Developing Awareness to Overcome Craving and Addiction

In an earlier blog post, I discussed how cravings are formed and how mindfulness breaks the link between addictive behaviour and perceived rewards, drawing on the work of Jud Brewer. author of The Craving Mind: Why We Get Hooked and How We Can Break Bad Habits. In a subsequent post, I discussed barriers to sustaining mindfulness practice and a four-step mindfulness practice for overcoming cravings and addictions.

In a recent presentation on the Brain Change Summit hosted by Sounds True, Jud elaborated further on how mindfulness breaks the “habit loop” of craving and addiction. He spoke of the “wedge of awareness” that mindfulness drives between a trigger (such as stress or negative emotion) and our habituated reactivity. He explained that mindfulness effectively disrupts the reward-based learning that is embedded in the craving/addiction cycle. In his view, mindfulness progressively establishes three different levels of awareness which he calls the “three gears of awareness”.

The three gears of awareness

Research undertaken by Jud and his colleagues demonstrates that if people are able to sustain meditation practice, they can realise a deepening level of inner awareness that breaks down the trigger-reward cycle involved in craving and addiction. Jud describes this progression in awareness in terms of three gears that release the power and potentiality of a person by enabling them to “move up a gear” – effectively changing the relationship between a trigger and the behavioural response. The three gears of awareness developed through mindfulness can be explained as follows:

  1. First gear: awareness of a “habit loop” – becoming conscious of the connection between a trigger, a behaviour and a reward that underlies a specific craving or addiction. The first step to breaking a habit is understanding how it is formed.
  2. Second gear: disillusionment with the reward – becoming aware that the “reward” does not work. For example, being mindful of your bodily sensations (taste, smell, touch) as you have a cigarette can make you realise how “disgusting” the cigarettes are. One respondent in a relevant mindfulness research project said (after paying attention to her bodily sensations when smoking), that her cigarette “smells like stinking cheese and tastes like chemicals”.
  3. Third gear: breaking free of the “caught up-ness” of the habit loop – works through a process of substitution of a better and higher reward. Through mindfulness you access your natural capacity to be “curious” – to observe and explore your emotions and reactions and name your feelings. Curiosity without habituated reactivity leads to a sense of expansiveness, peace of mind and equanimity – a higher level reward than flight behaviour. Jud suggests that R.A.I.N. meditation, breathing into strong emotions and loving kindness meditation can activate this third gear.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation we can become aware of the habit loop reinforcing our craving or addiction, re-evaluate the rewards inherent in our habituated responses and begin to experience the freedom and peace which comes from the ability to be curious about our inner world, while being reaction-free.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Leading with Mindful Pauses

Janice Marturano, Founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership, suggests that to be an excellent leader we need to develop the habit of adding purposeful pauses to our daily activity. Janice reminds us that we spend so much of our day on “autopilot” – unaware of our words and actions and their impact on others. We can be consumed by activity and become oblivious of our lack of congruence – the failure to align our words and actions with what creates meaning in our lives.

Benefits of mindful pauses

Mindful pauses enable us to free ourselves from the endless, captive busyness of work life. They provide the silence and stillness to free up our creativity and develop our expansiveness. In the process, we can increase our self-awareness, improve our self-regulation and begin to identify the negative impacts of our words and behaviour.

Janice argues that a key consequence of purposeful pauses is that we are better able to be fully present and this impacts very positively on others around us, particularly when we are in a leadership role. She suggests that being present “communicates respect, true collaboration and caring”. People readily notice when we are truly present or when we are absent-minded.

Ways to add mindful pauses to your daily work life

Janice suggests three steps to integrate purposeful pauses into your daily work life:

  1. Choose an activity that you do daily, e.g. walking to the photocopy machine, going to the coffee machine or accessing your email.
  2. Be fully present for the activity – be really aware of what you are doing and pay full attention to the task. You could employ mindful walking if that is relevant or just stop and pause and form a mindful intention before engaging in the task, e.g. before reading your email. The essential element is to focus on what you are doing, not being distracted by anything else.
  3. Bring your wandering mind back to your task non-judgmentally – it is only natural for your mind to wander and become absorbed in planning, evaluating or critiquing. Conscious re-focusing trains your mind to recognise how often your are not really present and builds your capacity, over time, to deepen your focus. If you adopt a non-judgmental attitude to your tendency to wander off task, you can also develop self-compassion which strengthens your capacity to be compassionate towards others.

Janice notes that by tying your mindful pauses to an already-established activity, you are not adding anything onerous to your working day. The ease of adopting this practice makes it more sustainable. In another article, Janice offers advice on five ways to find time to pause in your everyday life.

As we grow in mindfulness through mindful practices such as purposeful pauses at work, we heighten our self-awareness, strengthen our self-regulation and increase the positive impact of our presence as a leader.

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Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Saying “Yes” to What We Are Feeling Now

Tara Brach highlights the fact that we spend a lot of our time in a belief trance, lost in thought and focused on going somewhere – looking towards what is coming up in the future. We overlook the present which is the real source of happiness, creativity and calm. She tells the story of the Dalai Lama being interviewed and being asked “What is the happiest moment of your life?” He responded, after a thoughtful moment, “Now”.

Tara suggests that we are strongly conditioned to not be present but to be “on our way to somewhere else”. We view some future moment as the most important in our life when the present moment is really the most important – it is what really matters. This leads to an honest inquiry, “What is it that takes us away from the present?” We can check in on ourselves as each day progresses and become more aware of what is consuming our thoughts.

What is going on for us in our virtual reality?

Tara points out that we are effectively living in a “virtual reality” – disconnected from our senses and the world around us as we become totally absorbed in our thoughts. Underlying this state of “lost in thought” are our embedded wants and fears – what we think we want and what we fear . We become preoccupied with the thought that something is not quite right, that something that should be here is missing. Invariably, this leads to the conclusion that there is “something wrong with our self”.

This preoccupation with deficit in our life leads to a sense of unworthiness. Tara maintains that meditation is a way to wake up from this preoccupation with negative self-evaluation. She explains that meditation has two “wings” – the awareness wing that notices what is going on for us and the kindness wing that treats us with self-compassion. In the final analysis, meditation leads us to accept ourselves non-judgmentally.

A guided meditation – coming home to “yes’

Tara provides a guided practice which she calls, Coming Home to Yes. After becoming grounded through your breathing, you are encouraged to focus on a conflict that is current in your life that generates “difficult emotions”, but that is not overly dramatic. The practice involves exploring the two wings of meditation – awareness and self-compassion.

The focal situation needs to be something that created strong negative emotions such as resentment or envy or that resulted in your acting in a way that you wished you hadn’t – that led to some regret. The meditation involves visualising the catalytic situation and revisiting the strong emotions generated – experiencing them in their full depth and breadth.

When you are able to name your feelings, you can focus on the nature of your reactivity – is it reflected in fight, flight or freezing? Tara encourages you to notice what you are doing when you are trying to resume control – to prevent the reactivity by saying “no” to your emotions, disowning them because they make you feel “less”. You can sense the “no” in your body, mind and heart – opening to the very real experience of your resistance to these negative emotions.

After interrupting the reflective process with a few deep breaths, you can revisit the situation, the triggers, the emotions and instead of saying “no”, you can say “yes” – letting the strong negative emotions “just be”, not denying or acting on them. This gives yourself permission to own these feelings – to allow what is. It does not mean that you automatically accept the actions of the other person, but that you allow yourself to feel anger or hurt, to be real in the situation. You can sense the experience of “yes” in your body so that you can revisit this sensation when a situation in the future engenders strong negative emotions. As Tara points out, in the process you are experiencing the two wings of meditation, awareness and self-compassion.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection on our strong negative emotions, we can learn to own the emotions rather than denying them or acting on them. We can say “yes” to their existence.

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Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Stop Complaining and Whinging: A Mindfulness Approach

When we complain, we are expressing dissatisfacion with someone, something, or some event. When we whinge we are involved in repeated complaining. Complaining and whinging can become habituated behaviours that are difficult to change. Left unattended, these behaviours can become toxic for ourselves and those around us. However, they can be successfully addressed by a mindfulness approach.

Michael Dawson explains how he attempted to stop his own complaining and whinging behaviour. He decided that he would attempt to stop any form of complaining and whinging over an extended period of 21 days but found that it took him six months to achieve the targeted period. He found that the process of complaining and whinging pervaded his life – at work, at home and en route to various places. The first benefit of his focus on his behaviour was a growing awareness of how often he indulged in making a complaint or whinging – the beginning of mindfulness.

Why is it so difficult to stop complaining and whinging?

Complaining and whinging can very easily become an unhealthy habit. It can be reinforced by others around us. We can use it as a conversation opener – there is nothing surer to generate a response than to articulate a complaint about something. This behaviour is often unconscious and can become a constant part of our life without our being aware that it is happening – unless someone tells us that is what is happening. We can end up complaining about every aspect of our life – the weather, our boss, our life partner, our work, our location, our colleagues, and a former associate or partner. This fault-finding behaviour can become pervasive and very difficult to stop.

Another reinforcing factor is that complaining and whinging activate the negative bias of our brain. The result is that we see only the dark clouds, rather than the “silver lining”. We can develop an unconscious, negative bias that can be further reinforced by social media comments and caustic criticism. It can become hard to resist the temptation to participate in the negative commentary.

The effects of complaining and whinging

The preoccupation with what is negative in our lives can lead to depression. It creates a mindset that is unbalanced and blinds us to what is good, joyful and beautiful in our lives. It can become a deep grove that is difficult to shift because the associated neural pathways have been continually strengthened by reinforcement.

Complaining and whinging can negatively impact our relationships at work and at home. People around us will come to resent our negative bias and, where possible, avoid us or act aggressively towards us. Our negative mindset and its effects on others can lead us to slip into cynicism where we begin to distrust the motives of others, and this, in turn, can drain the energy of other people. So, we end up with a vicious circle, compounded by our lack of internal and external awareness. To avoid self-analysis, we will then begin to blame others for our deteriorating relationships.

A mindfulness approach to stop complaining and whinging

Michael described his mindfulness exercise to stop complaining and whinging in his life. However, any mindfulness activity designed to increase our awareness of our undesirable behaviour in this area can be a useful means to stop this habit.

If you regularly write a diary, you can make complaining and whinging behaviour a focus of your diary entries – recording how often these behaviours occur and what the catalysts are for your repeated behaviour. You might also reflect on an incident where someone you interact with regularly makes an observation about you such as, “you are always negative”.

At other times, you might meditate on a recent conflict that has occurred and explore whether you had engaged in expressing a complaint or whinging about something the other person has done or failed to do. The aim is to firstly raise your awareness of what you are doing and its effects on yourself and others and then progressively stopping yourself from engaging in complaining or whinging. You can begin to move from reflection-on-action to reflecting-in-action, developing the skill to stop yourself in the course of engaging in this negative behaviour.

If our complaints are directed at the clutter in our life, we can learn from Marie Kondo’s philosophy of developing a mindset focused on what brings joy to our life. In her book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying, she identifies ways to develop a joy-oriented mindset through our approach to tidying our house. This requires reflection on what brings joy to us from amongst our collections of clothes, books, papers and miscellaneous items.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, reflection, self-observation and guided sorting, we can become more aware of our complaining and whinging habit and develop the motivation to change our behaviour to improve our own quality of life and the richness of our relationships. By adopting a mindfulness approach, we can develop self-regulation, a sense of self-control and calmness.

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Image by John Hain from Pixabay 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.