Have you ever thought about how many times in a day you have an urge to do something that you do not give in to? Urges may relate to everyday, real physical urges to scratch an itch or go to the toilet or quench your thirst when it is not convenient. If you are a procrastinator, it may be urges to avoid doing something unpleasant or tedious that should be done. If you are a workaholic, it may be urges to keep working. You may have urges to check email, facebook and text messages.
Then there are urges to ask for reassurance when worrying about something. Urges to lash out at someone or smash things when feeling angry. Urges to avoid things that make you feel anxious. Urges to gamble or surf the internet, to drink, smoke or do any other addictive behaviours.
Not to mention urges to criticise or say something that part of you knows will only be unhelpful to a relationship (but you really want to say it!). Urges to eat junk food you have just seen advertised. Urges to buy items on sale. The list goes on and on!
We all have urges, and we have them many times a day ... yet many times a day we do not give in to them. Imagine a world where everyone gave into every urge they had? How chaotic would that be? Clearly we all have learned the skill of not giving into urges. You have the capacity to do this already. You resist urges regularly, and they inevitably pass.
But there are times it is easier to resist and wait for the urge to pass than others. And sometimes, with certain things, it feels impossible not to give in. Not that it is impossible, it just FEELS impossible.
The thing to remember about urges is that they will always pass. Urges are like tides. A tide will gradually get higher and higher and then reach a point where it turns and gradually recedes again.
Even big urges and compulsions will subside with time. High tides – no matter how big, will always go out again. People fear if they do not give in to the urge, it will keep building. But think about it - even king tides turn and recede. Remember all those times you have not given in to urges, and they have passed.
How to resist urges
So you know you have the capacity to resist an urge. But what to do when you are feeling that the tide is building and you don’t think you can resist? This is where the PEACE exercise will help you. Think of it as making PEACE with your urges. Use the letters of the word PEACE to remind you of what to do. Follow the same steps as you do with making peace with strong emotions. PEACE will provide a structure for you when resisting the urge to give in is more challenging.
To make peace with your urges –
P- Pause, and take a few breathes, then mindfully...
E- Examine the urge, notice where you feel it. Notice the thoughts that go with it ......“I have to have it”..... “I must do it”.... I can’t stand it”.... “It’s ok just this once”..... “I deserve it”.
A- Allow these thoughts to come and go, like people passing you in the street. Just like people, thoughts come in all varieties – some may be helpful and some may be harmful. Some thoughts may urge you to give in and feed your urge. Other thoughts may be trying to talk you out of giving in. Either way, they are just thoughts that are popping into your head. Allow them to come, allow them to go.
Know that the urge is tidal and it will eventually start to recede if you give it time, regardless of what you think or do. So allow the thoughts to come and go. Just as ultimately, you will be allowing the urges to come and go. Allow the thoughts and urges to come and go without judging yourself for having them.
Next, bring some Compassion to your observing. Be kind to yourself. It’s ok to have urges. You can’t stop urges from showing up. It’s what you do in the midst of the urge that counts. Activate your compassionate brain system by visualising a compassionate figure who speaks kindly to you and guides you about what to do.
By stepping back and examining and allowing, with compassion, you are creating the space for a choice. You can choose what to do with this urge and what you do while you are waiting for the tide to turn. Because it will turn, no matter what you do. The urge will pass. This is the power of delaying.
E- Engage (Actions count more than urges)
So the final step is to Engage with the world with an action that is in the direction of how you want to be when you have strong urges. Picture yourself engaging with the world and making a choice that fits with the life you want to create.
Sometimes, when the tide is high, you may end up choosing an action that is not in the best direction for you. If so, when the tide has receded, use this time to plan how you will act next time the tide is in. Review what made it difficult to resist this time. Learn what you can from it (with a compassionate stance – i.e. do not beat yourself up about it) and move on with a plan of what you might do differently next time. Imagine and see yourself taking these steps in the future when in a similar challenging situation.
Follow this link for a free guided MP3 of the P-E-A-C-E Meditation Exercise.