Not all addictions are hugely self-destructive ones like narcotics or smoking. Many of us are constantly craving something, whether it’s a bet, unhealthy food or just that buzz when one of our social media posts gets liked. And when this becomes a habit, it can affect our productivity, our health and our relationships.
When psychiatrist Dr Judson Brewer set up a pilot study to see if mindfulness could help people quit smoking, he hoped it might prove as effective as the American Lung Association’s tried-and-tested methods. The results surprised even him: subjects who used mindfulness gave up at twice the rate as those using the established approach – and they proved more likely to stay smoke-free.
Mindfulness, simply put, is the state of being highly aware of what’s happening, and you can use it to figure out when cravings are triggered, how they make you feel and how you can break the habit loops that cause them to happen repeatedly.
One of the key mindfulness techniques is a four-stage procedure that Brewer calls RAIN (recognise, accept, investigate, note) and it can be applied to any addiction, helping you put a stop to damaging habits once and for all.
When you feel your craving come on, focus on it and recognise it for what it is, whether that’s the compulsion to raid the fridge, check the odds of the Man City vs Chelsea game or see if your Instagram post has reached 50 likes yet.
Allow the craving to be there. Don’t ignore it, distract yourself or try to do something about it. This is your experience. Find a way to acknowledge your acceptance – this could be a word or a phrase (“I consent”, “Here we go”) or a simple nod of the head.
To catch the wave of wanting, you have to study it carefully, investigating it as it builds. Do this by asking, “What does my body feel like right now?” Don’t go looking. See what arises most prominently. Let it come to you.
Make a note of the experience. Keep it simple: thinking, rising sensation, restlessness in stomach. Follow it until it subsides. This stage is also known as “Non-identification” because when we become aware of an object, we no longer identify with it as much.
The Craving Mind: From Cigarettes To Smartphones To Love – Why We Get Hooked And How We Can Break Bad Habits by Judson Brewer is out now, RRP £16.99 (Yale University Press). Buy on amazon.co.uk