Tips on how to control your urges

We rarely do things that we don’t have an urge to do.  Change the urge and you have more control of the behavior. urge-management NHN

Remember:  An URGE is not a COMMAND.  It is merely an urge, a nudge, an inclination.  It can be altered, if you know how, so that you are in CONTROL.

A useful tool in Urge Management is to RATE the level of your urge:

0 = absolutely no urge at all, and you won’t engage in the behavior
1 = you only know that you have had the urge before, but no desire at this time
2 = a passing thought
3 = an urge that you might consider following through with, or not
4 = a low level urge, easily managed by postponement or interruption
5 = definitely an urge, but you could substitute it with a readily available alternative
6 = an urge that you cannot deny, and that you start to give in to without thinking
7 = highly likely that you will give in to the urge
8 = an overwhelming desire to act on the urge
9 = you ARE going to act on the urge
10= NO ONE could stop you from acting on the urge. . . No One

Before you use any strategy listed below:

  1. Decide which urge you are going to tackle first, e.g., urge to splurge, to get angry, eat that cookie, smoke, bite your nails, etc.
  2. Rate your current URGE LEVEL
  3. Engage in one strategy suggested below
  4. Rate your urge level again.  Has it gone up, stayed the same, gone down?  What have you learned?
    • If up, use a different strategy
    • If the same, use the same strategy once more to see if there is a change, now
    • If lower, congratulate yourself, and put that strategy on your list to use again as needed

Keep using various strategies until you find the ones that work best specifically for YOU!

There are several categories of ways to manage all types of urges.  They are:

• Prevent the behavior
• Interrupt of minimize the urge
• Postpone the behavior of the urge
• Distract yourself from the urge
• Substitute the urge for a healthier behavior, prepared in advance
• Retrain your brain for a CHANGE

As an example, let’s take the common behavior of mindlessly overeating junk food.

Prevent the behavior:

  • When you are driving home (if you usually drive by a fast-food place, and habitually just stop in), drive home on a different street that avoids the temptation of that restaurant. If you are not on that street, it is very hard to Drive-In.  You have PREVENTED the behavior
  • Prepare your meals at home ahead of time, so that when you get home and are ready to eat, you will have nutritious foods ready for you
  • Decide AHEAD of time what you are going to eat or DO when you get hungry
  • Have your shopping under control. Never shop when you are hungry
  • Decide on high antioxidant, nutrient-rich foods, to put on your grocery list. Buy them
  • If it isn’t on your grocery list, it doesn’t get bought and brought into the house
  • Most of us are fortunately too lazy to:
    • have an urge for a food
    • stop what we are doing
    • get dressed
    • drive to a store and
    • purchase it
    • . . . and that is one time that we can be thankful for our laziness!

Interrupt or minimize the urge:

  • Clap your hands 3 times, stand up, sit back down
  • Go brush your teeth, WITH toothpaste
  • Walk to the water cooler, and smile at a colleague on your trip
  • Sniff peppermint . It will energize you when you are hungry
  • If there is a food that you REALLY want (desire level is a 9 on a 1-10 scale) simply SMELL it, close your eyes and imagine eating it.  Check your urge level again, which probably will have decreased.  If the level rises again, eat 1-2 bites of the food, imagine eating more, but don’t.  What is your urge level then?
    • Decide which bite was the most enjoyable
    • Most people enjoy the first 1-2 bites the most, and pleasure decreases with each subsequent bite
  • If you start to eat an undesired food, just switch hands.  You may find it much easier to put the food down!  Make your brain work a little so that every bite you take is a conscious decision and not an automatic behavior
  • Do you see a picture in our mind, in living color, of the food (or substance) that you are trying to avoid?  Change the picture to black and white.  How does THAT change your urge level?
  • Are there words in your mind compelling you to follow your urge?  Whose voice is speaking in your mind?  Change that voice to Mickey Mouse’s voice.  How does THAT change your urge level?

Postpone the behavior:       

  • Institute the ’15 minute’ rule.  As soon as you get a “cue” to eat, train yourself to wait just 15 minutes before you do.  This will help break the automatic response cycle in your brain that, ultimately, helps cancel out the old associations
  • Drink a glass of ice water.  Often, when we think we are hungry, we aren’t. . . we are merely thirsty.  Make it a habit. . . when hungry, FIRST, drink a glass of ice water
  • Have you ever noticed how only 4 ounces of tomato juice can tame the munchies while you are preparing a meal?
  • Tell yourself, “I could eat those fries, but won’t right now”

Distract from the urge:

  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Call a friend
  • Pick up a magazine to thumb through

. . . you get the idea!

Substitute the urge for a healthier behavior, prepared in advance:

  • Eat clear soups or a large salad before each meal
  • When you eat a few nuts 15 minutes prior to a meal, you will eat less in that meal
  • Have healthy foods readily available to you at all times.  Munch on unsalted nuts, carrots, cukes, celery, turkey, broccoli, boiled egg, string cheese, even a couple of Healthy Chocolates™ a day

Retrain your brain for a CHANGE:

  • Intelligently MANAGE the urge by changing the associations you have with food
  • A food diary will help keep track of associations you have with certain foods and behaviors. In addition to listing foods, also chart your mood, activities, etc.  to help you discover your associations between ‘food thoughts’ and ‘food urges’
  • Changing our associations may seem difficult, but altering our behavior is actually easier than we imagine. Seven things to do right now that can put change into motion:
    • Never eat standing up
    • Never eat out of a container.  Put it onto the plate or into a bowl
    • Use a small salad plate, not dinner plate
    • Use your non-dominant hand when you eat
    • Never eat in your office.  Always eat at the dining room table (or other designated eating place).  This eating place is the only place that has a strong association with food.  Also you will have fewer ants (and pounds)!
    • Make eating a sole-focus activity and give it your full concentration. Put down your gaming, step away from the computer, get off the telephone, and just concentrate on eating.  The more you disassociate food with other activities, the more likely you are to not allow outside cues to dictate where and when and how much you eat
    • Eat at the same place, with same utensils, sitting down each time. This decreases  extraneous eating associations that can sabotage our efforts

One of the most distressing aspects of ‘uncontrolled urges’ is that as we succumb to them.  We have a sense that we are not in control, making us stressed.  With each change in behavior (and change in urge levels), we gain a sense of increased CONTROL over our lives. . . and that is a good feeling, isn’t it?

What are some nifty ways YOU control undesired urges?  Please click on the “Leave a Comment” link next to the date at the top of the blog under the headline. I’d love to hear from you!

By Dailey Grainger, PhD, ARNP, founder and CEO of Next Health Now, a Nurse Practitioner in the forefront of helping make America healthier.

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