Ever heard of the term “destination addiction?” It’s not a true chemical or clinical addiction, rather, it’s a common cognitive trap we can all fall into. It’s the belief that once we reach a certain point, we’ll find happiness, or once we reach that next milestone, we can start living our lives. Sometimes this can show up as, “once I get that promotion, I’ll be happy,” or “as soon as I finish school things will be better.”
Often times in my office this looks like, “once I can get my anxiety under control, things will be better,” or “once my depression lightens up, I can start living again.” On the surface, these thoughts and ideas make sense. We like to think that there is a formula to life and to living. Why wouldn’t X need to be out of the way for us to reach Y? Why wouldn’t we need to have control over our anxieties and fear before we find “happiness?”
Maybe because we can never fully have these things in our control. And maybe the idea that we need “control” of these things, is adding unneeded and unrealistic pressure on ourselves? Certainly we can learn to better manage these thoughts and feelings, but they never leave us entirely.
One of my favorite concepts in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is the idea that we don’t need to challenge and replace every and all negative or unhelpful thoughts we have. Rather, we can take them with us.
We don’t need to rid ourselves of anxiety, sadness, and worry to live our lives fully. In fact, the idea of ridding ourselves of any of those emotions would in essence indicate that we weren’t “whole.” This way of thinking leads us to view our worries and fears as natural, normal, and an expected part of this weird thing called the human experience. So the idea that we can reach the destination of a life without anxiety, worry, or fear, isn’t going to get us anywhere. What if we instead asked ourselves how we can live our most fulfilling lives with the thoughts and feelings that we have now? Even if those thoughts and feelings contain worry and fear? What would change if worry and fear were no longer barriers, but simply a part of life.