Mindfulness Can Help Break Your Bad Habits
By Lucy Clark, wlr
Do you have an unhealthy habit that you’re struggling to get rid of? This habit could be anything such as smoking or over eating.
If you do, then psychiatrist Dr. Judson Brewer may be able to show you a new way of ditching those bad habits.
Judson Brewer MD PhD is a psychiatrist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and he’s advising people to become mindful about their habits and focus on how the habit really makes people feel.
Does being mindful really help you break a habit?
Brewer researched the concept of mindfulness training with a group of smokers who had tried to quit numerous times themselves, but failed. However, rather than forcing them to quit smoking he said,
“Go ahead and smoke, just be really curious about what it’s like when you do.”
What did the smokers notice?
One female participant explained how being mindful when she smoked made her really notice the smell and taste of smoking.
“Mindful smoking smells like stinky cheese and taste like chemicals, YUCK.”
This lady in particular discovered that realistically, smoking tastes disgusting as well as being bad for your health.
Moving from knowledge to wisdom
The idea of being mindful helps you move from knowledge to wisdom. You will already know that overeating or smoking is bad for your health but you won’t necessary change your actions.
Now for the science-y part behind why we continue doing things we know aren’t good for us . . .
The prefrontal cortex is the youngest part of our brain, in an evolutionary perspective, and tries its absolute hardest to change our behavior.
It tells us ‘don’t have that cigarette’ ‘don’t eat that, you know it’s not good for you’.
Sadly though, it’s the first part of our brain that goes offline when we’re stressed which isn’t helpful!
However, mindfulness helps us change that knowledge of knowing something’s not good for us, and instead becomes wisdom.
Mindful thinking helps you truly understand that a bad habit isn’t good for you and the spell of over eating or smoking is broken.
You become disenchanted with the behavior and break the spell.
It takes time
Of course, you’re not going to magically start thinking mindfully and break all your bad habits in a day, it does take time.
Being mindful will help you understand your habits on a deeper level – knowing in your heart of hearts that this behavior is not good for you.
Instead of forcing yourself not to eat something or have a cigarette, you’ll become less interested in the habit all together.
Over time we begin to see more and more clearly the result of our habits and we let go in order to form newer, healthier habits.
Get up close and personal
In order for mindful thinking to work, you need to be willing to get up close and personal with what’s actually happening in your body and mind.
You need to be curious.
Curiosity feels good, and what happens when we get curious?
We start noticing that our cravings are made up of simple body sensations like tightness, tension and restlessness.
Once we start noticing these sensations we can manage them one by one rather than a huge monster of a craving that’s difficult to ignore.
Sounds too simple?
That’s because on paper, it is really simple!
Brewer found that mindfulness training was twice as good as gold standard therapy at helping people quit smoking.
You need to understand your cravings and the body sensations you feel when a craving creeps up on you.
Okay great. So how do I think mindfully?
Once you feel a craving for a bar of chocolate for example, you start to become enchanted by the thought of eating it.
You want the chocolate and the chocolate wants you to eat it!
Instead of going straight to the fridge to grab the chocolate, instead recognise that you’re having a craving and try to follow these steps:
R – Recognise that you’re being enchanted by the thought of eating the chocolate sitting in the fridge
A – Allow/accept that you have a craving. Your craving is telling you to eat, but instead what you want to do is step back and accept the craving.
I – Investigate. Rather than pushing away your craving, think about what’s going on in your brain right now. Be curious about how you’re feeling.
N – Non identification. Note how your body is feeling as you’re having a craving, is your body tightening up, are you becoming restless?
Brewer advises following the four R.A.I.N steps in order to begin thinking mindfully.
So, recognize your craving, allow it to be there, get curious by investing and note it down.
By this point you’ll probably be thinking ‘oh, these are just body sensations that are trying to control my life’. These cravings will come and go and you don’t need to get sucked into them!
By following these steps, you’ll break the enchantment spell.
You can use the food diary and journal in Weight Loss Resources to help you through this process, try it free for 24 hours.
If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness the following links will provide you with a bigger insight into this new way of thinking.
https://themindfulnesssummit.com/sessions/mindfulness-for-addiction-judson-brewer/ - Mindfulness for Addictions: A Master class with Dr. Judson Brewer.
https://www.ted.com/talks/judson_brewer_a_simple_way_to_break_a_bad_habit/transcript#t-74676 – TED talks: A simple way to break a bad habit – Dr. Judson Brewer