Why we get addicted (and how to change it)

christina canters why we get addicted day 25

You know why Crossfitters can’t stop talking about Crossfit? It’s because we’re addicted. Here’s why.

When I was at ‘Unleash the Power Within’, the Tony Robbins seminar, I learned that we all have six basic human needs. These needs are behind why we do what we do, whether it’s positive or negative.

The 6 human needs are:

  • Certainty: our need to know the end result; to be certain about the future. For example, a stable job gives you certainty with your income. It’s why we eat the same foods over and over — we’re certain they’re gonna taste good.
  • Variety: too much certainty means we get bored, so we also need variety in our life. It’s why we try new things, go travelling, etc.
  • Significance: everyone has a need to feel important. Actors, singers and other performers generally have a high craving for significance.
  • Growth: we have a need to learn and extend ourselves. It’s why we keep educating ourselves, it’s why we feel good when we learn a new skill, get promoted, etc.
  • Connection/love: connection to other humans. Can be as simple as a smile or a hug!
  • Contribution: giving back. It’s why we do favours for each other, it’s why people volunteer or donate to causes. we feel good when we are of service and contribute to others.

Everything we do, we do because it meets at least one of these needs. For example, if you love going to the movies, you might do it because you love the variety of the films they show, but you’re also certain you’re going to have an entertaining couple of hours. Plus, you get to connect with the people you go with.

It also works with the negative things in our life. Think about it — you might be in a job that you hate, but you stick with it because it gives you income certainty, or maybe you’re in a high position so you also have significance. 

According to Robbins, when a certain thing we do meets 3 or more of these needs, it becomes addictive.

For example, if you’re addicted to junk food, you’re likely addicted because:

  1. You’re certain you’re gonna love the taste of it. Mmm, ice cream is so good…
  2. There’s so much variety with what you can eat! So many ice cream flavours!
  3. How great is it when you get to connect with your friends over a delicious ice cream feast! (If you’re the only one not eating ice cream, there’s an immediate disconnect between you and the group, no? That’s why it’s so hard to say no when everyone else is doing it)

I’ve since realised it’s why I’m addicted to Crossfit.

And I’m pretty sure the founders of Crossfit figured this out too. Here’s why:

  1. Crossfit give me certainty. I know the classes will go for exactly an hour, and they run 6 days a week without fail. I’m certain it’s gonna be painful…but I’m also certain I’ll feel awesome after.
  2. Every day we do a different workout, which adds the element of variety. I get bored very easily. I definitely couldn’t deal with the same workout every day (like Bikram yoga).
  3. When I’m working out and my friends are cheering me on, I feel significant. When the coaches compliment me or say “well done”, I feel significant. When my workout partner hi-fives me at the end, I feel significant.
  4. I’m constantly growing. We measure our progress, and every week I get stronger. Not only that, I’m learning about how my body works as well as having a positive mindset. Growth is a huge one.
  5. Training with other people? Of course you’re gonna have connection. You can’t help but feel special when you walk into the gym and people know your name, ask about your day and are genuinely interested in what you’re up to.
  6. Helping newbies out in the classes also makes me feel like I’m contributing to someone else’s growth.

So there you go. Crossfit meets ALL of the six human needs, which makes it dangerously addictive. It’s why I keep coming back to it. And it’s why it’s ruined traditional gyms for me.

What does this mean for you?

Now, we all do things that meet all six needs. Unfortunately, if we don’t know how to meet those needs in a positive way, we often do negative things instead, whether it’s smoking, overeating, over drinking, procrastinating, committing crimes, being violent, staying in an abusive relationship or shitty job, etc.

Take a misbehaving child. When she screams, she gets attention, and therefore feels significant. If she doesn’t receive positive attention when she behaves, she associates negative attention with feeling significant. So when she grows up, she plays up at school, steals things and gets in trouble — because getting attention in a negative way is the only way she knows to feel significant. Does that make sense?

So if you want to change something in your life, whether it’s a bad habit, negative behaviour or a bad relationship/job, think about the needs that thing is meeting.

Does it make you feel significant? Does it give you connection with others? Is it certain and predictable, even if it’s predictably bad? Once you’re aware of this, think about what positive activity, habit or behaviour you could replace it with.

And here’s the important part: that new thing must also meet the same needs as the old thing.

I once stopped doing Crossfit because I wanted to try pole dancing for a couple of months. Doing pole was fun, it had a lot of variety, I experienced a lot of growth, but I didn’t have the same level of connection at all. Plus, they would cancel the classes last minute, which meant it didn’t meet my need for certainty. So after my eight weeks away, I was back at Crossfit.

I strongly encourage you to think about how you meet your six human needs. Not only will it help you to change your bad habits and addictions, it will also help you to try new things that meet your needs in a positive way. And that’s an excellent start to living a happy, fulfilled life 🙂