Managing Cravings


Cravings have fascinated me. I’ve always thought that if you are wrestling with cravings when you try to break a habit or addiction, you’re pretty much doomed to fail. But I think it’s possible to overcome an addiction without cravings.


Smoking cigarette

When I was in my twenties, I smoked 50 cigarettes a day (I know! I never do things in halves). It was a serious habit. I used to watch the clock to wait 15 minutes between cigarettes — you could smoke at your desk in those days.

One day I went to the doctor to get a prescription for the pill. He asked me if I smoked. When I said “yes”, he cited statistics around my risk of cervical cancer … smoking and being on the pill.

Hit between the eyesWham! It hit me between the eyes and I decided right there and then that I would stop smoking. I didn’t give up immediately but planned to stop a week or so later. I did as I planned.

But the thing I remember most about that experience was that I did not have any cravings. I felt terrible … for months, sort of fuzzy in the head.  I admit, I ate a lot of lollies but I never once wrestled with the “will I” or “won’t I” have a cigarette. I just stopped.

I’m not an expert in neurology and realise my lone example is not an adequate research sample, but it seems to me there must be some way to engage the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain we use to exercise judgement) such that the brain overrides its own cravings. Of course the brain still needs to adjust to not having the drug, but I see that as a different experience to a ‘craving’.


In my experience, it seems if your motivation is strong enough, you can stop … just like that. I guess the secret is … finding that motivation. The good thing is, it happens. I met others with similar experiences when I researched Mind Minders.

I wonder if you have had a similar experience?

P.S. Marc Lewis blogs about this here. He calls it ego depletion or ego fatigue.

2 thoughts on “Managing Cravings

  1. Nice essay; only a coupla points of order:
    we don’t engage the prefrontal cortex
    we use that part of our physical structure to route data
    we exercise the judgement, not the section of meat routing the data
    our brain doesn’t experience craving; it doesn’t override anything
    it’s a piece of (very refined) meat
    we experience the craving (or not), we do any overrriding


    1. Great feedback! I assume your comments are based on the belief that we have a spirit/soul directing our physical functions. An enticing idea. There is well documented evidence that brain damage can change one’s personality, sometimes quite severely.
      So it seems to me, even if we do have a spirit, our ability to control and direct our life is limited by or in the very least, inexorably connected to, the physical function of our bodies, including our grey matter. I guess understanding the relationship between spirit and body is the goal of every religion on the planet.

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