How to Stop Cravings: 7 Tips from an Expert
You make yourself (and your friends and family) all kinds of promises to break that old addicted habit. You focus; you do the work to stay on track, making the right choices and taking the best actions to live a healthy life. Then, something happens. It could be an unexpected phone call, an altercation at work; the enviable success of your partner. The next thing you know your body and mind are singing the siren song of craving.
You’re only human. Sometimes, you’ll be able to withstand the call of addiction. Other times, you have given in. You’ve done good recovery work, so when cravings clamor does it mean the work’s not working? And when you cheat (even the tiniest bit) does it mean you’re fatally flawed? No way! The truth is, you’re hard-wired to crave. The history of your very DNA holds the imprint for powerful desires, even when they’re not good for you. According to Dr. Omar Manejwala, author of Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough, there are evolutionary, biological, and social factors that combine to create a craving culture in both your mind and body. While there may be history, science, and society behind your cravings there is much you can do to stand in front and stare them down.
How to Stop Cravings before they Start.
The key to making any change is being proactive. That is, ahead of the curve of the slippery slope into disappointing yourself. The more you make choices and take actions on a daily basis the more you train your brain in new ways—ways that can create new embedded habits that oust the old patterns. If you were to think of your brain as a computer your job is to design new programs that overwrite the existing ones. Dr. Manejwala suggests making a habit of these seven actions to counteract, counterbalance, and eventually neutralize the craving frenzy.
- Start doing things differently.
A key element here is to begin deliberately taking new action rather than waiting for change. Specifically, this relates to making decisions about what you need to start doing. Dr. Manejwala counsels, “Shift your mindset towards ‘What do I need to start doing?’ and away from ‘What do I need to stop doing?’”
A question to spark action in this area: “What do I need to start doing today?”
- Be helpful towards others.
Learning to subvert your own addictive needs gets a real boost from focusing on someone else’s (more healthy) needs. Be the good thing that happens to or for someone in any given day. The feel-good dopamine release (which comes from something as small as a smile or committing an unexpected act of kindness) can put your brain in a biological happy place and divert the need for any addiction to make you feel better.
A question to spark action in this area: “What can I do to help someone right now?”
- Avoid dangerous situations.
Routinely and without thinking about the consequences you take the same route to work, hang out with the same people, and enter the same stores. Quelling a craving can happen before the urge begins by deliberately avoiding situations that trigger your craving cycle. Look for the automatic patterns in which you engage that create addiction-related problems.
A question to spark action in this area: “What do I need to do to avoid situations that make me crave?”
- Find a sense of purpose.
So much of (re)training your brain comes from being able to control where you place your attention. Having a purpose means identifying a meaningful experience that makes you feel good and planning to actively include it in your lifestyle so that you feel good on a consistent basis.
A question to spark action in this area: “What activity makes me feel tied to a sense of meaning?”
- Meet your needs in a healthy way.
Cravings, of course, meet your needs. But when those cravings are tied to unhealthy addictions they meet your needs by creating negative circumstances that wreck havoc with your life. Identify your most significant needs (i.e. feeling good, experiencing a sense of connection, etc.) and develop new, healthy actions that answer them in more productive ways.
A question to spark action in this area: “How can this need be met in a more healthy way?”
- Create healthier routines.
You’ve gotten used to doing things in a certain way. To stave off a craving, you must do things in a new way. Take stock of the habits that support your craving. Identify what needs to change, plus what new, healthy habit can replace the old one.
A question to spark action in this area: “What healthier habit would I like to develop?”
- Create a sense of belonging.
You are human, which means you are a social being. It feels good to connect to others and also to feel a part of something bigger than yourself. You can create a sense of belonging in more than one area at once. Of course, you have the addiction community connection. But there’s so much more to you than your addiction. Many other skills, qualities and interests define you. Start exploring them.
A question to spark action in this area: “Where can I go to find people I like and who will understand me?”
While it may be true that as a human you’re designed to crave, it is possible to change your cravings. It may even be possible to choose what you crave. Taking a page from the science behind your cravings consider this: When you match the feel-good reward dopamine dump with any activity you choose, then you might actually start to hard-wire your own cravings with an element of choice, calm, and control. I did this in my own recovery by substituting an addiction to dance (a healthy activity that made me feel high) for my trauma-related addiction. What would it take to start amping up your craving for recovery? Now, that would be a craving worth yearning for.