Have you ever thought about how a bad habit gets started? You can blame the neural wiring and chemistry we share with all animals. When we do something that feels good in the moment, we remember it and are likely to repeat that action. But “feels good” doesn’t always translate into “good for you.” How can you conquer your cravings?
Addiction can be defined as “continued use despite adverse consequences.” By this definition, there are quite a few things we may be addicted to, including Good & Plenty or Gummy Worms candy. In addition to the obvious (tobacco, coffee, alcohol), there are behaviors like texting or anxiety that might not seem addictive but can become unhelahty. To change these habits, we need to pay attention to how the loop of trigger-behavior-reward works for us.
Employing mindfulness just as you might use it during meditation can be useful. If you have ever tried to meditate, you know how hard it can be to keep your thoughts from wandering off. And perhaps you have been advised to recognize that detour, accept it, pay attention to how it feels and note what is happening from moment to moment. Recognizing the trigger, the behavior and how the reward actually feels can help you identify what you persist in doing despite adverse consequences. This type of mindfulness can also help you conquer your cravings and change your behavior.
If you want to change your behavior, you need to figure out how to change the way you react to the trigger. But first, you need to change the reward, and you need to make yourself a bigger, better offer. Can you substitute curiosity about how you are feeling and how that changes moment to moment for your craving? Mindfulness can help you bring your attention to the present without being judgmental.
To learn more about how to manage anxiety, you may wish to visit the website UnwindingAnxiety.com. Dr. Brewer’s app for people with disordered eating is Eat Right Now. And you’ll find more evidence-based resources at JudsonBrewer.com.
Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, is an internationally known thought leader in the field of habit change and the “science of self-mastery.” His 20 years of experience with mindfulness training enhanced his scientific research. He is the Director of Research and Innovation at Brown University’s Mindfulness Center and associate professor of psychiatry at the Medical School. Dr. Brewer has developed novel mindfulness programs for habit change, including smoking, stress eating, and anxiety (e.g. www.goeatrightnow.com, www.unwindinganxiety.com), and has studied their underlying brain mechanisms. His work has been featured on "60 Minutes," at TED.com (4th most viewed talk of 2016 with over 10 million views), in Time magazine, Forbes, NPR and the BBC among others. His website is www.judsonbrewer.com