One of the key realizations that hit me when I was trying to quit smoking, that helped me with every single subsequent habit change, was learning to watch my urges — the ones we shone a light on in Chapter 14 — and not be so attached to them.
Until that realization smacked me in the face, I was powerless against my urges. I’d get an urge to smoke, an urge to eat some sweet or fried food, an urge to buy some new shiny thing, an urge to procrastinate … and I’d just act on it. It felt like I had no self control.
But then I learned that I am not my urges, and I learned a trick to handle these urges: I see them as clouds floating in the sky. Like floating clouds, they are separate phenomena, something passing in the distance.
When I had the urge to smoke, I would feel the urge and mindfully notice it. Then I would watch it arise in me, get stronger, and then go away. Like clouds floating past me. I didn’t have to immediately act on the urges — I could just watch them.
This wasn’t easy. The urges would get really strong, and I’d get a panicked feeling inside, like I needed to act on the urge or something horrible would happen. But I learned the panicky feeling is just another cloud that I could watch, and it too would float away. The urges and the panic would float into view, from nowhere, and then float away, over and over, until my sky was nice and clear and I could get on with life.
When we procrastinate, it’s because we have an urge to run from the difficult, uncomfortable task. We don’t want to do the hard work, or be in confusion, or fail at something, so we get the urge to run. It stems from the fear of failure, of not being good enough. The urge comes up, and we follow it! But we don’t need to follow it.
We can watch the urge to procrastinate, like a cloud, but not act on it. We can just let it float by, and get to work.
When we face resistance with a habit, we want to run. We get the urge to quit, to procrastinate. This is just a cloud in the sky that will float on by.
Let the cloud float away, because it doesn’t control you. The cloud isn’t you. It’s just a passing phenomenon, one that arises and floats away.
Mission: Watch your urge
As you mindfully do your habit, see the urge to quit or put it off. See the resistance. Then just sit and watch it arise and float away. Don’t act on the urge. Let the first urge to quit (or postpone) pass like a cloud. Then when the second urge comes into view, let it float away as well. Finally, when the third urge floats into view, go ahead and act on it. Let two pass, and act on the third. With this kind of practice, you can get good on not acting on every urge.