Systematic behavioral change version 1, or “I am concerned at how hard I stomp scrubs in”

Video games fuck up my life.

They give me a lot of pleasure: I can play them, whooping at my victories and chuckling at my defeats, for hours at a time. But I have difficulty stopping even when I know I should, so that I find myself losing sleep or putting off important projects to play them. The pleasure I get from them disappears as soon as I disengage, and into the void rushes the awareness of all the things I put off while playing them. It feels like a crash. Having crashed and recognizing the harm I’ve done to myself loathe myself and want to forget my pain by returning to the “flow” of the games. It’s a vicious cycle.

It seems to me that my relationship with video games fits all the criteria of addiction. I have difficult limiting and abstaining from the behavior, the behavior is harmful, I experience cravings for it, and it results in dysfunctional emotional responses. This pattern of behavior and emotions occurs every time I play these games.

Well, you might ask, how is this different from other behaviors and actions I perform habitually, like meditation? The key distinction is that every minute spent playing video games makes the rest of my life more difficult, dull, grey, painful, and anemic. Meditation makes the rest of my life better. It makes it more enjoyable. Video games bring me pleasure, but meditation makes me happier.

So I want to stop playing video games. I seem to go through the cycle of slipping into them and clawing my way back out every few weeks or so, which has given me a lot of practice and experience at the process. I know what systematic actions I can take to effect behavioral change (at least for those first few weeks).

Here’s an overview of the actions I take to effect systematic behavior change:


Environmental change

Identifying, reducing triggers

Increasing activation energy

Reminders in environment


Psychological training; changing mindset


Exposure therapy/meditation

Daily readings


Improving other aspects of my life

Meaningful life activities

Replacement activities

Social time

Other stress reduction


Meaningful break

Crystallizing discontent

Meaningful goals

Ritual break


Safety net

Streak counting

Social accountability

Other consequences


This model is how I currently approach systematic behavioral change, but it will no doubt change over time. I’ll call this “version 1,” and as I explore these components in more detail over the next few weeks, we’ll see what changes I make to it.

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