is involved, for it is a master of disguise, always rewiring itself to feel right, to be ineffective, to reduce dissonance and to avoid the truth. We should be most skeptical of our thinking especially – and ironically – when we choose to move beyond these illusions through conscious awareness or in other words, when we choose treatment.

So how does one tackle this elusive, slippery slope of neuroscience mechanisms when we want to live a life of freedom and truth, and eradicate the chains of addiction? I would like to share some “thinking guidelines” that we should keep handy and use wisely while reviewing “brain myths” – untruths that sadly have been popularized by culture as being gospel. We have become a society intellectually dumbed down, one where correlations are confused for causality, and where things that make sense are called true. This is tricky enough in the absence of addiction. In my addictions’ coaching work, I tell clients who are working through their addictions that they have to ‘step up’ their critical thinking immune systems even more so than others.

Therefore, in the spirit of Einstein who said, “No problem can ever be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,” following are some guidelines that may help take those living with addiction to this other, higher level of thinking. These overarching ‘natural laws’ of thinking should be at hand while digesting the brain myths I will bust over the coming weeks and months.

  • Pause then pause again. And when you think you know what “it” is talking about, pause one more time. The brain is quick to fill in gaps of knowing and without countering this with an extraordinary amount of intention, we are left not knowing really how we know something.
  • Beware of spiritual narcissism. This comes from overidentifying incidences that prove that you are doing good or underidentifying incidences that are blind spots for you.
  • Know the difference between transactional and transformational goals. The brain loves itself and has a tendency to seek ideals above and beyond reality – no matter how irrational these ideals might be. There are certain things in life that can not be broken down into a to-do list. The brain will tell you, “No way!” and put you on a nice, neat journey in that vein.
  • Embrace dialectics. Just a fancy phrase for two opposites coming together to make a more meaningful whole. The ability to do this is key in digesting and working through building an addiction-free life that calls ‘BS’ on the brain. Two examples of dialectics are:
    – Truths and wrongs are opposite yet together make for the only path of higher learning.
    – Pain gives life more meaning, and in that gives many joy.
  • Think about your thinking. Know your first-draft story about yourself, your life, your partner, your decisions in general, etc. Chances are it is wrought with half-truths that make sense to some part of your brain, but is like an MC Escher painting – if you look at it long enough, another image emerges releasing you from what you thought was true.

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