By Jackie Rainford Corcoran
EBS Health Columnist
Changing habits and overcoming cravings can be challenging. It doesn’t take a psychologist to know obstacles to success often begin in the mind. But transformation and growth is possible. Here are three powerful steps to get your mind on board and replace old dysfunctional patterns with new, more useful ones.
Step one: Awareness
It’s common to be in denial or unaware of habits that are detrimental to our health. If we’re unsure of where unhealthy habits lurk in our lives, we can look to symptoms we’re experiencing for greater insight: losing muscle tone; gaining weight; experiencing a low sex drive; getting sick regularly; having digestive issues; not sleeping well; or feeling easily agitated. After bringing awareness to symptoms, list the potential causes. As G.I. Joe said, “Knowing is half the battle.”
Step two: Stories
What stories do you tell yourself about your habits and cravings, and are they true? Many of us grew up with sugar as a reward for nearly everything, so it makes sense that the stories we have about sugar relate to “celebration,” “affection” and “connection.” But if our waistlines are expanding and our blood sugar rising – which both increase risk of heart disease, the number one killer of Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention – what’s the real story behind habitually indulging in sugar? Write your stories down to better understand how they might be thwarting your efforts to make lasting change.
Step three: Mindfulness
When we become mindful of our habits they lose power over us. We no longer go through life on autopilot, shocked when we realize we over-ate again, had one too many drinks, or spent the last hour fretting over something completely out of our control. Instead, we become the observer of the craving – poised, curious and observant. Like mindfully watching an itch come and go without reacting to it, we learn to stop impulsively grasping at thoughts and instead appreciate that they are simply passing through and impermanent.
When we’re able to bring this kind of awareness to our habits and cravings before we’re entangled in them, it’s as if something magical happens. An incredible sense of empowerment comes with this type of transformation. But it takes time, practice and discipline to fully reprogram habits. It’s like convincing your brain to travel down a new road when it’s used to speeding down a well-known superhighway.
For more, visit YouTube to watch Anderson Cooper’s piece titled “Mindfulness” from the “60 Minutes” news show. Also, Time magazine published in its June 1 issue an article titled “The Art of Resilience,” which discusses the science behind meditation. And check out Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan’s website mindfulnationnetwork.com to see how mindfulness can create healthier schools and stronger communities.
Search for meditation groups in your area to build your own sustainable practice, since a little formal training goes a long way. Watch how bringing acute awareness and mindfulness into your own life positively affects the lives of others.
I would love to hear about your experiences with habits, cravings and meditation. Email me to share your story.
Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find more information at thetahealth.org.