Gambling addicts and hoarders may seem like two very different groups of people. The former risks losing everything and the latter doesn’t let anything go. Although there are many different reasons why people gamble, as well as many different reasons why people hoard, a large proportion of people in both of these demographics seem to share a common problem: addiction to perceived opportunity.
Gamblers see opportunity in every bet.
According to a study of pathological gambling in the journal , “Chasing losses was associated with increased activity in cortical areas linked to incentive-motivation and an expectation of reward.” Chasing losses is widespread among gambling addicts, driving the individual toward perpetual investment in a game where they are mathematically guaranteed to lose everything over time. Although the opportunity is not real, it is the perceived opportunity keeping gamblers trapped in the downward spiral.
Hoarders see opportunity in every possession.
Many hoarders face a similar cognitive trap. In the book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, the authors present case studies of various hoarders. One common trait among many hoarders is the idea that some day their stuff will come in handy; throwing something out could mean throwing away a potential opportunity. One hoarder described her inability to discard any special offers from the mail, believing that one day the offer would be of use. Addiction to perceived opportunity keeps hoarders trapped in the downward spiral of acquiring so many trivial possessions, but lacking the ability to make any meaningful decisions regarding how to manage it all.
Opportunity addiction is a major component of FOMO.
Fear of missing out (FOMO), has recently become a popular concept. It is often discussed as a modern anxiety characterized by fearing social exclusion; but this is only part of the problem. Just like gamblers and hoarders, FOMO is a form of addiction to perceived opportunity. Think about it; compulsively checking your phone, Facebook page, or email is more of an addiction than a fear response.
Here are five ways opportunity addiction can negatively affect your career:
- Spreading yourself thin by getting involved in too many projects.
- Checking emails too often at the cost of doing focused work.
- Cluttering your desktop with documents that might be important.
- Passing out too many business cards at conferences without deeply connecting.
- Checking LinkedIn too often.
The thought of opportunity may limit your action toward actual opportunity.
Opportunities are created when you build skills that allow you to provide something of value in the world or when you connect with others who want to use your product or skill. The former is education and personal/professional development; the latter is sales/marketing. Opportunity addiction distracts us from doing the things that matter by allowing us to take an easy way out.
Holding on to the idea that we will eventually hit the career jackpot, we compulsively distract ourselves by checking messages, saving articles or offers we believe we’ll deal with later, and spamming potential contacts or customers without getting to know them or their unique needs.
Be aware of your habits.
Addiction to perceived opportunity may be an ingrained part of the human condition, but it can be overcome. Recent research in the field of Neuroscience is demonstrating that our habits can become addictions. Habits are also a key target among Cognitive-behavioral therapists who treat addictions. Among addicts, strong desire is triggered during particular daily routines, actions, or physical locations.
If you find yourself regularly squandering your time on tasks that keep you from doing the work that matters, create a plan to break the habit. Just as you would set an alarm-clock across the room to prevent your arm from habitually turning it off without you noticing, identify problematic points in your day and pre-plan an alternative way of conducting your task, bypassing situational triggers. This is distinct from anxiety treatments that slowly expose individuals to their triggers. Addicts are retraining a dysfunctional reward mechanism rather than a dysfunctional fear mechanism.
We might want to reconsider the accuracy of the “F” in FOMO. Many fixations with new forms of media seem to be based on addiction rather than fear.
Featured photo credit: addictionmodesto via addictionmodesto.com