Have you used up all your will power?
Are you stressed? Are you feeling pushed to the wire? Have you slept properly? Is it lack of quality sleep that’s left you feeling hungry or with an endless appetite? Are you hormonal? Are you emotional...are you a combination of things? Whatever the reason – you and only you have the control. Now how can we raise awareness and help our impulsive decisions especially when it comes to food? I read an interesting article about using mindfulness and meditation to help. Many people turn to meditation and mindfulness to better regulate behaviour and achieve goals. But how exactly does this work? Practicing impulse control and regulating our behaviour effectively without draining our limited stores of willpower could be key.
During mindfulness training, you’re monitoring your thoughts actively, but you’re also not holding onto them. You’re not ruminating about the past, you’re not thinking about the future. You’re noticing thoughts as they come up, and you’re letting them go. In other words, mindfulness and meditation can make us more aware and accepting of thoughts and emotions. Awareness and acceptance play a key role in executive control, our capacity to inhibit impulses. Mindfulness gives us the tools to acknowledge distracting thoughts and feelings in a nonjudgmental way (“I realize that I am craving a piece of cake right now”), which makes us better equipped to resist them. So, acknowledging and accepting the pang of guilt you may feel as you’re about to take a bite can help you overcome the impulse.
Mindfulness allows us to “be aware of the ongoing parade put on by the self, including one’s attempts to exert self-control.” Once we’re aware of the “parade” of wants and needs in our minds, we can be better informed and selective about our goals and desires. So there are two techniques for regulating our behaviour: self-controlled regulation and mindful self-regulation. When we exert self-control, there is some impulse, some desire, some thought or emotion that comes up that we feel we need to get a handle on. It often involves either stopping it, or suppressing it, or redirecting it in some way. So an angry person might exert self-control by suppressing emotions, or by redirecting them and punching a wall. Mindfulness, on the other hand, involves “simply being with it, paying attention to it.” And over time “we realise, ‘Hey, this thing that’s coming up? I don’t have to necessarily jump all over it to get control of it. I can simply be with it, and know that it’s going to work its way through my mind.’” Mindfulness helps us understand that thoughts are just thoughts; they do not require action.
This mindful approach to self-regulation is significantly less draining than exerting self-control. The self in self-control, so to speak, often takes the form of willpower. And that takes energy. On the other hand, the self in mindful self-regulation is very different. It doesn’t involve this ego-based willpower. That self is an expression of our deeper values, our deeper desires, our deeper needs at that moment. It’s much less self-centred, and more about meeting what the moment is asking of us. Instead of using up energy, mindful regulation of behaviour can actually be energising. This is a key difference because willpower is a precious resource that depletes as we use it. Several studies have shown that when participants are asked to resist eating cookies, they subsequently give up on a challenging puzzle more quickly than those who ate the treat. But mindfulness and meditation may actually restore depleted willpower. The energising, non-draining benefits of mindfulness can add up over time. Those who participate in an integrated mindfulness and lifestyle program experience decreased rates of depression and hostility. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that mindful people exhibit higher levels of conscientiousness (defined as being dependable, responsible, rule-abiding, achievement-oriented, and self-disciplined). This is likely due to “mindful individuals’ greater ability to self-regulate.” Meditation can be excellent practice for learning to mindfully resist impulses and self-regulate: The natural inclination of the mind is to wander. We start ruminating, we start planning what we’re going to make for dinner, or regurgitating a conversation we had with our friend on the phone two days ago.”
During meditation, we practice avoiding these rabbit holes of thought, which trains us to avoid other impulses in our lives. Give it a whirl and see if you can improve on your impulses. Also go and drink some water now and move your body...sitting is the new smoking! “It doesn’t matter what rules you follow as long as you follow the rules that fit with your lifestyle” Keep smiling