Is there anyone who doesn’t struggle with habits, desires, or urges that point toward something they wish they didn’t want? Sugar? Cigarettes? Alcohol? Cookies? Ice cream? Hours of procrastination?
How do I learn to want what I want to want rather than what I want right now? That is the question.
Most of us are able to carry a big stick of “SHOULD” over our heads for periods of time. The problem with the should is that it’s like a dam–one that isn’t so strong. Oh, it will hold back the flow of desire for a while, that is until it gets stronger, and then the dam isn’t strong enough to hold back the compelling desire that takes over and breaks through.
I have had my own battle with trying to want the things that are good for me. Here’s what helps:
- A meditation practice
- Cultivating a nurturing inner partner
- Learning to surf urges
The reason they call it “practice” is because forever it is a learning process. The process of quieting the mind, learning to focus away from thoughts, desires, conflicts, etc. makes a huge difference in how we respond to the feelings that take us over. Meditation gives a person a safe place to rest or stand–this is a mind space where you are not taken over by the turmoil that can so easily overwhelm you. This safe place that is cultivated by meditation is a place that makes CHOICE possible.
Cultivating a nurturing inner partner
The stick of SHOULDS that you hold over your head is like a strict, unrelated parent or teacher. It includes little understanding about what you are feeling and just wants you to obey the rule–one you might not even have fully bought into. A nurturing inner partner is kind, gentle, and only wants what’s best for you. This helper will listen to what’s hard for you, and may even have interesting ideas for new strategies to help you achieve your goals. Unlike the dam of shoulds that will always collapse when desire gets stronger, the nurturing inner partner is strong. Spend some time conjuring an image of this helper–like a guardian angel, the captain of my ship, the best mother anyone could have…there are many possibilities. The next time you are overcome with a desire for something that isn’t good for you, have an imaginary conversation with this figure. See what happens.
Surfing the urge
I learned about surfing the urge when I quit smoking. It’s a long story, but many years ago one day after too much smoking and a little too much red wine, I got the worst headache I’ve ever had. I woke up in the morning, and instead of reaching for a cigarette, I was afraid of the headache coming back, so I just postponed the smoke till after breakfast. Then after breakfast, instead of lighting up, again afraid, I decided to wait till lunch time. I think you get the picture. After two days of postponing the next cigarette, I went to an acupuncturist I was seeing, and she said, she could help me with this. She could put a little bead in my ear, and each time the desire to smoke arose, I could just rub that bead into the acupressure point and the urge would pass. Ride out one urge at a time. That is surfing the urge. Take it one urge at a time and know the urge passes. You don’t have to gratify it. I had the help of the fear of the headache, but even years later, I still occasionally get the urge–but it passes. To read more about this I recommend a great book by Kelly McGonigal The Willpower Instinct.
Learning to want what you want to want is a process. Deep within each one of us is an amazing healing potential, a part of us that only wants what’s best for us in a gentle, loving way. It takes time and focus to give that inner part a place to grow. My suggestion is to begin with very small, achievable goals, and work with these three strategies. Let me know how you’re doing!