Suppressing those less-than-healthy urges? This psychologist has some surprising advice.
Resistance isn’t futile when cravings strike, but it’s not the only outcome. “The best way to deal with a craving is to try riding it like a wave, or ‘surfing the urge,’ until it passes,” says Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., the author of The Willpower Instinct. Should that fail, however, these surprising techniques can help you learn from your capitulation so it’s less likely to happen again.
Go ahead and give in. “If eating a cookie really made us happy, we’d stop after one,” says McGonigal. “But we tend to check out as we indulge, which is numbing, not satisfying.” To change your behavior, give in mindfully, chewing slowly and paying full attention to the taste and texture of your food.
Gauge how it really—actually—made you feel. Then take note of how you feel afterward to see whether the result aligns with your expectations. “Research shows that people who claimed to love chocolate felt worse after they ate it than they did before, and another study found that women felt better after finishing a healthy meal versus something celebratory and supposedly comforting,” says McGonigal. Comparing the actual outcome of giving in to a craving to the perceived one can reduce its power over you.
Forgive, don’t flog, in order to change. While it’s natural to feel some regret after a self-discipline hiccup, beating yourself up leaves little energy for change. “Many type-A personalities have succeeded in life by being tough on themselves or by having a coach or mentor who pushed them hard,” says McGonigal. But this strategy works only when your behavior is in line with your goals and not when you’re struggling or suffering. The more you pile on the criticism after a setback, the less likely you are to take action that will prevent it from reoccurring. Or as McGonigal puts it: “Guilt and shame aren’t motivating, but self-forgiveness unleashes your power.”
Photography by ARTHUR BELEBEAU/TRUNK ARCHIVE
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