I learned something new this summer: traveling causes cravings!

Especially when you’re stuck with an 8 hour layover with your sleep deprived, jet lagged 3 year old. Airports are highly adept at targeting our baser desires and speaking to our sense of scarcity. The huge crowds, tight spaces, and inability to escape without dire consequences (aka the security line) – they all contribute to a visceral sense of being trapped in a cage. When you’re feeling trapped, the lights, the advertisements, the bars at every turn all beckon to you – “hey, you can escape here, just sit down, have a drink, and chill out.”

How do you stay centered in the storm? Maintain distance from the screaming temptations, and accept those inevitable feelings instead of fight them?

For me, it’s been months since I’ve even had a craving for a drink. My typical life doesn’t revolve around the constant reminders anymore. So sitting in an airport all of the sudden feeling attacked by these urges was unexpected. And to be honest, really disheartening. I thought, naively, that I was beyond that. But a few months not giving into urges is nothing compared to over a decade of always giving in.

So what can you do?

I ACTed it out.

Let me tell you about it.

Developed by Annie Grace of This Naked Mind, ACT stands for Awareness, Clarity, and Turnaround. It is a technique that helps us take a step back from our internal experience of the external world and become the observer of it. It helps us depersonalize the thoughts and deeper beliefs that color our perspective – a perspective that ultimately determines our behaviors and patterns.

I’ll walk you through my ACT:

Awareness of the thought: Take a moment to pause and observe what is going on in your mind when you start feeling the craving.  What are the actual words your brain is telling you.  Release yourself from judgement and get curious about what’s going on inside.  For me, in this situation, my brain was screaming: “A drink will help me handle this unbearable stress at the airport.”

Clarity around the thought: I investigate the effect of the thought. How does this thought make me feel? What emotions are brought up? What physical sensations do I feel in my body when I have this thought? And importantly, what are the actions and behaviors that result from this thought?

This thought makes me feel anxious, impulsive, like something is missing or wrong. Like I can’t handle my current situation on my own. I feel disappointed in myself, dependent, and weak.

Physically, the thought gives me a fluttery heart, my breath feels shallow, and a have a knot in my stomach anticipating the split mind that drinking will cause.

This thought leads to me to feel incomplete and absolutely in need of a drink, and if allowed, it will lead to me step into the airport bar and order a drink. I’ll enjoy it for maybe 10 minutes, then get tired, cranky, and upset because not only am I still in the same situation, but now I’m coming down from the dopamine hit that alcohol gave me and my adrenaline and cortisol are ramping up, causing more stress and anxiety than what I began with.

Put this way, my conscious brain says no thank you! 

What I have done us revealed the cognitive dissonance present between my conscious and subconscious minds.  The next step is to resolve that conflict.

The Turnaround.  This is where we design a new helpful thought.  By doing this, and replacing the original, triggering thought, we are giving our brain a tool to literally change its wiring and create a new neural pathway.  Because our brains are highly plastic (especially brains not washed in alcohol), actively changing our thought patterns allows us to recondition decades old patterns in the brain that in the past caused us to go so quickly from unwanted thought to unwanted behavior.  The new thought needs to be true enough that we can believe it, and helpful enough that our brains will seek it out when in need.

My turnaround in this situation is: “having a drink will feel great for 10 minutes and then I will get sleepy and become even more irritated and stressed.”  This is what alcohol does to anyone with a brain and a body.  I have trained myself to remember this whenever I have a craving, and I promise you, it’s like magic.  It works.

Once I go through this process, my craving is immediately quelled, and my next step is to find something that will actually relieve my stress.  In this situation, it was sitting down to get a meal, letting my toddler traipse around the terminal a bit, and writing this post.

I encourage you to try this on your own.  Get a journal and write down these thoughts that come up – the thoughts that lead to you the desires to act on unwanted behavior.  Leave your judgement at the door, get curious, and observe.  Once you’ve gone through the process reflect on how it worked.  This process of observation, experimentation, and reflection truly changes the brain, which is the catalyst to changing your whole life.

Want to learn more about this process? 

Need a little help walking through it? 

For a limited time I am offering a free one hour coaching session to help you start exploring your relationship to alcohol. Contact me today if you want access to this technique and many more, as well as a real person support to guide you in your journey toward your own Clear Heart.


Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash