How to Leverage Addictive Tendencies in Students (Part Two)

Yesterday, I wrote about appetites. We live in a day of human appetites, using words like passion, obsession and addiction more than any time in modern history. For many, addictive behaviors have become all-consuming: our culture now offers more Twelve Step Programs and Support Groups for addictions than at any point during my lifetime. It’s good that we do… but it’s sad that we need so many.

During the 19th century, author Charles Dickens wrote, “Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you’ve conquered human nature.”

The Law of Diminishing Returns

We pursue our appetites because we hunger for pleasure. We often seek it above happiness or fulfillment. We may understand happiness is a by-product of sowing the right seeds (See Mistake #3 in Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid), but our appetite demands that we have it now. So our hunt for pleasure circumvents our happiness. For example, instead of a sharp student positively influencing her peers, she lives “under the influence” of a substance, an addictive behavior, or a boyfriend.




My concern is—we have a huge population of students, loaded with leadership potential, who run the risk of becoming slaves to their appetites. At Growing Leaders, we believe the leadership journey begins with “self-leadership.” In other words, before a student tries to lead anyone else, they should learn to lead themselves. Because of our predisposition toward our “appetites,” I believe leaders should dedicate 50 percent of their time to self-leadership. When addictions and obsessions take over, our appetites became our master instead of our servant. Our potential is sabotaged, and healthy leadership is not realized.

Today, I want to reflect on how we can leverage our appetites for good. Since we are creatures of both habit and addiction, why can’t we turn those habits into behaviors that are healthy and productive? What if we simply re-directed them?

Three Truths About Our Appetites

  1. If you want to get rid of an appetite, you have to starve it, not feed it.
  2. If you want to get rid of an appetite, you must be intentional, not accidental.
  3. If you want to get rid of an appetite, you have to replace it, not ignore it.

It’s been said for years: If we tell a student to not think about pink elephants, what’s the first thing he or she is going to think about? A pink elephant. In the same way, we don’t get rid of a habit or an appetite by simply trying not to do it.

After more than three decades of teaching and leading students, I’ve concluded the only way we can curb their poor or unhealthy appetites is to re-direct those appetites. We cannot remove them; we can only replace them. We must put new ones in place of the old ones.

Building an appetite for a good habit requires:

1. Exposure

Students need to be exposed to people who practice good habits. They must see others do the very habit they desire and thereby cultivate a hunger for it. When living in San Diego, I took a group of college students I was mentoring to meet with successful business professionals on a regular basis. They saw sharp adults who practiced good habits—and developed an appetite for them. Those students reduced their partying and expanded their planning.

2. Explanation

Students need us to debrief with them why a new habit is important and what it can do for them. They need conversations that persuade them to change. I invited students to meet with me and a group of seasoned veterans who’d given up smoking, pornography, or gambling, and the conversation was incredible. It was done tastefully—and helped the students desire change.

3. Experience

Students need to actually experience new habits, even if they only try them once at first. Practice makes perfect and practice makes permanent. The student group I was mentoring began holding each other accountable to the new practices. The more success each one achieved, the more appetizing it was to continue in the new habits. We met weekly and the first third of our meetings was about reporting how we’d directed our appetites.

Ralph Sockman wrote, “Good habits, which bring our lower passions and appetites under automatic control, leave our natures free to explore the larger experiences of life. Too many of us divide and dissipate our energies in debating actions which should be taken for granted.”

Here’s to re-directing your students’ appetites.

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How to Leverage Addictive Tendencies in Students (Part Two)