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  • Writer's pictureDan Hahn

Coffee Cravin'

Left to my own unconscious urges I would probably drink 4 americanos a day and pee about every 30 minutes. Am I that sleepy that I “need” 800mg of caffeine a day? No, of course not. One cup in morning is really all I “need” to jumpstart the day. Even then I am still fulfilling an urge once a day. When I unconsciously act on an that urge for another cup, I get quick, short term hit of dopamine to increase my alertness and mood. I suffer in the long term with the daily financial cost and spending a quarter of the day peeing.

Trying to ignore an urge or craving allows it to remain in the subconscious, just below the surface gnawing at you. Eventually one reflexively acts on upon this urge to gain pleasure or avoid pain. It is a build in mechanism in the mid-brain. All mammals (and most all animals) have this neuro hormonal mechanisms to aide in their survival. Problem is there is a disconnect between these instincts and complex current world in which we humans find ourselves. In modern life, with all its abundances of food, caffeine, alcohol and distractions, this mechanism can cause long term suffering in the form of obesity, addiction or being excessively sedentary.

However, we have a tool in the box, not available to most animals. It’s called a pre-frontal cortex. This is the physical part of the brain structure likely most related to what we consider to be consciousness. We can use it to override some of our primary drives that do not serve us well in a modern life of over-abundance. So how do we tap into this? Through awareness, curiosity and positive self-dialogue we can become aware of our own storyline. There we begin to see clearly and honestly assess ourselves. A pattern typically emerges. There is useful thing about patterns; they are repetitive. This allows us to know the timing of when an action or intervention is needed.

Try the following; next time an urge for and extra portion of food, a bag of potato chip or a night time snack hits, bring it into consciousness by being aware. Say out loud or at least in your mind; “I have an urge to eat these chips, even though I am not hungry.” Next get curious and ask why. Do I want some salt? Do I want some salt because I’m stressed? Is it out of routine? What will it do for me long term? What need or want am I ultimately trying to fill? Relaxation? Stop boredom? Reduce stress? Most of the time you will find that you are not actually physically hungry. If you are responding to physical hunger that is a different story. Obviously, your body needs routine meals. We have to eat daily to meet our body’s energy requirements and is should be an enjoyable experience. After asking yourself these questions, speak aloud or if that feels weird, say aloud in your conscious mind that you are in control of what you eat. Tell yourself something like: “Yes I want to eat this but I really want to be healthier than yesterday and filling this urge will my harmful to my goal.”

Now that you are aware of what is happening, allow yourself permission to feel the urge. You are not always at the mercy of your reflexive mid-brain. Typical most urges are only strong for about 30 minutes. In this state of awareness have plan to occupy yourself to 30 minutes. Meditate, go for a walk, converse with a friend, eat a healthy snack if physically hungry. If at the end of that time the urge or craving is still strong, repeat the process. If you must respond to an urge or craving then consciously acknowledge your actions without guilt. Try to set half of it aside and consume only the other half. Even consider journaling what you wanted and why you felt you “had” to have the item. The act of simply being aware and honest with yourself may help strengthen the ability to feel cravings without responding every time one pops up. If you are like most humans, it happens many times a day. The more aware you are of these feelings, you can begin to see how frequently and powerfully they guide daily life, without always serving us well. If we always act on these impulses we are at the mercy of instincts of the more primitive part of our brains.

Although it is a difficulty skill to learn (I’m still learning it), improving conscious control over thoughts and urges is worthwhile. We aren’t cyborgs and we will respond to urges and emotions at times. Developing the skill of not acting of every craving or urge you begin feeling a sense of empowerment and control over the direction of your life. It would be dishonest to claim this technique will work for every urge, every time. Even if we win the impulse control battle 50% of the time, it is a vast improvement. The boost in self-confidence and sense of control over your mind is well worth the effort.


Dan Hahn, PA-C

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