How Meditation Can Help You Control Urges

TQ - how meditation can helpThe ability to resist an urge is one of the most important and beneficial abilities a person can have. Studies have shows that people who can resist urges are better at long term planning, setting and meetings goals, and staying productive throughout the day. It makes sense when you really think about it — after all, an urge is really just a distraction. Every time you stop what you’re doing because you suddenly feel the urge to do something else, like eat a snack or check your phone, you’re letting yourself get distracted. You could even say you’re distracting yourself.

Even though the idea that if you stop giving into urges, you’ll develop greater will power seems like common sense, there’s also real science to support it. For the purpose of discussion, you could think of the brain as being divided into two major systems: one that has to do with higher functioning, and one that has to do with primitive functioning. The prefrontal cortex is where our higher functioning takes place. It’s the part of the brain that enables us to think ahead, make plans, and use logic and reason to sort out problems. The limbic system is the part of the brain that hands most of our primitive functions, or urges, like primal emotions, the drive to eat and reproduce, etc…

You could think of these two systems of always being at war with each other. The limbic systems is always screaming, “Hey, let’s do this right now!” and the prefrontal cortex is constantly telling the limbic system to shut up before it gets us in trouble. The winner of this never-ending battle is determined by your actions and choices. For example, the more you give in to the demands of your limbic system, the stronger it becomes, making it harder for your prefrontal cortex to control your actions. The converse is also true.

By using a simple meditation technique, you can actually strengthen your prefrontal cortex, thus increasing your discipline and will power. All you have to do is find a quiet place to sit with your eyes closed for a few minutes. As you sit there, you don’t have to focus on anything in particular, just relax your mind and let your thoughts wonder. As time goes by, you may start to notice the occasional impulse — an itch you want to scratch, or perhaps the urge to adjust your body. Whatever the case may be, resist the urge. Remember, you only have to keep this up for a few minutes, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to hold out.

Once it becomes easy to do this exercise for a few minutes, try extending the time or doing it for as long as you can. More importantly, always be kind to yourself during this process.



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