Working with Addictive Impulses and Urges

The following four steps should be practised daily at least once, but also whenever an addictive impulse or urge pulls you so strongly that you are tempted to act out

These steps can be done with “The Ninety-Second Rule” or on its own. The ninety-seconds can help us get through the moment before us. Whereas the following steps can help re-train the brain.

Our addictive impulses and urges, particularly ones we’ve had for years, are ingrained in our brains. The reason we are unable to find “better” coping methods is because our brains feel like we already have one.

Our brains can’t tell the difference between a destructive coping method and an effective coping method. All it knows is that we have a coping method, and we’ll just deal with the consequences later.

Re-training our brain to use a different coping method takes practice. A LOT of practice. The following steps, from Gabor Mate, are to help our brain move on from what is ingrained and ingrain something new, and (hopefully) less destructive.

Step 1: Re-label
– Label the addictive thought or urge exactly for what it is, not mistaking it for reality
– The feeling takes on the quality of a need, of an imperative that must be immediately satisfied
– Say to yourself
– “I don’t need to do “x”. I’m only having an obsessive thought that I have such a need. It’s not a real, objective need but a false belief. I may have a sense of urgency, but there is actually nothing urgent going on.”
– Be fully aware of the sense of urgency that attends the impulse and keep labelling it as a manifestation of addiction, rather than any reality that you must act upon
– The point of re-labelling is not to make the urge disappear – it’s not going to, at least not for a long time, since it was wired into the brain long ago
– It is strengthened every time you give in to it and every time you try to forcibly suppress it
– The point is to observe it with conscious attention without assigning the habitual meaning to it
– It is no longer a “need,” only a dysfunctional thought

Step 2: Re-attribute
– This step is designed to assign the re-labelled addictive urge to its proper source
– You state very clearly where that urge originated from: in neurological circuits that were programmed into your brain long ago, when you were a child
– It represents a dopamine or endorphin “hunger” on the part of the brain systems that, early in your life, lacked the necessary conditions for their full development
– Addictive compulsion says nothing about you as a person; it is not a moral failure or a character weakness
– Re-attribution helps you put the addictive drive into perspective
– It is only a thought, you can observe it consciously, with attention, and you can let it go
– If you change how you respond to those old circuits, you will eventually weaken them

Step 3: Re-focus
– In the re-focus step, you buy yourself some time
– Being a “mind-phantom”, its shelf-life is not permanent, it will pass, and you have to give it time to pass
– Find something else to do
– Buy yourself just fifteen minutes
– Anything that will not cause further harm
– Whatever gets you through the next fifteen minutes
– The purpose of re-focus is to teach your brain that it doesn’t have to obey the addictive call
– Perhaps in the beginning, you can only hold out for five minutes, that’s fine, next time try for six minutes
– You’re teaching your old brain new tricks

Step 4: Re-value
– Its purpose is to help drive into your brain just what has been the real impact of the addictive urge in your life: disaster
– In this step you will remind yourself why you’re going to all this trouble
– In the re-value step you de-value the false gold
– You assign it its proper worth: less than nothing
– The real “value” of my addictive compulsion has been that it has caused me to betray my true values and disregard my true goals
– Anticipate that the compulsive urge to engage in destructive behaviour will return
– There is no final victory – every moment the urge is turned away is a triumph
– With time the addictive drive will be drained of energy
– When it reappears with new force, there is no reason to be disappointed or shocked
– Accept that addiction exists not because of you, but in spite of you

Step 5: Re-create
– It is time to re-create, to choose a different life
– With your values, your passions, have intention and capability
– You are releasing patterns that have held you (for a long time)
– What is the life you really want?

What do you choose to create?

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