In Marketing we talk about some interesting concepts. One of them is Market Segmentation. We talk about things like geographic segments, time-based segments, and about factors that are considered predictive of behavior.
Psycho-graphics and demographics are often used, in spite of their limitations. The most predictive factor is what we call “benefits sought.” While this doesn’t predict who they are, something that makes them easier to find, it does help guide our understanding. People do hings in order to solve problems. If there was not a problem, there would be no reason to expend their resources to purchase a solution.
When searching for a solution, we consider our options. A number of factors are considered when we try to determine which f our options we will select. These are more than a simple matching of criteria. There are of course certain things that we consider to be “must haves.” These are the specs that if they are missing will cause us to stop considering the solution. Once those minimum specs have been met, we look for the solution that gives us the maximum ration of benefits for the cost.
Now, when we choose something, we necessarily deselect all of the others, including some that may have been better choices, had we understood them, and had we considered them in the first place. Over time we use heuristics to lower the search costs involved in making the decision. It takes a significant and observed difference to impel us to add a new option to our consideration set.
When it comes to finding alternatives to addictive behavior, we are often counseled to simply substitute a hymn for whatever thought it is we are trying to avoid. The theory is that if evil can be replaced by good, the problem is solved. If it were that simple, I would not be writing any of this. The suggestion presupposes that a hymn, or whatever “good” thought is used, will fill in for the unwanted thought. This universality of thought is a very poor supposition. It is similar to thinking that handing me a an allen wrench will be just as good as the socket wrench I asked for. While both can occupy the empty space in my palm, only one fulfills the need I have to tighten a specific type of bolt.
The purpose of an activity is rarely as simple as filling the time. While some may fulfill little other purpose, most are chosen for their specific benefit. Because of this, simple distraction is insufficient to keep one from returning to an unwanted activity that was selected to solve a specific emotional problem. If I start chatting with strangers online because I was disappointed that I was not able to see a friend I had expected to, singing a hymn will not necessarily resolve the disappointment that drove me to seek interaction with those I don’t know.
In order to effectively eliminate the engagement in an unwanted activity, an alternate must be found that will provide the same benefit that the unwanted activity was intended to. If the benefit is not achieved, the normal response will be to seek it out again. Just because we drive past the store we don’t want to go to does not mean that we magically have groceries in the cupboard at home. We still have to find some other means of procuring them. If we don’t we will go back to the store we wanted to avoid. Should the need go unfulfilled, it will continue to cause pain, which we will continue to attempt to assuage. It is precisely this enduring nature of pain that makes it important to understand the pain behind our addictions. It is why we must analyze our lives, even though this itself may cause us pain. If we fail to understand the underlying pain that we are seeking to relieve, we will not be able to find the alternatives to the things we want to avoid, and we will continue to ride the downward spiral of addiction ad infinitum.