Being mindful is like pressing a pause button between the stimulus (the craving you feel or the urge to do something) and the response (i.e., your habitual behaviour). This gives you a moment to consider a different response when you are hit with that craving. We psychologists use the term ‘surfing the urge’ to describe how mindfulness can help you ‘ride out’ those strong sensations in your body without giving in to them.
- Identify your triggers
The trigger for your craving might be a time of day, particular places, people, emotions or even other behaviours that become paired together (such as having a cigarette every time you have a coffee). It can be helpful to keep a log of every time you experience the urge or the habit you’re trying to break. You should fairly quickly identify a pattern and know what your cues or triggers are.
- Choose a new reward
Once you know the trigger, it’s important to also get clear on the specifics of your rewards. If your habit is to have a sweet snack at 3pm, the reward might be the quick energy boost or satisfying your hunger or alleviating boredom. Sometimes part of the reward is social connection (gathering in the tea room at work). Once you know that your reward is, you can find other activities that will help you to achieve it that don’t involve engaging in your bad habit.
- Use repetition to your advantage
Just as your old habit started off as a conscious choice and quickly became unconscious, by repeating your new preferred activity every time you experience your trigger, the new behaviour will also start to become automatic. Eventually the new pattern will become habitual and the old associations will be suppressed.
- Remember – progress not perfection!
Habits aren’t formed overnight, nor are they broken so easily. If you expect immediate success, any slip-up can feel like a failure and send you straight back to square one. By forgiving yourself for slip-ups, you’re more likely to get back on track quickly and eventually ditch those bad habits for good.
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