My attempt to evade the avalanche of work on my desk the other day led me to TED, because what other way to make good, educational use of time you’ve decided to waste right?
I mindlessly scrolled through the endless stream of videos on the site and one titled “A simple way to break a bad habit” caught my eye; it sounded like the perfect antidote to the troubles I faced.
Ah, I think it’ll be fitting to do a self-introduction at this juncture. Hi, I’m Joey and I turn 21 this year. I’ve been of acceptable weight my whole life; lost and gained a few pounds over the years, but largely hovered at the same weight. Alas, good times don’t last. An incident which took place late last year sent me into a downward spiral of depression; heck, I was plummeting towards depression. My days and nights were characterised by ceaseless, uncontrollable sobs that escalated to loud cries. I felt terrible, and I had no appetite for food or anything for that matter. Within a few weeks, I lost a whopping 8kg. Unfortunately, that reality was short-lived. I began to channel my grief into eating, what felt like the only release for my pent-up emotions. My appetite grew voracious and nothing could satiate the ravenous monster within me. Naturally, I regained the 8kg I had lost and gained an additional 10kg, and am currently still putting on weight. An unfortunate sufferer of obesity, I am now the heaviest I’ve been in the 20 years of my life. I’ve tried to go on a diet one too many times but the allure of food is something I always ultimately succumb to. I absolute love my carbohydrates and desserts.
So there it is, now you know why there’s a bad habit I need to break.
The talk was immensely interesting to watch. The speaker, Judson Brewer, introduced mindfulness as the simple way to break a bad habit. He defined mindfulness as the following:
Seeing really clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behaviours, becoming disenchanted on a visceral level and from this disenchanted stance, naturally letting go.
Brewer expounded his idea further and asserted that mindfulness is essentially about being really interested in getting close and personal with what’s actually happening in our bodies and minds. In other words, being incredibly curious.
Previously, he had conducted mindfulness training in an attempt to help people quit smoking. Smokers were told to go ahead and smoke, but to be really curious what it’s like when they do. What one smoker noted just by being curiously aware when she smoked was that smoking “smells like stinky cheese and tastes like chemicals, YUCK!”.
My interest was piqued as he continued on. It was a refreshing perspective because the state of being mindful, as put forth by him, returns the control over your body back to you, as opposed to letting your cravings and unhealthy habits take control, as I always do.
What does curiosity feel like? It feels good. And what happens when we get curious? We start to notice that cravings are simply made up of body sensations — oh, there’s tightness, there’s tension, there’s restlessness — and that these body sensations come and go. These are bite-size pieces of experiences that we can manage from moment to moment rather than getting clobbered by this huge, scary craving that we choke on.
When cravings kick in, they can get pretty overwhelming. We experience an intense, almost uncontrollable, desire to scarf down all the food in sight. We try to ignore our raging taste buds up to a point when we think to ourselves, “Heck it man, heck it. I’m gonna eat that damn slice of cheesecake.”. What immediately ensues is a full-fledged binging session and before long, we’ve wolfed down the entire cheesecake (and possibly the whole kitchen). But the point I’m making is, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. There is no need for you to declare war on a cheesecake and then make peace with it within minutes just because you think you can’t do without it. Don’t obsess over it. Don’t let it occupy and then control your mind. Understand what you’re experiencing, appreciate it as a natural body sensation, and move on.
In Brewer’s words, “notice the urge, get curious, feel the joy of letting go and repeat.”
I understand that what I’ve just described is easier said than done; mindfulness is certainly a process that takes time to acquire, nurture, and ultimately perfect. Nevertheless, I believe that so long we pay consistent heed to our body and be acutely aware of what’s going on when our bad habits rear their ugly heads, mindfulness is not difficult to master.