# Cue Control
Once a cue becomes an urge, you will have to either overcome the urge or relapse.
That said, you can prevent urges by either removing or avoiding as much cues as you can whenever possible.
This allows you to save your willpower for whenever urges arise from factors that are outside your control.
Having an urge and relapse journal (opens new window) to record urges and relapses is a great way to find your cues.
# Removing Cues
Get rid of all the cues in your power to remove (within reason) that trigger your desire to perform your vice routine.
That may simply require you to remove objects that remind you of the vice in your house or even mean removing yourself from friendships solely based on your vice.
# Remove distractions [Mindful Use]
Anything on your vice that is distracting or isn't vital to helping you with your objective should be removed from your line of sight. This helps prevent you from going off-topic and makes the process much more bearable.
# Example: YouTube
Using the 'Distraction Free for YouTube' plugin on either Chrome (opens new window) or Firefox (opens new window) allows you to treat YouTube as a minimalistic video search engine for your objectives.
This is because it gives you the ability to remove the homepage feed, comments, and sidebar video recommendations. Enable all the options and be purged from all the endless distractions.
If done correctly, your YouTube homepage should be a blank canvas that only allows you to search things. Every time you click on a video you should not have comments or a sidebar of recommended videos.
# Avoiding Cues
Make conscious effort to avoid cues you can't remove (again, within reason).
The more you have to interact with the cue, the easier it is for the urge to manifest and the more willpower is required.
This is why having knowledge of what you can do to avoid these cues is crucial. Can I avert my eyes? Am I able to muddle it out with music? Change locations?
# Routine Control
Whether you went the mindful route or not, you must have measures in place to make it harder to relapse into your default vice routine.
Keep in mind, routine control isn't a full proof method for preventing a relapse, it's merely a means to prevent easy slip-ups from occurring.
If there is a will to relapse, there is a way to get there. Likewise, if there is a will to abstain, there is a way to get there as well.
Ultimately, your resolve is the true barrier that determines your desire to fight urges or not.
# Steps for Removal of Vice:
To successfully rewire your brain, you must continuously abstain from your vice routine.
That may mean having to delete your account, using a site blocker, selling your TV, etc. The more work it takes to use your vice the better chance you have in preventing a relapse.
# Recommended: Have someone you trust control access
If you are able to reinstall the app or disable the web blocker then you are susceptible to relapsing more easily.
Having someone else you trust that solely knows the password for installing apps or disabling web blockers is an excellent layer of defence. It's not required but highly recommended.
This is because the shame of asking the person you trust to remove restrictions will most likely surpass any reason to indulge in the urges you face.
Make sure you discover and fix any loopholes.
If you relapse to a loophole, I highly suggest you document a fix to that loophole in your relapse journal (opens new window).
# Steps for Mindful Use of vice:
When rewiring your brain to switch to mindful use of your vice, you must have a preplanned objective before each use instead of purposeless use.
Using your vice as an enrichment tool naturally requires more willpower than going the normal cold turkey route. This is because you are treading water, you are presented with a lot of the cues that make you want to relapse that you can't engage with.
Here is how you should switch:
# Have a preplanned objective before usage
You must have a clear enrichment-based objective before using your vice. This is how you rewire your brain to associate your vice as a tool and tool alone.
If your objective is learn how to fold clothes on YouTube you must have this knowledge pre-instilled in your brain before any browsing is done.
You should know the answer to both of these questions before using your vice as a tool:
- What do I want to accomplish?
- Is it for enrichment purposes?
# Catch yourself going off-topic and rewind
If find yourself going off objective do not get upset, in fact it is a opportunity. Your brain is so use to mindless use without having any purpose behind each action.
Every time you catch yourself going off-topic and force yourself to go back to your objective you are closer to rewiring your brain to use your vice as a tool.
Don't worry, going off-topic doesn't mean you've relapsed.
Now if you catch yourself going off-topic and consciously continue to indulge without transitioning back to your objective then that is a relapse.
# Helpful Tools to train for Mindful Use:
No matter how much resolve you have, your browsing is often done at a subconscious, habitual level. This is how you forget your objective one minute after setting it.
Tools like these ensure you that you don't do that. I highly recommend them, especially in the beginning.
Actuflow (opens new window) is an app that prompts you to write what you want to accomplish before every time you unlock your phone. It's funny, I found this product by having the same idea, but for browsing webpages!
Intention (opens new window) is a browser extension that gives you a limited time frame, one minute by default, to access a specified site. It's locked again until you set another time frame. This cycle creates urgency and reminds you to spend your time mindfully.
# Resolving the Root Cause
As said in the beginning, your vice serves to cope with problem(s) you face in your life. You could just be using your vice as an unhealthy means of coping with boredom, or you also could have a complex issue, like distracting yourself from addressing unmet needs in your life.
Remember, even if you are someone facing a complex problem, you would also need to replace your vice with a healthier outlet for negative emotions.
# Routine change
Simply replacing your old routine with a healthier one that provides you with similar emotional needs is how you overcome the common problem people face when quitting their vice, overstimulation.
As said earlier, a routine change allows us to rewire our brains from the harsh neurological effects (opens new window) caused by overstimulation.
When replacing a vice routine you still have the same cues, only this time, a new routine to perform.
If you are transitioning to mindful use, a replacement routine is still necessary since you still have cues derived from using the vice routine for leisure purposes.
A new replacement routine should:
- Be a healthy alternative to the vice.
- Be highly dependable to access.
- Satiate negative emotions like your vice did.
Here (opens new window) is a great list of things you can do to replace your vice routine.
|Old Routine||Cues||New Routine|
|Pornography||Parents leave house, stress||Jogging|
|Video games||Home from work, bored, stress||Guitar|
|Social media||Waking up, bored||Yoga|
This new routine you replaced your vice with will most likely be much harder and boring to do the beginning since your brain is wired to continuously getting high pleasure rewards without putting in much work.
And that's totally okay and to be expect. This is due to the neurological effects of overstimulation. Don't worry, it will get easier every time you do it.
It may be helpful to break down the routine into bite-sized versions of the full-fledged routine until you have enough willpower to consistently do it.
You should gradually increase the difficulty until you get to your ideal routine.
# Complex problems: Action Plan
Again, I must stress that this is not a replacement for professional help.
If you are or suspect you are dealing with issues such as depression, or have more than one complex root cause, then I urge you to consult with a trained medical professional.
It would be great if we could solve all our problems by replacing habits, but sadly, that is not possible.
Your replacement habit won't help you if you don't address any problems you are avoiding.
If Jonny wanted to resolve his root cause by only replacing his TV binge-watching routine with a healthier habit, like jogging, his root cause would unfortunately still be unresolved.
Yes, jogging is great for general stress, but it doesn't directly resolve the source his biggest stressor, lack of purpose and fulfillment in his career. Jogging would merely be a healthier form of avoidance.
That doesn't mean that his effort was wasted though. He still required a healthier way to deal with general stress and this is a great way to do so.
So your number one priority in recovery is to address the obstacles in your life that cause you to use technology as an avoidance platform, not keeping a high streak or even overcoming urges. Those are merely distractions.
Resolving your life problem(s) should be your main focus. The faster you resolve it, the closer you get to freeing yourself from your mental prison, your suffering.
Of course, willpower is a finite resource, so you shouldn't try to spend 4 hours working towards resolving your root cause after coming back from your job, especially in the beginning of your journey. You may end up relapsing due to ego depletion.
Consistency is most important. I'd rather you work towards resolving your root cause 30 minutes everyday than 1 hour twice a week.
As long as you are actively putting effort into facing your issues and aren't using your replacement habit (or worst, your vice) to avoid your problems you are winning and on your way to conquering your inner demons.
# Prevent self-sabotage
Having the courage to face your problems and the wisdom to know what you can change about it is essential for resolving your root cause.
Your root cause will likely instill feelings of fear, uncertainty, and being overwhelmed when thinking about resolving it. It may really seem like it's all hopeless and impossible to overcome, so you avoid the problem and everything gets worse.
But often times, our mindset and perspective is the only thing in the way that sabotages our ability to resolve our root cause. Limiting beliefs and lacking clarity of what to do are the biggest perpetrators of avoidance behavior.
For instance, Tim is addicted to OnlyFans and porn because he copes with the limiting belief that he has a 0% chance getting a girlfriend due do him being short and balding.
Since he thought getting a girlfriend was unattainable due to his genetics, he gave up and played victim. He avoids the pain of that thought by distracting himself with his vices.
For Tim, it's easier to blame his problems on circumstances outside of his control instead of working with the cards he is dealt with to improve his attractiveness. His fear of self-improvement being a futile effort due to previous rejections overtakes his sense of hope and drive for his love life.
Even if his dating pool is limited, he could still most definitely get a girlfriend. His limiting belief self-sabotaged himself. Since he believed he had a 0% chance, he did nothing, and nothing changed.
# Facing your problems
Having an action plan gives you the clarity of what to do to take control and resolve your problem.
So in order to control and resolve your complex problem, you should make a plan comprised of bite-sized, specific, and actionable steps you feel will go towards what you consider to be your idea of resolve towards your problem. This includes overcoming any potential limiting beliefs in your way.
But this is just your ideal mark to strive for, I don't expect perfection. As you may know, resolving deep issues on your own isn't exactly like fixing your Civics flat tire.
I don't expect you to break down complex problems into perfectly planned out steps with the assurance that every step is correct.
It's very hard to structure steps for complex problems like low self-esteem on your own, let alone know that every step is the best foot forward and actionable.
That said, it's totally fine if you don't know what the optimal path is. You are simply using your best judgement to devise a rough game plan.
But that plan shouldn't be too rough. Just remember, if a step is too vague, it is probably too hard, unspecific, or unactionable.
This not only makes you more likely to procrastinate, but more likely to relapse too. The harder the task, the faster willpower depletes.
If done right, you shouldn't feel anxious looking at your plan, you should feel in control and feel like you are making progress as you complete each step.
If not, simply change the steps until you feel like you are on the right trajectory. Worse case scenario, you have prior information to talk about that a therapist can leverage to help get you towards resolving your root cause.
# Example Action Plan
For example, Jonny's new plan for career fulfillment could be this:
- Spend one hour everyday after work discovering his life purpose (opens new window).
- When found, allocate that same amount of time towards creating that career after work (honing skills, building a business, etc.)
- Increase work time by 15 minutes every week until reached 3 hours a day.
- Achieved desired career. Continue this career daily for one month.
- If satisfied with outcome, he has found career fulfillment, otherwise go back to the first step
Keep in mind, your steps are not set in stone. They are adaptable to the changes that occur throughout your journey.
After work, Jonny gets urges to perform his old vice routine due to stress caused by working hard on his plan.
Instead of giving into that desire or trying to push through with his plan, he simply replaces his TV watching routine with jogging until the urges for the old routine dissipate.
Jogging in this situation is perfectly okay because he isn't using jogging to avoid his problems. He is using jogging to relief the stress caused by resolving his problems like a badass.
He may chose to stop for the day to prevent burnout and a relapse, but may find his routine to be just what he needed to grind out more time into resolving his problems.
Even if he uses more willpower for jogging in the beginning, it's an investment since he requires less willpower each time he does it. He is rewiring his brain to prefer jogging over TV binge-watching for general stress.
# Don't know where to start? Try this
If you are overwhelmed by the thought of tackling your complex problem, that's completely understandable. You shouldn't expect to find all the steps in one day, let alone a week.
That said, I recommend you start your action plan with steps... to make steps. It is perfectly fine and even encouraged that you start your action plan with one or more of these steps:
- Time for introspection
- Time for research
Until you are confident that you have enough clear and actionable steps, I'd recommend these to be the only things you worry about.
Remember, you are not in a rush, it's a journey.
# Start with why
A good method to unravel steps for resolving your root cause is to keep asking yourself why you have your root cause until you come up with nothing left to say.
For instance, your root cause may be that you are lonely.
You have no close friends.
You have a hard time establishing deep connections with people and maintaining friendships.
You have poor social skills that prevent you from doing so.
If you have no answers then that is your starting point.
You would research how to build social skills to address the steps that you feel prevent you from overcoming your loneliness.
# How do I know my root cause is resolved?
You must use your best judgement to assess whether or not you have resolved your root cause(s). If you want a more definitive answer, I highly recommend consultation with a medical professional.
Here are some ways to assess whether or not that is the case on your own:
# For The Routine change
A successful routine change transition is not necessarily when it becomes a habit, but when you've consistently gotten rid of urges after executing the replacement routine. This is how you can tell the new routine satiates the same needs that your vice routine did.
If you have beaten five urges in a row with the same replacement routine then it's pretty safe to say you found a replacement.
For example, if Jonny felt like his urge to binge watch was consistently alleviated with jogging then he has successfully transitioned into a new routine. He found a new way to deal with stress.
Be sure to give the new routine some time before you decide to drop it.
Use an urge journal (opens new window) to count how many times you've beaten an urge with a replacement routine.
# For The Action plan
If your problem is resolved, you have little to no worries about it, so you don't have any urges or desires avoid that problem using technology.
Completing the last step of your action plan should indicate that this is so.
Of course some problems, like loneliness and trauma, aren't 100% resolved for the rest of your life. Your action plan provides a framework for you to work with so you can similarly address such issues in the future.
# Keep going
Two months down the road you may find that you misjudged what your root cause is or the steps to resolve it and that's perfectly okay.
What's important is that you see progress and embrace that this is a journey that you are getting better at with every relapse, failure, and success.
# When Urges Strike
If you get urges to relapse, awesome! You have both validated your problem and begun the process of rewiring your brain.
That means every urge comes with the opportunity to rewire your brain towards the future you want, not what your brain wants.
But first, you must understand urges and how to handle them correctly.
# Understanding urges
Urges are the result of the primitive side your brain trying to resist change from the path of least resistance, despite whatever adverse consequences it may have on your success and ultimate happiness.
The primitive side of your brain believes your vice serves as the most effective way of addressing a specific need and/or emotion your have under the context of being for your survival.
When you suddenly get rid of that, your brain thinks you messed up and are hurting your chances of survival. As a result, your brain will fight you to get back it's fix, this is manifested as the 'urges' you get through cues.
Unless you are consciously making effort to provoke cues, it isn't your fault or choice whenever an urge manifests. Not all cues are easy to control or even possible to avoid.
You could prevent all the external cues in the world, but you'd still be susceptible to urges derived from your thoughts and feelings. Urges will come and go, whether or not you relapse.
Unfortunately, thoughts and feelings unconsciously arise, it's outside the power of our control to change that.
However, that doesn't mean we should just give up and play victim. Thanks to our conscious awareness, we have the power to handle how we react to those thoughts and feelings that pop up into our head, and with that, the power to end unnecessary suffering.
This is where our good friend willpower comes into play.
# Handling urges
As soon as you catch that you have thoughts or feelings that make you want to use your vice, your default mode should be to perform your replacement habit, within reason of course.
The faster you address urges, the easier time you will have overcoming them. You don't give away more willpower then necessary.
Since your replacement habit should satiate the same negative emotions as your vice, you are training the primitive side of your brain to shut up by slowly accepting the replacement habit to deal with those same emotions.
Soon enough, your brain will get the message and prioritize performing your replacement habit over your vice whenever you get urges.
Remember, if you ever find yourself having trouble justifying why you should continue, you need to review your reason(s) to quit again. You may have to review them every time at the start of your urges until you fully internalize your 'why'.
Reviewing hasn't helped? You likely either don't have big enough reason(s) to quit or worse, have an undiagnosed mental health condition like depression or anxiety.
If you have a complex root cause, you must ensure that you aren't using your replacement habit as another means of avoiding your problems.
By all means, fight the urges to use your vice until they dissipate.
But don't overextend your visit unless you have free time and you feel like you are actually in control of addressing your problems with your action plan.
# The fallback: Urge surfing
" You can't stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf"
If you are in a situation where performing the replacement routine is infeasible or not possible then you should do urge surfing.
Here are some examples of when it makes sense to urge surf and when it makes sense to perform your replacement routine:
|Urges to play video games when studying||Urge surfing||Wrong time to satiate boredom. Replacement routine can be used to indefinitely avoid studying.|
|Urges to play video games after tasks are done for the day||Replacement routine||Right time to satiate boredom. Urge surfing is a temporary and conditional measure, it won't fulfill your continual desire to alleviate boredom.|
|Urges to watch porn at bedtime||Urge surfing||Replacement routine may make it harder to sleep and may be dangerous (jogging at night, etc.).|
|Urges to watch porn when parents leave house||Replacement routine||Replacement routine is available at an ideal condition, so it should be prioritized over urge surfing.|
|Urges to check social media at the mall||Urge surfing||Can't access replacement routine in the mall.|
Regardless if you see a situation to urge surf or not, this section will teach you how you should mentally react to urges.
Urge surfing is a mindfulness-based technique created by leading clinical psychologist Alan Marlatt (opens new window) that is a powerful way (opens new window) to overcome urges and even reduce urge frequency (opens new window).
The 'waves' in this case are the urges. They are first small, grow to their peak, and then eventually come down and dissipate, no matter how big they get.
Unfortunately, most people give into their vice at the peak before ever experiencing the come down.
The more you try to resist the waves the bigger they grow.
Whatever you do, don't imagine yourself at the beach. You must not think about being at the beach. You definitely aren't imagining yourself at the beach now, are you?
Point is, a similar mental battle is happening to you whenever you are trying to distract yourself from an urge. When you try to fight or avoid the thoughts derived from your urge you only increase the intensity of that urge.
If you don't label urges as a "good" or "bad" experience, you strip urges of their power to control you, ultimately remaining unaffected.
Instead of fighting, feeding, or suppressing the waves, you can learn to 'ride' the waves through observing them non-judgmentally, reacting with non-reaction. By doing this, you allow the urges to go through their natural duration instead of prolonging the continuation of waves caused by fighting or resisting them.
# How do I urge surf?
Urge surfing simply means you are observing the effects urges are have on your mind and body non-judgmentally and non-reactively until they inevitably pass.
As long as you are doing that, you are urge surfing. The particular steps in which you do so doesn't matter and are merely a guideline to follow.
Here is how I recommend you surf the urge:
Identify the physical sensation: Starting from head to toe, pinpoint where your urge is currently felt in your body. If you have more than one place, focus on the one that has the most sensation.
Rate the strength: Assess how strong the urge feels from a scale of one to ten. 'One' would mean you have no urge and 'ten' would mean the urge feels unbearable.
Observe your breath: For two minutes, bring your attention to breathing in and out, without changing your normal pace of breathing. If urges are the waves, your breath is the surfboard. It is what grounds you, allowing you to ride the waves no matter how big they get. If you have thoughts pop up from your mind, don't judge, ignore, or fight them. Instead, acknowledge them for what they are, just thoughts, and gently go back observing your breath.
Repeat as needed: Continue repeating the steps until you find your urge's strength rating has dropped to a manageable level.
Urge surfing may not be easy for you in the beginning, especially if you aren't used to meditation, but it will be an indispensable tool for times when you shouldn't or can't execute your new routine.
With each successfully urge surfing session, you prove that your thoughts and feelings (urges) can't control you if you detach yourself from them. Over time, this instills unbreakable confidence knowing that your urges, no matter how strong, have no power over you.
And the more you practice the easier time you will have overcoming urges. You will likely need less time and less time to urge surf as you strengthen your mind.
Mindfulness meditation will make urge surfing, along with many other aspects of your life, much easier by learning to dissociate with your unconscious thoughts and feelings faster.
# Why isn't this the main urge method?
While urge surfing seems almost too awesome to be a fallback since it requires nothing but your attention, there is good reason it's secondary.
Remember, each habit, good or bad, serves a purpose to you.
Even you had a problem playing video games all day due to your desire for accomplishment, you were still serving your biological drive for accomplishment. That's why urge surfing isn't sustainable, it doesn't provide long-term relief from such desires.
However, urge surfing can serve as a replacement routine in cases where your vice is solely used for resolving general stress.
# Handling Relapses
"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. "
If you somehow couldn't muster up the ability to overcome your urge, don't get self-destructive.
Relapses should only be treated as learning opportunities that you can grow from. Negativity is not only an unconstructive waste of time but it actually does more harm than good.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't feel any negative emotions for failing to live up to your expectations. Let them come, feel them, but do not let them dictate and control your future decisions.
If you let the negative emotions consume you then you can't control yourself and most importantly, your addiction.
# Is all my progress gone?
If you don't binge afterwards, not all.
While consistency for habits is key, relapsing one day has little effect on your overall trajectory towards rewiring your brain.
Now if you frequently relapse then you will definitely have to take more time to rewire your brain. Three times in a row may yield to a week worth of progress loss while six times could even make you lose a month worth of progress.
# What should I do after I relapse?
Introspection -> Adapt -> Overcome.
You are presented with multiple opportunities to learn from your relapses, each giving you the chance to get better with each hurdle.
Here are the some of the first questions you should ask yourself when reflecting:
- Was my reasons to quit stronger than my reasons to indulge in my urge?
- Did I forget my reasons to quit?
- Did my method for overcoming urges help?
- Did I use up too much willpower today?
- If so, what were the most impactful sources (chores, cue exposure, etc.)?
If done correctly, you will eventually reach a point where you have found most of your pitfalls, loopholes, and important lessons, allowing you to successfully adapt and overcome until you inevitably reach the finish line.
If you do not learn from these relapses then you most likely haven't taken the time for the introspection needed to know why you relapsed and how you will prevent it from happening again.
It's very important that you have a place to reference all your lessons learned to prevent history from repeating itself.
This is why I highly recommend you journal (opens new window) every relapse you have with these questions in mind.