How to Conquer Unhealthy Cravings
From The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer, MD PhD
The Craving Mind recommends a scientifically proven technique for breaking tenacious addictions such as smoking or overeating (also lesser ones such as too much TV or staying up too late).
This technique goes by the acronym RAIN whose letters refer to a sequence of steps to take when you notice yourself getting tempted by a wave of wanting. It’s closely related to the 4-Step method for mastering obsessions.
R – Recognize. Spot your cravings by carefully watching for them and becoming more mindful (via meditation). When you see one coming just relax into it but with eyes wide open.
A – Accept. Don’t try to make a craving quickly go away. Instead, get close & personal so that you can observe every aspect in its natural, uninhibited state.
I – Investigate. Study everything about the craving. Get interested in the details of what’s happening.
N – Note. Be a scientist. Take short notes describing what you observe. This helps the details register so that you eventually start seeing patterns & truths which were previously invisible.
This process sounds like a strange way to treat bad habit loops (trigger-behavior-reward loops). But, by paying careful attention to the details many people start clearly seeing & feeling the (short-term & long-term) negatives for the first time. Eventually they become disenchanted and just quit their habitual reaction.
The link between craving and doing gets broken, not by brute force but as an indirect result of more & more clearly seeing the balance of short-term vs long-term rewards received for acting on urges. Your inner self begins to viscerally recognize that “this addiction is not for me.” This gut aversion comes about naturally on its own (don’t force it … this is an awareness experience not something you “will”) and sticks around for good once the details are really clear.
R – Recognize/Relax top
If you can’t see something you can’t change it. Meditation & repeated practice of RAIN help you become more mindful. By the way, caring enough to seriously watch for your cravings is important so don’t bother if are not serious.
Typically people wander around in a more or less unconscious state. When confronted by a trigger they have feelings which lead to an urge or craving which leads to reactive behavior. They do everything possible to make their craving quickly go away to get perceived relief (irregardless of long term consequences). The more they do it the stronger the habit.
The result: Quick, mindless relief. An endless habit loop (trigger, behavior, reward) which gets deeper and more automatic every round.
The problem: Negative long-term impacts. Grabbing quick relief becomes a habit whose unconscious repetition leads to long-term damage.
A – Accept/Allow/Acknowledge top
The truth is you don’t have control over getting an urge. However you can look for it, accept it and relax with eyes wide open into it. This is better than trying to ignore, avoid or distract yourself because now you have a chance to see what is actually happening and the details of how it sneaks up on you.
I – Investigate top
Carefully study each wave of wanting as it builds. Don’t struggle to figure things out but simply observe what arises most prominently. Let your inner self see the details of the wave from when it starts to build up through when it completely subsides.
Become a detective and get interested, get fascinated. Some good questions to ask are “What does my body feel like right now?” and “What led to this and where does it lead to?”
N- Note/Nonidentification top
As you investigate, simply note (mentally or on paper) what is most predominant in your experience. Perfect precise descriptions are not needed; just start noting as best you can. Use short simple phrases to describe the sensations experienced. For example: sad, thinking, tight neck, lump in throat, ache in forehead, anxious, down at the mouth. Noting the triggers-feelings-behaviors-actions helps you remember them so that eventually you can start seeing patterns and truths which were previously invisible.
Also, when we make notes about something we start perceiving it as something outside of ourselves and stop taking it so personally. Not “taking it personal” actually shifts which parts of the brain are active making it easier and easier to see the real truths.
This RAIN process helps people pay attention to their habit loops (trigger-feelings-behavior-reward) so that they eventually become disenchanted with previous behaviors (e.g., smoking). This is because the negatives (e.g., the taste of chemicals, later reactions) start becoming more visible and begin to outweigh the short-term relief reward. While the craving may continue to persist for a while the link between craving and action eventually weakens until the loop can be completely broken. This is the goal: to break the link between craving and action.
Related Notes & Terms top
- The Craving Mind by Judson Brewer, M.D., Ph.D. & Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness – Discusses RAIN and other modern research about breaking bad habits. Chapter 1 is the source of most of the material in this article and the page numbers shown are from this book.
- How To Stop Watching TV – An example of using RAIN.
- You Are Not Your Mind by brain scientist Jeffrey Schwartz suggests 4-steps for breaking obsessions & compulsions, which are slightly different than cravings.
- Ted Talk – Can we break bad habits by being more curious about them? Notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of satisfying your curiosity, repeat. I.e., Become a detective.
- A general process to follow with confronted by an overwhelming challenge – Stop, step back, know there is a way (faith), observe (watch & learn, recon) in a relaxed open way.
- Addiction Definition: Continued use despite adverse consequences. p.18.
- Mindfulness Definition: The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, to your present moment-to-moment experience. p.12-13.
- Cognitive Definition: Related to conscious intellectual activity (such as thinking, reasoning, remembering). Cognitive activity is the first to be lost when stressed.
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