In the last 4 years I have increasingly been invited to coach people with substance addiction. It has been an interesting journey and lead me to some interesting reflections and research. I see parallels between talented executives who have “behavioral addiction” and talented executives who have substance addiction.

My first revelation of working with executives is that addiction can occur in many forms. Often, it is assumed that physical dependence characterized by withdrawal symptoms is required in order for someone to be diagnosed with an addiction disorder, but the fact is that behavioral addiction can occur with all the negative consequences in a person’s life minus the physical issues faced by people who compulsively engage in drug and alcohol abuse.

It is the compulsive nature of the behavior that is often indicative of a behavioral addiction, or process addiction, in an individual. The compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community defines behavioral addiction.

Executives who engage in this negative behavioral addiction are often highly talented people who have developed their behavioral addiction because it was in some way, in the past and sometimes in the present, recognized as being positive. Often the executive finds the immediate behavior rewarding psychologically or get a “high” while engaged in the activity but may later feel guilt, remorse, or even overwhelmed by rumination on the consequences of their choices.

Unfortunately, as is common for all who struggle with addiction, people living with behavioral addictions are unable to stop engaging in the behavior for any length of time without some form of support or structured exploration. This support normally starts from one of two positions:

  1. They recognize that something is wrong but can’t quite put their finger on what it is
  2. They recognize what the addictive behavior is but once engaged in the emotional route of the behavior are unable to stop themselves until it is too late

There is an ongoing debate among experts about whether the abuse of drinking and drugs represents the development of troublesome habitual behavior or addiction.

It is worth pointing out that as human beings, we are naturally drawn to habitual patterns because repetition creates familiarity and comfort. Positive habits can even become tools of survival.

Sometimes, however, habitual behaviors take a dark turn and develop into addictions. Recovery requires that executives honestly assess their behavior and how it affects their health, relationships, job, spirituality, and life to understand the difference between habit and addiction.

To break bad habits, one really has to change ones brain. When it comes to changing behaviors – and in life, in general, you’ll have more success if you make friends with your mind and brain and put them to work for you. You can change your behavior – even those hard-to-break habits – by building alternate pathways in your brain.

Research appears to show that the more we try to change behavior the more consciousness we bring to the new “behavioral goal”. This is where we bring in our thinking, brain, and shift into our learnt pattern on how to deal with goals. We have a behavioral goal, we analyze what the new successful behavior would look like and then measure ourselves against that successful outcome.

When we fall short of the “behavioral goal” we set ourselves, we may ruminate on why we are not where we should be. This can increases our negative image of ourselves and so can further drive us in negative messaging about our progress. This at times leads us to further rumination on “why am I like this?”. This can, in turn, lead us to recall memories of moments that reinforce this negative opinion of ourselves leading us to either give up or turn away from our “behavioral goal”. It is important to point out that all these previous stages are pure rumination, thoughts and feelings, none are factual. However this additional rumination may now start being perceived as being factual. We may continue to focus on the gap between what we want and where we are, ironically leading us away from awareness of the very behavior we want to change. 

Science seems to show that in order to shift old behaviors we need to first be conscious of them in the moment. No need to focus on changing the old behavior per se, but simply be aware of it, in the moment, not try to shift it but just be with it. Turning towards the old behavior and accepting it without any “goal” in mind. It appears that by doing this, we free up the space to recognize the old behavior when it is merely a feeling in the body. This opens up the moment of choice about the behavior we want to engage in. So no need to control but nearly be aware and trust that with this awareness we will do the “right” thing.

When we performed the new “right” thing enough times, connections can be made and strengthened in the brain. As such the behavior shift will require less effort as it becomes the default pattern. However, and perhaps more importantly, it appears that this process will also open up new neurological pathways to being aware of patterns in ourselves. It appears that awareness opens up choices on how we engage with ourselves and others in the future. This in turn appears to lead to reduction in stress and corrosive behavior.

However a word of caution, the journey can be a long and hard one. Contrary to popular belief there is no easy quick fix for changing behavior. It appears that, depending on what you are changing, and on your desire to change it, defines how long it will take and how much effort needs to be invested. If you are interested in knowing more please feel free to connect with us to chat. In the meantime here is a short 4 min film of us on TF1 that highlights our work with our friends and partners at Clinic Les Alpes .

At Experiential, we offer a unique 1 year package of Unlimited Renaissance coaching take a look and if you would like to explore further why not reach out and talk to us. If you would like to share your opinions or make any comments feel free to do so here We are interested in hearing your views.