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.

____________________________________________

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.

The Problem with Identification

I was reflecting recently about why I get upset and disappointed when my sporting team loses a match.  I become annoyed when I perceive that the refereeing is biased (of course, this perception is strongly influenced by my own bias).

In part, I think that my emotional state is influenced by my expectations about how my team will, or should, perform.  I do like to be on the winning side in sport!

On further reflection, I have come to think that the basic problem is one of identification – identifying closely with the team involved.  So, their successes are my successes, their losses are mine also.  I have a sense of pride when they win and a sense of embarrassment when they lose badly.

In some sense then, I am giving over control of my emotions to the vicissitudes and uncertainty of a sporting outcome over which I have no control.   In other words, I am giving control of my emotions to some external event, rather than retaining my own inner, emotional control.

What I find is that through this strong identification, and the strong associated feelings, my calmness is replaced by agitation.  Instead of enjoying the sport as a form of entertainment and relaxation, I become stressed and annoyed.

However, the path to real happiness lies in self-awareness and self-management, not abrogating responsibility for self-control to some external event or the performance of a sporting team.

Reducing identification and loss of control over emotions

How do you reduce the identification with a sporting team if this identification often leaves you upset or, occasionally, on a high?  To me, the starting point is to recognise the level of identification involved and what “rewards” come with this identification.  It means naming the feelings involved and choosing to take back control by reducing my level of identification with the team.

Sometimes, it is as if identification with a sporting team is a way to fill an emotional void – to attempt to replace disappointment and frustration with elation and happiness.  However, the reverse can happen so that disappointment and frustration only deepen in the event of a loss by the team.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation on our emotional responses in these situations, we can gain the necessary insight and self-awareness to reduce the power of identification and take back control of our emotions through self-management.

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

Image source: courtesy of JakeWilliamHeckey on Pixabay

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.