Access our COVID-19 Well-Being Toolkit and Resources

Signup for our Newsletter!

Sign up for our newsletter to receive the latest news and updates.

Healthy Minds in Practice: The Mind that Craves
September 1, 2021

Photo courtesy iStock

Sometimes we seek comfort through unhealthy habits. In this 10-minute practice, we’ll cultivate curiosity about what drives these cravings, which can help us respond to them with intention.

Stephanie Wagner

The Mind that Craves

Led by Stephanie Wagner, HMI Collaborator

Hi there. This is Stephanie, I’m a trainer with the Healthy Minds Program. I’m here today to lead you in a practice to work with the experience of craving.

Each of us have times in our lives when we desire something that we think will make us feel good. For some people it’s eating sweets or binge watching TV when they are stressed, for others it is drugs and alcohol - which in some cases leads to addiction.

In this practice, we’ll work with noticing craving impulses as they are happening. This helps us respond with intention, rather than reacting out of impulse or habit.

Let’s get started.

Go ahead and settle in for the practice.

You can close your eyes if you like, or keep them open, and take a few slow, deep breaths, allowing  the mind and body to relax a little with each outbreath.

Now,  shift your attention to something that helps you feel more grounded... like sensations in your body or sounds in your environment. You can choose whatever you like here. Simply bring a light awareness to this for the next few moments.

Ok great. You can let that go.

Now, bring to mind something that you crave that you want to work with during this practice. Something that you want to have a healthier relationship with. It might be sugar, alcohol, shopping, or something else. Whatever it is, bring it to your mind.

As you do this, reflect on why this feels important to you. What’s the greater “why” behind making a change? 

You might think something like: I want to make this more workable because it’s affecting my relationships, or I want to do this because it’s impacting my health.  

Ok, great. Let's move on and work with the craving mind itself.

Bring to mind a moment recently when you experienced craving. It might even be happening right at this moment. As you do this, see if you can notice what this feels like in your body.

Do the sensations feel strong or subtle?

Where are they located in your body? Do they change, move, or stay the same? No need to think about this, simply observe the sensations as they are happening.

Now, see if you can notice any thoughts. Is there a story or belief associated with the craving?

Often thoughts have images or words coming and going in your mind. Step back and watch your thoughts without any judgment, and if at any point the practice feels too overwhelming, drop the reflection and rest your mind. You can always return to the practice when it feels right for you.

The stories the craving mind tells us can be very compelling. Continue to watch your thoughts with a sense of curiosity for a few moments. You’ll notice from time to time that you will get distracted, and that’s totally natural. When that happens return to watching the thoughts.

Next, see if you can notice what is underneath the craving. Is there an emotion like anxiety, irritation, or stress? See if you can observe what emotion, if any, is fueling the craving. If it’s helpful, you can label it in your mind, “I feel anxious.”

These underlying emotions can be painful and we go to great lengths to get rid of them. Let’s experiment with developing a different relationship with these feelings.

What might be something you could do right now, to help you navigate these impulses in a healthier way? Maybe it’s going for a walk or calling a friend. Take a moment to bring a few ideas to mind.

How can these alternate activities support you to be at your best, helping you to fulfill the intention to make a positive change? Continue to explore here.

Great. Now let go of the reflection and allow your mind to rest. You may still have a lot of sensations and thoughts going on right now and that’s totally fine. See if you can let them come and go, giving them space to pass through. They will pass.

Ok. Let’s conclude our practice. 

Whenever you are ready you can open your eyes, if they have been closed.

Nice job. Working with the craving mind is not easy. 

In this practice, you’ve had the opportunity to notice many different parts of the craving mind...including sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Through bringing compassionate awareness to all of these parts, you have begun the first step toward freedom. This awareness allows you to respond from a place of your values, rather than getting caught up in your habits and impulses. See if you can maintain this awareness throughout your day.

Awareness. Connection. Insight. Purpose. We consider these to be four ingredients of a healthy mind. You can train yourself to improve these skills, just like you can develop any habit. This audio practice is provided by Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), an external, affiliated nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mission of the Center for Healthy Minds. Want more practices? Try the Healthy Minds Program App.

Want more science with heart?

Sign up for our newsletter