When an urge or craving hits, it’s important to think of managing your urges in the same way you would surf a wave…

If you’ve ever experienced an urge or craving you know that it can feel incredibly uncomfortable, even excruciating at times. Often when we aren’t paying close attention to the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations of the urges, we buy into the belief that the only way to relieve the urge or craving is to give in to the behavior.

Think of it like walking into grocery store with five year old Johnny. You’re both walking down the candy aisle and Johnny spots the colorful wrappers of candy and chocolates. He starts tugging on your sleeve and saying “Pleasssse. Can I have one? Just one? Please!” His persistence and screeching voice brings up so much discomfort in you you say “fine!” and let him pick his candy of choice. What do you think Johnny will do next time you’re both in that store? He knows, through historical experience, that with a little persistence he can get what he wants.

Urges and cravings are a lot like Johnny. They are like the nagging voice in our head that says “please, just one!” Every time we say “fine!” and give in we are reinforcing the urges and cravings. And that is how habits are formed.

It’s important to understand a few key ingredients that are true for urges and cravings. Urges will build up, crest and than subside – much like a wave! The great news is that urges typically last 15-30 minutes and not an eternity which is often what it feels like in the moment. During the duration of the urge we need to parent ourselves in order to not reinforce the behavior. It’s like walking through the aisle with Johnny and saying “No Johnny. We are not buying candy right now. Let’s go do something else.” The wonderful news is that the more we resist giving into our urges and cravings the less frequent they will appear and the quieter they become.

What to do while you’re surfing the urge?

It’s important to have a list of distraction techniques and coping skills in your back pocket to use during the urge. Remember, it’s not permanent and it will subside. Consider what you can do when you’re at home, at work or at an event that can get you through the moment without reinforcing the behavior. Here are a few ideas that may help you get started:

  • Distraction Skills: clean, read, listen to a podcast, play with a pet, take a hot shower or watch a TV show.
  • Self – Soothe: bubble bath, drink your favorite tea, burn a candle or listen to your favorite playlist
  • Improve the Moment: visualize a peaceful place, write in a gratitude journal and be your own cheerleader!

It’s important to find skills that will work for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative. And remember, urges themselves don’t predict lapsing. Feelings and behaviors never need to match!

Happy Surfing – Shine Bright!

Photo by Pierre Saladin on Unsplash