Category Archives: behaviour change

unhappy making actions

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10 Things You Need to Stop Doing Today to be Happier.

 http://www.flickr.com/photos/28145073@N08/7356884872

We tend to be unconscious of behaviors that are causing pain and unnecessary suffering in our lives.

If we could just become more conscious of behaviors that are leading to the pain in our lives, we would be a lot happier. Today we can start giving up some of the things in our life that are causing this conflict.

1. Stop complaining

Don’t find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain.
~ Henry Ford

Nobody wants to be around someone who complains all the time. Yet we all do it. Instead of finding a reason to complain, look for the solution if your facing a problem. Look for something positive in your life. There’s always something positive to find in our life if we shift our focus.

2. Stop Judging

We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.
~ Paulo Coelho

Stop judging other peoples lives and focus on perfecting your own life. We spend so much time gossiping rather than working on perfecting ourselves. Focus on your own life, and how your going to perfect it.

 3. Stop avoiding your fear.

Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious.
~ Rumi

Fear is an obnoxious thing—it slows you down from finding a career you love, a romantic relationship, and pursing your dreams. Do something that makes you uncomfortable every day, in small steps, and it will dramatically alter the course of your life.

4. Stop being so hard on yourself

When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.
~ African Proverb

The biggest enemy that you face is the one inside you—this enemy criticizes, condemns, and complains. Don’t let these unconscious patterns run your life.

Come to terms with these patterns, the biggest enemy you ever have to face in the one inside of you.

5. Stop being negative

Misery loves company.
~ Anonymous

If you focus on being negative it’s going to show up everywhere in your life. It will show up in your work, relations and everything else. Shift your focus away from being so negative all the time. Find things that make you come alive!

6. Stop caring about what other people think of you

Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.
~ Lao Tzu

Every great artist, musician, political leader, ignored what people thought of them. Other people’s opinions of you, are none of your business. What people think of you should not drown out your own inner voice and inspirations.

7. Stop worrying about the small stuff

When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.
~ Winston Churchil

Think about all the unnecessary worries that go through your mind all day. We worry about why someone is not returning our emails, texts, phone calls. We worry about everything and everything.

Focus on what you can do at the present moment and not about how you can worry about the outcome.

8. Stop needing to be right all the time

The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar to new ideas. It is better to have enough ideas for some of them to be wrong than to be always right by having no ideas at all.
~ Edward De Bono

Stop needing to be right all the time, this can lead to so many unnecessary arguments. Instead of needing to be right, start working on being more open to other peoples opinion’s. Start asking more questions and become more interested in other people’s points of view. It may open a whole new dimension of life.

9. Stop blaming others

People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them.
~ George Bernard Shaw

We constantly blame everyone for all types of different things. Quit blaming other people for your circumstances. If you want to change something go out and do it! Don’t blame someone for your present day situations.

10. Stop living in the past or the future

You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.
~ Henry David Thoreau

So much of our attention is on past experiences or on how we will be in the future. Focus your mind on the present moment. We would be so much happier if we placed our attention on the present.

Editor: Lynn Hasselberger

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From Robert Piper http://monkinthecity.com/

mindfulness for healthy eating

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Change your mind to change your figure: Fed up with failed diets? A new book says the key to weight-loss is learning to think differently about food

By LOUISE ATKINSON

PUBLISHED: 22:00 GMT, 17 June 2012 | UPDATED: 22:01 GMT, 17 June 2012

Whether it’s cake, cheese, crisps or biscuits, women think about food more than 200 times a day.

From ‘I’ve been so good today I deserve a chocolate’ to ‘I’m miserable and only ice cream will make me feel better’, research shows it pops into our minds twice as often as sex does.

‘For many women, food is the first thing they think of in the morning and the effect that food has had on their bodies is the last thing they think of at night,’ says meditation expert Andy Puddicombe, author of a new book called The Headspace Diet, which claims to be able to change the way you think about food — and therefore help you lose weight — in just ten days.

According to research women think about food more than 200 times a dayAccording to research women think about food more than 200 times a day

Puddicombe believes this negative chatter, much of which is learned in childhood, developed through adolescence and reinforced in adulthood, lies at the heart of our warped relationship with food. It’s the reason we’re so often unhappy with our bodies, and why diets rarely work.

The key to changing the way we think about food lies in harnessing the power of meditation to make us more ‘mindful’. Puddicombe says we need to clear the brain of unhelpful, unhealthy messages, impulses and drives surrounding food and ‘re-set’ ourselves and our mentality.

Puddicombe’s methods are based on the concept of learning to ‘observe’ your thoughts and acknowledge them — but not act on them. Through simple exercises, he promises you can escape the tyranny of emotional cravings for food. In some cases, it’s as simple as taking a little time to think before you shop, cook and eat, or just counting to ten before putting something in your mouth.

Puddicombe says before you walk into a shop you should be clear about what you are going to buy to avoid making impulse purchasesPuddicombe says before you walk into a shop you should be clear about what you are going to buy to avoid making impulse purchases

To start with, we need to identify what type of food thinker we are. Only when we recognise and acknowledge our negative thought and related eating patterns can we begin to use mindfulness to overcome them. So what sort of food thinker are you?

THE NIBBLER

You snack, nibble and graze throughout the day — whether you’re hungry or not. You reject formal diet plans because you think your way of eating is better,  but never seem to lose weight.

THE PROBLEM: You’re constantly thinking about the next snack. You’re in danger of eating too much, too often.

THE SOLUTION: Stick to three meals a day plus two healthy snacks (such as fruit, carrot sticks or oat cakes with hummus), and eat nothing else in between.

THE GORGER

The Headspace Diet claims to be able to help you lose weight in just ten daysThe Headspace Diet claims to be able to help you lose weight in just ten days

though you are desperate to lose weight, you find yourself eating in a self-destructive way, consuming large volumes of junk food or ready meals. For you, diets never last  or work.

THE PROBLEM: This pattern is driven by emotional triggers — you gorge if you feel lonely, anxious or annoyed, but by giving in to it you’ll only perpetuate self-loathing.

THE SOLUTION: Exercise to boost your self-esteem and use mindfulness skills to train your brain to regard food as sustenance, not a reward.

THE DIET JUNKIE

Atkins, Dukan, cabbage soup — you try every new diet going. Not bothered by nutritional content, you view food (or the lack of it) as the only vehicle to weight loss so you’re constantly diet-hopping.

THE PROBLEM: The lack of nutrients in your diet puts your body in ‘protective mode’ holding on to every last ounce of fat, and leaving you feeling dissatisfied and guilty.

THE SOLUTION: Stop thinking extreme dieting will help you achieve physical perfection — it won’t. Switch to a balanced diet and smaller portions.

THE BINGER

You have steely willpower and follow strict diet rules, eating healthily 90 per cent of the time, but can swing from extreme control to a moment of madness with self-destructive high-sugar binges.

TAKE TIME TO TAKE A BREATHER

Take a breather

Calm your mind. Get into the habit of setting aside ten minutes every day for a short mind-clearing exercise: sit quietly and breathe deeply, concentrating on your breathing.

Let your mind scan your body for tension and your brain for mood — be aware of everything that comes up, but don’t make any judgments.

Focus on your breathing, allowing your mind to be free and clear. This is your treat, your chance to relax and unwind — and you’ll get better at it with practise.

With time, this has been shown to increase emotional stability (so you’re less likely to comfort eat), increase body awareness (so you’ll be quicker to notice when you’re full or not really hungry), reduce stress, cravings and boost the self-regulating and decision-making areas of the brain — making your new healthy-eating plan much more likely to work.

THE PROBLEM: Binges derail all your good intentions and can have an addictive effect. This style of eating comes with emotional baggage, often including strong feelings of guilt and shame.

THE SOLUTION: Relax your strict rules and allow yourself regular treats of ‘forbidden’ foods to stop the desire for massive binges.

THE ZOMBIE

You eat out of habit and routine, barely conscious of what goes in to your mouth. Your diet is likely to be monotonous.

THE PROBLEM: You’re likely to eat highly processed, refined foods that lack nutritional value, but give you a quick fix.

THE SOLUTION: Stop eating in front of the TV or at your desk and take the time to think about what you’re putting in your mouth. Eat good food and savour every mouthful.

THE COMFORT EATER

You eat for emotional reasons, using food to fill an emotional void and distract you from painful or difficult feelings. Food makes you feel better — but only for a while.

THE PROBLEM: You’re out of touch with your hunger signals. You deny yourself good, healthy balanced meals at the expense of processed —and calorific — foods.

THE SOLUTION: Mindfulness exercises (such as pausing for ten seconds before you eat anything to allow your mind to settle) will help you to ignore the brain chatter urging you to eat when you’re not really hungry.

NOW TRY THE CHOCOLATE MEDITATION

Switch off your phone, the radio or TV — this is your opportunity to get back in touch with the food you eat rather than feeling distracted, stressed or overwhelmed.

Concentrate on the textures, smells and even the sounds as you chop, boil and sizzle. Sit at a table, take a couple of deep breaths and appreciate the food you are eating.

Curb temptations: Get back in touch with the food you eat and you might find one piece of chocolate is enoughCurb temptations: Get back in touch with the food you eat and you might find one piece of chocolate is enough

Eat slowly, chew every mouthful fully and make sure you take note of how your mind responds to the food. When you finish, instead of jumping up, stay seated for a minute or two. It’s important to do this even when you’re having a snack, so you can apply mindfulness to everything you put in your mouth.

When eating your favourite food, enjoy it with focus.If there’s a type of food (let’s say chocolate) that you really love, but struggle to eat in moderation, try this: sit quietly without distractions and think about the chocolate in front of you.

Notice how you’re feeling, pause, then slowly unwrap it and take a minute to explore it with your eyes, nose and hands and notice whether your emotions change. Put a small piece in your mouth — don’t chew! Notice the temperature and texture and savour it. This way you’ll derive more satisfaction from smaller quantities — and you may find that one piece is enough.

MAKE A LIST TO RESIST CRAVINGS

Clear your cupboards of anything that may conflict with your goals. Then write a list of healthy foods you enjoy. Before you walk into a shop, be clear you are going to buy only from the list — so no impulse purchases.

Every time you pick up something, ask yourself: ‘Is this going to help me achieve my ideal size, shape, and weight?’ If you get distracted by a craving, chose a neutral place of focus (your feet, your palms resting on the shopping trolley) and breathe deeply.

Before leaving the store, pause briefly and pat yourself on the back for making good food choices — this affirmation will seal the new neural pathways you have created  by making these different decisions.

THE HEADSPACE DIET: 10 Days To Finding Your Ideal Weight by Andy Puddicombe (Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99).

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2160660/Change-mind-change-figure.html#ixzz1y8Ti1Ail

create your own luck

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How to create your own luck

By Astha Gupta First published: April 13th, 2012

 How to create your own luck
Is luck random, or can we cultivate our own good fortune? Discover how “lucky” people tick.

You’ve heard the phrase, “being in the right place at the right time”? Is that you? If not, read on to find out how you too can create your own luck…

It’s all in the mind

“You can instantly become luckier by simply believing that you are (even if you have to fake it til you make it!),” says Denise Duffield-Thomas, author of Lucky Bitch: A Guide for Exceptional Women to Create Outrageous Success, $14.99, (Create Space). There is no coincidence in the lives of people who consider themselves lucky.

Everything that happens to them, they see it as proof they are celestially blessed which sets up a chain of self-fulfilling outcomes.

Create your own damn luck

If only you’d win a lottery… Well, don’t wait for something to fall into your lap. Instead believe the whole world is conspiring to help you achieve your dreams.

“You’ll have a higher success rate by simply trying more,” says Duffield-Thomas.

Celebrate every single win

Have you ever found a small coin in the street or scored a free coffee? How did you react afterwards? Did you smile, celebrate and thank your stars for your good fortune? If not, start now, advises Duffield-Thomas. Acknowledging every success creates a positive anchor in your mind and is another piece of “evidence” that proves you’re a lucky person.

Be the 1%

Take out your diary and start writing what you wish to achieve this week, this month, this year and in the next five years.

“Regular goal setting keeps you positive and trains your brain to search for corresponding opportunities,” says Duffield-Thomas. “Very few people have concrete, written goals beyond the New Year, so writing down your goals daily puts you in the top 1% of the population.”

Share wisely

Share your goals often because someone in your network could send an exciting opportunity your way, but learn to weed out the negative voices that tell you ‘your dreams are unrealistic’.

Act “as if”

Go and test drive your dream car, visit open-houses on the weekend and mark your calendar as if the dream trip is already a reality. This isn’t delusional wishful thinking; you’re preparing your subconscious for the real thing.

You deserve it

“The Universe will only treat you the way you treat yourself,” says Duffield-Thomas. So take out that special china or wear your favourite perfume every day setting up a clear message that you deserve the best.

Relax

Taking time to recharge and let your brain chill out gives you more energy to focus on future dreams instead of the stressful minutiae of daily life. Once you are focussed, you will have better ideas and results will flow.

Brainwash yourself

Duffield-Thomas’ final word of advice, “Watch your language and replace negative thoughts like ‘It never works for me’ with a daily affirmation of ‘I’m so lucky!’” Positive reinforcements do work. Try it.

trigger – routine – reward

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Yes you can break that cake habit: Can’t survive the day without a sweet treat? A new book says kicking bad habits is easier than you think

By JANE MULKERRINS

PUBLISHED: 21:31 GMT, 8 April 2012 | UPDATED: 21:31 GMT, 8 April 2012

Most of the choices we make each day — from the way we tie our shoes and brush our teeth, to the route we take to work and the coffee we buy when we arrive there — may feel like the products of well-considered decision-making but, in reality, they are habits.

In fact, research has shown that more than 40 per cent of the daily actions we perform aren’t conscious decisions.

And even though each habit means little on its own, over time the snacks we eat, whether we smoke, drink, exercise, spend or save, as well as our work routines have a huge impact on our productivity, financial security, health and happiness.

Food for thought: Research has shown that more than 40 per cent of the daily actions we perform aren¿t conscious decisions and are purely out of habitFood for thought: Research has shown that more than 40 per cent of the daily actions we perform aren¿t conscious decisions and are purely out of habit

But while most of the time we know if we’ve developed a bad habit, it can prove almost impossible to break. No matter how many times you say you’ll give up smoking tomorrow or even just skip that afternoon chocolate bar, when it comes to the crunch, good intentions fly out of the window.

However, it doesn’t need to be like that, says investigative reporter Charles Duhigg. His new book The Power Of Habit: Why We Do What We Do And How To Change promises to be the key to help us break our bad behaviour patterns.

Duhigg uses the example of a 34-year-old woman called Lisa Allen, who had been smoking and drinking since she was 16 and had struggled with obesity for most of her life. In her 20s, she’d amassed £7,500 in debts and her longest job had lasted less than a year.

Charles Duhigg's new book promises to be the key to help us break our bad behaviour patternsCharles Duhigg’s new book promises to be the key to help us break our bad behaviour patterns

Three years later, however, she’d given up cigarettes and alcohol, lost more than 4st and run a marathon. She’d also begun a masters degree and bought a home. So, how had she managed to change her life in such a short space of time? Incredibly, reveals Duhigg, it all began with her deciding to drop just one of her bad habits — smoking.

Lisa’s marriage had broken down and, after much wallowing, she booked a flight to Cairo, a city she’d always wanted to visit. While in Egypt, she decided she wanted to go trekking, but was seriously out of shape. So Lisa vowed to give herself a year to prepare — a year in which she would need to give up smoking to be healthier.

Over the next six months, Lisa replaced smoking with jogging. In turn, this simple change altered how she ate, work and slept. That small decision in Cairo — the conviction that she had to give up smoking to accomplish her goal — had sparked off a series of changes that radiated to other parts of her life.

When scientists studied her brain in a series of scans, they found something remarkable. One set of neurological patterns — her old habits — was being overridden by new patterns. The researchers could still see the neural activity of her old behaviours, but those impulses were being pushed out by the new urges. As Lisa’s habits were changing, so was the physiology of her brain. Lisa’s scans showed she hadn’t lost the urge to overeat. When her eyes saw food, the areas in the brain that control cravings and hunger still responded. But over the year, activity in the area where self-discipline starts had become more active. All of which means that, like Lisa, it is possible for us to learn how to banish bad habits.

HOW HABITS ARE FORMED

They emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort, say scientists. Our brain converts sequences of actions into automatic routines, known as ‘chunking’. This process is at the root of how habits form. We rely on dozens, if not hundreds, of behavioural chunks every day. Some are simple: squeezing toothpaste on to a brush before putting it into your mouth. Others, such as making lunch, are a little more complex.

THE THREE-STEP LOOP

Habits are created by a three-step process or ‘loop’. First comes a trigger that cues the brain to go into automatic mode to choose which habit to use — anything from a smell, a place, a time of day, an emotion, or the company of certain people can start it off.

Next comes the routine. It can be something physical, mental or emotional, and range from an extremely simple action to something complex, from eating, drinking or smoking to putting on the kettle. Finally, there comes a reward that helps the brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. This could be the feeling that alcohol, food or nicotine induces, or an emotional pay-off, such as a sense of pride or achievement.

Over time, this loop — cue-routine-reward — becomes increasingly automatic, and the cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation emerges. Just the sight of cigarettes, for example, is enough for the brain to crave a nicotine rush. If it doesn’t arrive, the craving grows, until the smoker reaches, unthinkingly, for a cigarette.

HOW TO BREAK FREE – FOR EVER!

  • Identify the routine: Say you have an afternoon biscuit habit you’d like to break. The routine involves getting up, walking from your desk to the canteen, buying a biscuit and eating it while chatting to colleagues.
  • Experiment with rewards: What’s the reward for your biscuit habit? Is it really about hunger or low blood sugar levels? More likely is that you’re seeking a temporary distraction or an urge for human contact. Try out new ways to get those rewards — buy an apple instead or have a coffee. Instead of going to the canteen, talk to a friend at their desk. Fifteen minutes later, ask yourself if you’re still craving a biscuit.
  • Isolate the cue: When you get the craving to eat biscuits, where are you, what time is it, who is around you and what preceded the urge?
  • Have a plan: Having identified the urge, isolated the cue and worked on a new reward, you have figured out the habit loop. Now replace eating a biscuit with another action. If you repeat new routines for long enough, in time they will become the habit.

GOOD AND BAD HABITS ARE EQUAL

Habits never really disappear — they are encoded into the structures of our brain. Once we develop a habit of opening a bottle of wine when the children go to bed or snacking on biscuits mid-afternoon, those patterns always remain inside our heads. So far as the brain is concerned, it doesn’t matter if these habits are good for us or bad. In fact, it can’t tell the difference. All that matters is that a loop of behaviour has been formed that brings a reliable reward.

By the same rule, however, if we learn to create new neurological routines to replace unhelpful behaviours — if we take control of the habit loop — we can force those bad tendencies into the background, just as Lisa Allen did after her trip to Cairo.Once someone replaces a bad pattern with a good pattern, studies show the healthy habit — be it drinking tea instead of wine or rejecting the biscuits — can become as automatic as any other habit.

HABITS ARE POWERFUL BUT DELICATE

Studies indicate that families don’t intend to eat fast food on a regular basis. But driving home after a long day when the children are starving, it’s tempting to stop at McDonald’s or Burger King ‘just this once’. But what happens is that this behaviour slowly becomes once a week, then twice a week — until a family is consuming an unhealthy amount of fast food.

When researchers tried to understand families’ behaviour, they found a series of cues and rewards. Every branch of McDonald’s, for instance, looks the same — it deliberately tries to standardise the architecture and what employees say to customers so everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines. Even these powerful habits are delicate, though. When a fast food restaurant closes down, disrupting the habit loops of its customers, families that previously ate there will often start having dinner at home.

CREATING A NEW CRAVING

If you want to develop a new, positive habit, perhaps running each morning, it’s essential you choose a simple cue — such as leaving your trainers and running clothes next to the bed the night before. You also need a clear reward — perhaps charting how far you have run or luxuriating in the shower as the neurochemicals released by exercise flood your body with wellbeing. But studies have also shown that cues and rewards on their own aren’t enough for new habits to last.

Only when your brain starts expecting the reward — craving the endorphins or the sense of accomplishment — will it become a habit to lace up your trainers each morning. In other words, as well as triggering a routine, the cue must also create an expectation of a reward.

To kick-start the process, you can bolt on an even more attractive reward: a small piece of chocolate or a big breakfast when you finish your run. Extra food might seem a counterproductive reward for exercise if your aim is to lose weight. But the goal here is to train your brain to associate a cue (running gear by the bed) with a routine (going out for a run) and a reward (chocolate!). In time — maybe weeks, maybe months — your brain will so closely associate exercise with a sense of reward that you won’t need the chocolate; it will just focus on the feelgood neurochemicals released by exercise.

LEARNING A NEW LOOP

We can learn new habits but we can never truly extinguish the old ones. To change a habit, you must strive to replicate the good feelings you get from bad patterns by swapping the bad pattern with a good one. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous asks alcoholics to identify the rewards they get from drinking — it’s often escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties and emotional release. The physical effects of drinking are usually far down the list.

In order to offer alcoholics the same rewards they get at a pub, AA builds a series of meetings and companionship to offer as much escape, distraction and catharsis as a night out drinking would. It creates new patterns for what to do each night instead of hitting the bottle, inserting new routines into old habit loops.

So, if you want to stop eating biscuits in the afternoon, identify your cue and your reward. Is the reward you are seeking to satisfy hunger? Or is it actually to alleviate boredom? If the latter, you can easily find another routine, such as taking a quick walk or seeking out a colleague for a chat.
Change can happen. Alcoholics can stop drinking, smokers can stop puffing, you can stop biting your nails or eating biscuits every afternoon. But there’s one more vital ingredient in changing a habit — belief. For habits to permanently change, we must believe that long-term change is possible. Start believing today!

The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg (William Heinemann, £12.99). To order a copy for £10.99 (including p&p), tel: 0843 382 0000.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2126924/Yes-break-cake-habit-Can-t-survive-day-sweet-treat-A-new-book-says-kicking-bad-habits-easier-think.html#ixzz1rXCRCdkE

self control urge surfing

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In my new book The Willpower Instinct, I describe one of my favorite studies of self-control. I call it the “torture experiment.” It reveals how mindfulness can help us break free from even the most difficult habits.

Sarah Bowen, a research scientist in the Addictive Behaviors Research Center at the University of Washington, invited smokers who wanted to quit to participate in a study. Each brought an unopened pack of their favorite brand of cigarettes. When the smokers were all there, Bowen seated them around a long table. Then the torture began.

“Take out your pack and look at it,” Bowen instructed. They did. “Now remove the cellophane,” she commanded. “Now open the pack.” She walked the smokers through each step, from breathing in the first smell of the opened pack to pulling out a cigarette, holding it, looking at it, and smelling it. Putting it in their mouth. Taking out a lighter. Bringing the lighter to the cigarette without igniting it. At each step, she forced participants to stop and wait for several minutes.

Bowen wasn’t enjoying the smokers’ agony; her real aim was to investigate whether mindfulness can help smokers resist cravings.

Before the torture test, half of the smokers had received a brief training in a technique called “surfing the urge.” [Click here to listen to Bowen talk about the technique.] Bowen explained to the smokers that urges always pass eventually, whether or not you give in to them. When they felt a strong craving, they should imagine the urge as a wave in the ocean. It would build in intensity, but ultimately crash and dissolve. The smokers were to picture themselves riding the wave, not fighting it but also not giving in to it. They were instructed to pay close attention to the urge to smoke, without trying to change it or get rid of it. What thoughts were going through their mind? What did the urge feel like in the body?

An hour and a half later, after being fully put through the wringer, all of the smokers were released from Bowen’s torture chamber. She didn’t ask them to cut back on cigarettes, and she didn’t even encourage them to use the surfing-the-urge technique in everyday life. But Bowen did give ask them to keep track of how many cigarettes they smoked each day for the following week, along with their daily mood and urges to smoke.

For the first 24 hours, there was no difference in number of cigarettes smoked by the two groups. But starting with the second day, the surfing-the-urge group smoked fewer cigarettes. By day seven, the control group showed no change, but those surfing the urge had cut back 37 percent. Surprisingly, for smokers who had learned to surf the urge, stress no longer automatically led to lighting up.

A new study sheds some light on what’s happening in the brain when we apply mindfulness to tempation. This study recruited 47 smokers who wanted to quit, and asked them to abstain from smoking for 12 hours before the experiment. The researchers taught the participants basic principles of mindful attention—like in Bowen’s study, it was a very quick and simple “intervention,” no formal meditation training required.

The researchers then showed the smokers smoking-related images designed to induce cravings. For some images, the smokers were asked to view them passively, without any special mindfulness to their experience; for other images, they were asked to view them mindfully. They also asked smokers to report any cravings they were experiencing. All the while, the researchers were watching what was happening in each smoker’s, tracking brain activity using a functional magnetic resonance imagine machine.

First, the self-report: mindfulness reduced cravings. It’s counter-intuitive, because research has conclusively shown that images trigger strong cravings in smokers. But mindfulness seems to provide some kind of inoculation to the images.

The reduced cravings correlated with reduced activity in craving-related areas of the brain (e.g. the anterior cingulate cortex). Interestingly, mindfulness didn’t just reduce activity; it functionally disconnected the different regions of the brain that make up the “craving network.”

The experience of a strong craving is the product of several brain areas co-activating: regions that make you make you focus on the object of the craving; regions that create the mixed feelings of desire (anticipating the pleasure of reward, while also experiencing the pain and stress of not yet having what you want), and regions that motivate action to get what you want.

Paying mindful attention to the trigger of the craving interrupted this complex brain response, and ultimately protected smokers from their own desire.

It’s likely that this process can help all sorts of temptation and addiction, from food cravings to shopping addiction, substance abuse, and Internet porn. Want to get started? Researcher (aka torturer of smokers) Sarah Bowen leads you through the practice of surfing the urge (click to stream audio, or right-click/control-click and “save file as” to download MP3).


Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist at Stanford University. Her latest book, which is full of strategies for mindful and self-compassionate change, is The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It.

Studies referenced:

1. Bowen S, Marlatt A (2009). Surfing the urge: brief mindfulness-based intervention for college student smokers. Psychol Addict Behav, 23(4):666-71.
2. Westbrook C, Creswell JD, Tabibnia G, Julson E, Kober H, Tindle HA (2011). Mindful attention reduces neural and self-reporte