Let’s pretend you’ve decided to lose some weight. You walk past a donut store and all sorts of thoughts, emotions, associations, memories and sensations come at you all at once. There are a few major factors that will help you walk on and not pull out your wallet.
1) How often you practice walking past. The more often you exercise your will power, the easier it will be to not act upon all those overwhelming internal struggles. This is regardless of how you manage to do it. Repeating the behaviour of walking past will quite simply become easier.
2) Practice mindfulness in this moment. Most of the time, decisions made on impulse require you to focus on one thought or emotion and actively exclude others. In this example the thought might be “It’s just one donut, it won’t matter in the long run” and this might lead to the arousal that comes from expecting something delicious!
The alternative is to try and let your entire internal experience pass through your mind without latching onto one thought or the other. The emotions, thoughts, memories, associations and sensations might be strong or weak, positive or negative. These are the ghosts of donuts past. Spend time observing this internal struggle with a friendly curiosity and you will find that it does not lead to one decision or another.
3) Take some time to think of the consequences. This is a useful tool if you feel you are in reasonable control of your thoughts and emotions and the decision is not loaded with a lot of painful and confusing experience. Mindfulness is an incredible way of reducing your levels of arousal and allowing yourself to make a decision based on your goals not your struggles. However, literally stopping in your tracks and applying some basic logic to the consequences of your actions can help you get over that moment where impulse strikes.
I’d recommend focussing on consequences that are associated with your values. In this case, the value could be maintaining your health. A donut can represent an infrequent treat, but if it has become one of many vices then perhaps it is time to face up to that negativity. I would recommend replacing that behaviour with another arousing behaviour. Perhaps buy a copy of your favourite magazine instead. Stopping yourself from buying a magazine may be easier than stopping the other craving.