For years I struggled with internet addiction...
Everything changed once I discovered how to overcome the core issue—what I call the "Alcoholic Working At A Bar Predicament". Today I'm not perfect, but man, I’m doing way better.
I like to tell the story of a guy called Sam.
Sam is an alcoholic—well ex-alcoholic given he’s made it a solid six days without drinking.
Today is a special day for Sam because it’s his first day at a new job. He takes the bus over, and, just before walking through the door, he decides to pause to breathe and take-in what’s written above the entrance
It reads: "White Lion." It’s his favorite pub.
That’s right. Sam is an ex-alcoholic… seeking to earn his living poring alcoholic drinks for other people.
Now the question is, is Sam successful? Does he make it through his first shift? Then the next? Then through countless more without breaking his oath to stay sober?
Well, I made up the story, so I guess it’s on me to decide.
The first thing I would do is answer the basic question: Is it possible for Sam to be successful?
It may be ridiculously unlikely, but it is technically possible to work as a bartender and avoid drinking. So, the question becomes How?
Off the bat, he should tell everyone there—the staff, the suppliers, the regulars—that he is now sober and is not to be offered alcohol under any circumstances.
Well, he can’t be all flippant about his predicament. He needs to set and stick to a set of rules, routines, and processes. He should, for example, devise strategies to deflect tipsy patrons who insist on sharing a shot; maybe rehearse a few canned-lines.
More than anything though, he needs to be there. He needs to be present in this risky environment. Present to his urges and cravings. Mindful of any triggers or rationalizations that could lead him drink.
In a word, Sam needs to be careful.
He can pull it off. But goodness knows, Sam will have to be very very careful.
So… what does this have to do with you?
Understand this: each time you sit down at a computer to do your work, you are Sam. You are attempting to do the equivalent of an alcoholic working at a bar (AWAAB).
Think about it.
Like Sam, you’re deciding to earn your living (or get that degree) in a place that’s teeming with the objects of your bad habits. With your vices.
For Sam, that place is a bar with beer on taps and liquor on shelves. For you, it’s the virtual space of your browser and phone, all with “taps” capable of delivering an endless stream of videos, feeds, and games.
Also, like Sam, this situation is entirely elective.
Sam’s choice is clearly reckless. He could just as well serve burgers and fries rather than beer and liquor; yet I could make a similar case for you. You have options that don’t require you to be online and around your vices. You could throw your phone and laptop into a river and figure out a way to work the land for food. Or, I don’t know, you could become a construction worker, a nurse, or a bus driver.
But you won’t.
You have your career interests and ambitions. You have your creative or entrepreneurial dreams. You have the positive impact you want—no *you need—*to make on this world. And it all requires the use of a laptop, phone, and a reliable internet connection. Period.
This is our generation’s predicament. Calling it “tricky” might be the understatement of the century. I’d say it’s downright menacing.
But other generations have had emerging vices before, right? From fast food to cable TV. What sets our modern tech vices apart?
It’s that the “trivial solution” isn't an option.
What I mean is that the solution is not as easy as just blocking access. You can’t just downgrade to a dumbphone and installing unremovable website blockers on your computer. Making it physically impossible to engage with your vices—as would, say, a gambler by blacklisting herself at the local casino—is just not an option.
You need it your vices. It's frustrating as heck, but you need unfettered access to tech to succeed. I know this because I’ve tried to going down the “block everything” route countless times.
It would begin with me realizing that A) I was wasting way too much time on the internet; and B) I just couldn’t rely on self-control to moderate myself. I needed to completely ban all addictive and time-gobbling streaming and social media apps and sites, at least for a while.
I’d then install website blocking software, specifically ones that were iron-clad, impossible to disable or remove. I'd set a password which would be retrievable after 30 days.
For the first few days I’d be good. Great, even. No more Netflix binges. No more evenings wasted on YouTube and Reddit.
I was a boy again in 1993, and it was forever 2pm when nothing good was on TV. I could play and draw and explore to my heart's content.
A week or so in, I’d be better than great. I'd be excellent. I’d be this new, recharged human—bursting at the seams with creative ideas, clever social media growth tactics, and a pressing need to connect and collaborate with everyone everywhere.
But there was only one problem. Everything I needed to materialize my ambitions was blocked. Without YouTube I couldn’t post any content. Without Reddit I couldn’t generate any buzz. Without Facebook and Instagram, I couldn’t advertise my business or reach out to other influencers.
It was like I figured out a way to work at my bar “successfully”, but I couldn’t make any tips—what with all the keg lines cut and liquor bottles glued shut.
It just wasn’t a sustainable solution.
So, with superhuman levels of complacency, I’d save all my documents to a USB key then reformat my devices back to factory settings, wiping away all the blocks.
What could possibly go wrong?
I’d be good, for like maybe an hour or two, until I’d rationalize a minute of Reddit… because why not? Hey, it’s not like that site has been legit ruining my life since 2007 or anything.
From there, I’d get swept into the Vice Feedback Loop (if you recall that from the Habit Reframe Method, link here) and before long I’d be bingeing like an itchy meth addict, chasing the thrill of just one more blue link.
And the cycle would repeat.
So, does that mean that website blockers are of no use? Definitely not. You just have to get it right. It took me dozens of iterations of the Habit Reframe Method, dozens of opportunities to test things out and collect data, to dialed in my webblocking system to suit my specific needs, without stifling my ability to research, create and connect.
For example, I have it so Reddit’s homepage is unreachable; ditto for all the time wasting Subreddits. But I can still access the set of subreddits I’m subscribed to like this one. This works for me. I also block YouTube.com on all my devices, but if someone shares a link with me, or if a search result yields a video URL, I can copy/paste it in video.link to I can watch it without being sucked into the algorithm.
In the grand scheme, webblockers are part of the solution—an essential tool of what I started calling my Life Management System—but it's not the solution.
This predicament, the AWAAB, or alcoholic working at a bar predicament, remains super tricky, and it's taking me all sorts of defenses to overcome, plus a ton of damage control measures with my inevitable slip-ups.
But I, and by extension you, are not powerless—we are not destined to a life of distractions, time-wasting and missed opportunities all because our vices are too damn accessible and jumbled up with what we need to be productive.
There is a way around the predicament. There is a way to manage. To get disciplined. Just like Sam has to figure out a way, you too have to just work the problem and create a system that works. For me, this starts with the low-hanging fruit of webblockers, but continues onto a set of daily routines, prompts, practices and commitments (which I’ll be sharing soon as part of a course :)).
But at the end of the day, I didn’t come up with all that because I’m some natural born productivity guru or type-A achiever. I'm not Clear nor Huberman; I’m not particularly smart or clever, or even well educated in the topic of behavioral psychology. I simply came up with my system through trial and error (oh so much error) all while applying my one rule again and again and again: to be compassionate with myself no matter what happens or what I do.
The AWAAB predicament is one hell of a problem. It’s on you to get to a systematic solution.
- Simon ㋛
Note: I also posted this to Reddit if you feel like commenting. ✌️