Earlier this week, I wrote about research I had found indicating that we can have a mindful approach to changing habits, making the act of changing a habit a little less stressful.
Over the course of the week, I challenged myself to eat mindfully. I was most interested in how this would change my snacking habits because I snack out of boredom or to reduce stress. I thought I knew what “being mindful” meant. I figured I would pay attention to how I was feeling when I was eating without really being hungry. As it turns out, dropping an old habit despite noting how I felt was harder than I thought. The concept of mindfulness is deceptively simple. It sounds like something anyone can do, but letting go of everything that makes a habit stick is pretty damn hard.
Here is what my week looked like:
9 am: Walked into work excited for this challenge- Note: I LOVE a good challenge.
10:30am: Forgot about this challenge and started snacking to avoid the stress of a project.
Realized what was happening halfway through and stopped to think about why I was eating.
Got really busy the rest of the day and didn't think about the challenge or the stress of the project anymore.
3pm: Told my two office mates about the challenge and was asked what mindful eating entails.
My response, “Umm.. Just being aware of why you are doing what you are doing in the moment.”
Quickly realized I had no idea what mindful eating actually meant.
Took a mid afternoon walk when I felt the post-lunch crash coming on.
Passed an ice cream truck on my walk.
Contemplated getting ice cream.
Decided I was too grown and had too much dignity to be licking ice cream on these NYC
Got a little obsessive about the challenge and fixated on all the things I shouldn’t eat for the rest
of that day as I avoided eating 'mindlesslessy'.
Was too busy with work have time to do anything mindlessly.
At the end of the day, ate two bowls of cereal for dinner while watching an episode of friends. Not mindful at all.
Too tired to care.
5am: Woke up curious about what doing this process correctly would look like.
Looked a little deeper into Brewer's insights.
Learned that the mindfulness approach to resolving cravings suggests we do the exact opposite of what I was doing (mentally forcing myself not to eat I wasn’t hungry).
It turns out Brewer’s whole thing is about simply noticing how you feel in your body when you get a craving. Zero mental forcing required.
More specifically, he suggests using the RAIN technique when you have a craving:
R = Recognize that you are having a craving
A = Accept the craving without judging yourself
I= Investigate the mental and physical sensations that come with the craving without being
attached to it
N = Note the experience and let it subside
7am: Tried the RAIN technique while on a run to keep myself from stopping – I assumed I could modify it for a non-craving specific scenario and it surprisingly worked. I was hoping to run 4 miles, and I’d done it two weeks ago but it wasn’t easy. At mile 3, I wasn’t sure I’d make it.
R = recognized that wanting to stop before reaching the goal is something that happens.
A = accepted that this is how my run was going. It was very hard to detach from it though. In fact, I am not sure I ever really detached.
I= Investigated the sensations - my legs felt heavy and tired, my heart was beating fast, my mind was telling me I could quit and that I should keep going (at the same damn time). Realized I probably built this pattern of thinking in high school when I was the worst runner on my cross-country team (lol…but I tried though).
N = I decided I was cool with this feeling and eventually stopped thinking about quitting because I was distracted by new thoughts.
Mindfulness is deceptively simple
Sitting with – but not acting on - the sensations of a craving/habit/desire can often bring out the deeper issue
We need to be honest with ourselves and deal with the deeper issue in order to not be controlled by it
It’s worth asking yourself why you are trying to change a habit in the first place. You might be treating the surface but trying to resolve a deeper issue