3 Mental Hurdles to deal with if you want to beat gaming addiction.

If you want to overcome gaming addiction, having the right mindset will really help you take positive steps towards getting control of you gaming habits. In my opinion, there are 3 mental hurdles that prevent someone from successfully engaging in treatment or solo-recovery. In fact, if you haven’t accepted and overcome these 3 hurdles, you’re in for a tough time when attempting to quit. There are also practical tips on how to deal with these hurdles.


1st Mental Hurdle: Changing is hard. Why should I change?

It’s far easier to stick to what you are currently doing than change. We cling to the familiar and we double down on the time we invest in our life activities. Gaming addiction is the extreme end of this spectrum of gaming. Addiction means that we often do the unhealthy activity despite consequences to other life functions.

To simplify, addiction from a psychological perspective is when you repeatedly do something that causes problems in the long term. Now it’s important to truly understand and appreciate but whatever game you can’t stop playing is genuinely exciting, fun, enjoyable, and often meaningful. Now gaming probably met your short term needs in some way but it impaired the achievement of your longer-term goals. At the heart of it, that is the trade when we become addicted. The most common mistake here is to not truly get in touch with all the benefits of gaming. It’s difficult to change something we don’t fully understand. If you are going to quit gaming, it not going to happen because you’ve been tricked into doing so. Rather, you’ve made a decision that the cons outweigh the pros.

Pull out a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle and make a PROS and CONS column. Be honest with yourself, and write down all the benefits of gaming. Every single benefit.

Some examples include: “pride in my skills”, “distracts me from conflict”, “its fun”, “I’m entitled to it”, “because I can”, “because it pisses my wife off”, “I get a sense of achievement”, “it’s part of my identity” and etc.

Look at the PROS column and ask yourself

“Given all these positive reasons, why in the world would I ever stop?”

Now chances are: You feel resistance to that question, why else would you be on a gaming addiction website?


So lets look at the CONS column.

I want you to begin to identify what the costs of Gaming is to you. Every single one.

An example could be “I’ll never get a career”, “I failed my studies and etc”, “my family hates me”, “my wife is always upset at me”, “I don’t end up hanging out with my children”

I want you to examine these two sides closely and acknowledge that if you give up the PROS, you also get less of the CONS.

Be fair to yourself, when you first made the decision to game there probably wasn’t many disadvantages.

Now the situation has changed and there are probably many more cons than there are pros. Allow yourself to understand that you made rational and reasonable decisions in the past given the PROS vs CONS balance. Now here comes the moment of truth.

Are you willing to sacrifice the PROS that you identified? If that answer is yes, then you have great shot at overcoming gaming addiction. If you’re not willing to sacrifice the PROs, that’s okay, you chosen deliberately to continue to game accepting the CONs.

IMPORTANT SIDENOTE: This leads to an important point for affected loved ones. If your loved one or family member is struggling with gaming addiction, the problem could be worse due to you inadvertently reducing some of the cons that the affected love one might have. This might include giving money/credit card to play games, bringing food to their rooms and etc. We casually call this “enabling the addict”. Specifically, as an affected loved one we want to avoid increasing the PROs and decreasing the CONs, otherwise we’re making it more difficult for game addicts to decide to quit. So there might be a tough reality that you might be adding onto the problem but that’s a subject for another blog post

So the next question is: are you’re willing to accept that it requires hard work to stop or reduce your gaming and that you have to voluntarily sacrifice all the benefits which gaming has brought to you?

If it is “yes”, I would normally coach at this stage to set a little abstinence goal for a few days to get some insight the barriers to managing your gaming problem.


2nd Mental Hurdle: Feeling bad sucks. Why should I have to feel negative emotion?

It’s worth understanding how we think about addiction on a practical sense. The simplest way is to think of gaming addiction in two parts. The first part is that addictions are always a type of repeated habitual behaviour that gets stronger if we do it again. If you repeat something enough it becomes almost automatic and it also becomes a little bit more annoying to break that habit. For those suffering from gaming addiction, often the habit of turning on the PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Smartphone or etc as soon as we get home from work, from uni, after dinner is pretty common. It’s worth noting that a habit isn’t technically a problem if it is healthy in the short and the long term. No one has a problematic toothbrush routine if it protects your teeth in the short and long term. I’ve yet to treat anyone for “walks on the beach” addiction. Also its often easier to develop habits that tap into our social, pleasure, information and caloric needs.

Gaming meets 3 of the 4 needs mentioned. For those who aren’t gamers, gaming as an activity is intensely enjoyable. That is the point of it. Repeatedly playing games makes it more rewarding in a variety of ways (mastery, community, familiarity, discovery and etc). Just having a habit that is frequently repeated isn’t typically enough to warrant a visit to my practice. Most of those who game will go through phases of problematic and unproblematic, notice when it becomes problematic and self-regulate. 

There is a missing ingredient, it is when we use this habit to manage negative emotion. Now the negative emotion could be from the game itself (such as withdrawal effects that appear like anger and boredom), or it could be from outside factors such as school, work, relationships, exam and other stressors. A common example I use is the difference between having ice cream after dinner vs an ice-cream binge to cope with a bad day.  The former is a tolerable habit if repeated as compared to eating ice cream to deal with the negative emotions repeatedly. From a psychological perspective, gaming has the potential to become an addiction when it’s also used to manage negative emotion repeatedly. It is also worth noting that your negative emotions can be a result of depression or anxiety issues as well.

Clearly if you get into the habit of gaming to deal with negative emotion, this is going to be a difficult problem since life is full of negative emotions. What’s worse is that excessive gaming tends to create more conditions in which you are likely to experience these negative emotions. For example, If you have a problem gaming well it’s likely that your studies aren’t going well and that is likely to bum you out.

HARSH TRUTH: If you are an addicted gamer attempting recovery, you are going to have to work out a way to manage negative emotions. And that’s a nice way of saying: you will have to fully experience negative emotions, learn to tolerate them, accept them and ultimately create a solution that doesn’t lead to more negative emotion. It’s a tough deal to accept, because you can quite easily continue gaming so you don’t have to deal with the problem. If you are still keen, read on..


3rd Mental Hurdle. I don’t want to think about the future. What should I sacrifice gaming for?

The 3rd hurdle is a reluctance to imagine a life worth sacrificing gaming for. A lot of my clients haven’t even thought about what they would do if they could overcome the gaming problems. For a good portion of them, abstaining from gaming might mean an extra 30-40 hrs of week to reinvest into other things. I can tell you that a significant portion were afraid or anxious attempting to figure their lives out and build a vision of their future self.

In all honesty, it is simply confronting to think about your future goals precisely. This is doubly true if you feel already so disadvantaged and that so much time and energy has already been lost. Sometimes it is overwhelming to see how much work is ahead of us, and the investment required to get to where we want to be.

Imagine if you have already failed two semesters (or 8 subjects) due to your gaming problem. Quitting gaming might mean to you that you have to acknowledge your wasted efforts, time squandered, issues ignored and the idea that they have to go back and finish those semesters. I don’t blame you if you want to keep gaming if it means delaying the decision to articulate your future. However if you are still keen, then listen up.

Write down where you want to be in 3 years if you took control of your gaming. What are you doing? Who are you with? Who are you? Imagine it fully in as much detail as you can. Allow yourself to daydream and to fantasize what this life could be. Understand that you will get closer to that dream is you are able to make decisions in the moment that support that future self. This might mean sleeping at regular times, turning up to lectures and etc

In addition, it useful to write down where you would be in 3 years if you lost control of your gaming. What are you doing? Who are you with? Who are you? Imagine it fully in as much detail as you can. Allow yourself to daydream and to fantasize what this life could be. Understand that things can get worse without action.

Sometimes habits and addictions get out of control because we fall out of the practice of thinking about our future selves. The one that you aim for and will sacrifice today’s pleasures to attain. We also forget to think about the future self that has to pay for all the short-term decisions of today.

In my opinion there is an unspoken nobility in sacrificing intensely pleasurable and comfortable things for rewards that are not immediately gratifying. This is even more true, when sacrificing gaming often means having to deal with the negative emotions we have been avoiding and the problems we’ve been neglecting. Take heart, smash the 3 hurdles and take little steps towards the life without gaming addiction, it is more than worth it. Happy recovery.

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If you’re not quite ready, visit my blog and you’ll get some helpful tips for managing your addictive habits, maintaining abstinence or controlled use.

Luke Vu is a registered psychologist practising in Maroubra Junction, supporting those who struggle with substance and online addictions. Call me or send me a message today.