The best way to beat a craving.

I didn’t know I was a sugar addict until it was too late.

Well, I guess it’s never too late but I used that phrase to catch your attention (which I’m supposed to do, according to marketers) and also as a confession to let you know about my addiction to sugar. And this is my Halloween-themed post for you. Kind of about sugar, mostly about cravings and how to beat them.

Sugar is one of my two main addictions. The other addiction I struggle with is critical mind. I’ve made major strides with that this year and I’m SO HAPPY! Critical mind is the tendency to mercilessly judge oneself and others. It often comes out as gossip and complaint but I’ve worked for years to the point that it’s mostly happening in my mind right now, not coming out as words very often at all. Not that it makes it OK! It’s just less…harmful. And that’s my work as a bodhisattva. To bring LESS HARM to myself and the world.

So what’s worked? What’s worked to help me do this and make kind of progress to beat my craving to use my killer insight and judgement to slay others down with one spiteful strike of my intellect?

What’s worked to help me refrain from lashing out and saying things I don’t mean (ok, maybe I mean them a little—or A LOT) to take back later (see previous parenthesis)?

What’s worked to stop engaging with people on Facebook when they’re saying things that make me want to bang my head against a wall or Google their address to go tell them off in person?

Well, it’s the same thing that helps me beat my cravings for sugar. I didn’t know I had a sugar problem until I became a health coach. I didn’t know when my liver got so toxic from sugar addiction to assuage my grief in my mid-20s. I didn’t know when I’d pass out comatose on Sundays mornings from eating sugar to recover from a week’s worth of teaching (betcha didn’t know I was a teacher back in the day).

I didn’t know I was addicted to sugar when I gained a ton of weight after moving away from home in New Jersey to Boston in 2006 and getting a full time job that felt fun and also f*^&ed up in more than a few ways and I used my addiction to sugar to compensate and got chronic colds and sinus infections month after month.

But after becoming a health coach I DID know I was addicted to sugar. So when I found myself wandering around the country last year as a major part or phase of my own healing process and I used sugar, I did it less. I was more mindful of it. I still eat sugar to feel better. It’s probably never going to NOT be part of my life because I refuse to quit it because my relationship to it has changed, for the better.

Because I’ve found the best way to beat a craving is by using a skill I learned as a health coach: give into it. Turns out you CAN have your cake and eat it, too. Someone I met this week told me we all have that saying all wrong, but I used my mindfulness of critical mind to embrace his opinion and be curious instead of think he was mansplaining. See! It’s awesome!

Yes, giving into a craving is indeed the best way to beat it. Whether it’s sugar or critical mind or coffee or other things. I suppose some hard drugs don’t really count, but I don’t know from my own experience but only from losing a dear friend to suicide two years ago.

I suppose if folks like him who USE those hard drugs allowed themselves less harmful substances in moderate amounts instead, they might not have the cravings for those really harmful things. Buddhism says the suffering that causes addiction of any kind is caused by a craving of a much deeper nature. Perhaps people could find how to alleviate that suffering caused by craving such severe substances by using gentler substances and it might help to wean them. I’ll probably get myself in a lot of trouble for saying that. I’m saying it anyway.

The fundamental source of craving is a feeling of lack. It’s part of being human. Because Western society (a.k.a. THE UNITED STATES—and anyone else?) makes us feel really bad about being human beings in general, we’re set up to feel lacking most of the time. Marketing is really good at capitalizing on this so it sells anything and everything to us all day long we never have to feel lack.

We get really bad at embracing lack of loneliness or low vibe feelings in general. We can just buy something to make it better. But is that always bad? Might it be part of the solution?

I say YES! But it all depends on your mindfulness and awareness of it. If you’re not behind the wheel and just buying and giving into your craving from impulse on auto-pilot, you have no mastery over yourself. The craving HAS YOU.

For example, like last month, I bought two bags of candy corn. One for me and one for my colleagues.

They destroyed the one I bought in less than a week. And it was a 3 pound bag!

My 1 pound bag lasted several weeks, and in fact I think it got stale and I threw the rest away. How did I do that? Because I let myself buy the candy corn, the first time I bought it in many many years, and I let myself have it. I let myself have a few pieces when I got the craving and I stopped with that small handful.

It’s the same technique I use every single day. And there are probably plenty of health coaches who think I still eat too much sugar to be a good role model for my clients. And to those people, I try not to give into my addiction of my critical mind and judge them and their opinions of me based on their own insecurities about themselves. Whoops. Did I just think that out loud?

OK! See how it works?

The best way to beat a craving is just a constant process of seeing the craving, knowing what’s happening and using our minds and our decisions to give into the craving consciously.

Happy Halloween!

The way meditation works.

I’ve been meditating since 2001 or so. So about 17 years.

It’s been a long journey figuring out what I needed to really understand about meditation. One of the biggest misconceptions I had, and I hear other people having, is how meditation is actually supposed to work.

I was at a wellness event last week and met person after person who, when I asked if they meditated, responded with, “oh no way. I can’t make my mind that still. It just never stops. I’m too busy to sit and do nothing like that.”

Then there was the person who scoffed a bit and said, “well, I pray. Which is…more important.”

Listen, in America we get to have different opinions. We get to choose our religious path or spirituality that serves us. We also get to decide what works and doesn’t work for us. But I think it’s unfortunate when people make assumptions about something or form fixed opinions based on misinformation.

Meditation isn’t about turning off your brain. It doesn’t work like that. Our brains are designed to process information to keep us breathing and keep us alive. So if you’re brain stopped, that would be a bad sign. I told those people last week, “if your brain stopped, you’d be dead."

Meditation isn’t about being dead. It isn’t about being numbed out. It isn’t at all about shutting down the constant stream of thoughts that run through your mind. It doesn’t work like that at all and isn’t meant to. But perhaps people think that because they desperately crave that kind of feeling to escape the prisons of their minds, which never stop and hold them hostage and cause a lot of fear and suffering.

I can see why people would want to shut that shit down. I KNOW why, because my mind can be a dangerous place to wander around. I am extremely intelligent from a lifetime of wonderful education and I also pursue information like it’s my job, because it IS my job. I am an overthinker by nature and an over-analyzer from a tumultuous childhood. I learned from an early age to strategize and sort things out to survive.

It’s taken some hard lessons and a lot of discipline to figure out how to turn the machine of my mind to a different setting. Meditation helps. That’s how it works, actually.

Meditation doesn’t work overnight. It takes practice. It’s meant to help us actually understand what we’re thinking about, not to stop the thoughts. It works by helping us see the way we get hooked on a thought and get carried away by it. It works by seeing how we live our lives in reaction to people or events instead of responding from a place of power and balance.

That’s the way meditation works.

When we sit on a cushion or a chair for one minute or five or an hour, we are practicing how to sit still and watch our thoughts like our favorite Netflix show. We learn to watch the thoughts like they are a sitcom or crime drama and not what we think they are, which is REALITY.

Still with me?

Our thoughts are not REALITY. They are like a tv show, created from our fears and perceptions and the stories we tell ourselves—not necessarily what’s really happening.

Meditation helps us practice this so when things happen to us in real life, when we aren’t sitting still on a chair or cushion, we apply that same awareness.

What’s the point? Well, when we start to see that our reactions to life cause us stress or unhappiness, we want that to end. We want to change things. We want to think differently to feel differently. We want to learn how to have a more loving and fearless approach to life.

That’s the way meditation works. It actually helps us do that to feel better.

But only when we stop saying things like, “I could never just sit there and turn my mind off, it’s too busy.”

Meditation isn’t meant to turn you off, it’s meant to turn you ON to what you’re doing that’s keeping you struggling and feeling stressed out.

So when you’re ready to sit yourself down and be brave enough to do something different, that’s the way meditation works.

It's easier to sell ice cream.

Ice cream isn’t a hard sell. Everything involved in running a business that makes ice cream may not be easy, but selling ice cream is easier than say…selling self-help. That’s the business I’m in and it isn’t easy. I was talking to my friend recently, she sells ice cream, and something occurred to me.

Selling ice cream is easier than selling personal and transformation for two main reasons:

1) ice cream tastes good

2) ice cream doesn’t last

Here’s why these two reasons make ice cream an easy sell whereas health coaching, or identity development, or personal transformation or behavioral change or mindfulness or intercultural awareness (all of the things I do and “sell” to people) is much harder.

1) People want to feel good all the time. Ice cream tastes good. People eat ice cream and it makes them feel good (unless you’re lactose-intolerant or vegan, but modern science has solutions for you, don’t worry). Ice cream is an easy sell.

People don’t want to feel bad. That’s what I know from being a Buddhist. People want to avoid hard feelings and not deal with conflict or rejection or talk about it or be vulnerable because often, other human beings, in their own efforts to avoid these feelings, treat other human beings quite horribly. I watch it happen every day, in person and on social media. I do it myself, but much less than I did before I realized I was even doing it.

I hear it from my clients. I heard it so many times, and saw the correlation to what they experienced at work which was where they spent so much time, that I pivoted my business focus to help individuals and also help workplaces and specifically small business owners improve the experience their employees have while working for them.

But there’s a problem I ran into: small business owners are people, too. And most of them, definitely not all of them, aren’t doing the work on themselves to even understand why and how they are creating a work environment that isn’t safe, comfortable or healthy for their employees. They are so fixated on their bottom line, they aren’t even making the time to address their own issues or problems to see something to true about something they spend so much time doing. They don’t see that workplaces are just microcosms (did I say cesspools?) of society and society is pretty dysfunctional. People don’t have the tool or skills to be nice to themselves OR other people. It all makes a really big mess that costs a lot in turnover and health insurance or law suits and so on. How do I know? I wrote a whole master’s degree thesis about it. The research is there. You just have to Google it.

But business owners often don’t see this about themselves so they won’t really care (or worry about?) about how nicely their employees play with each other. They might be quicker to buy new technology for their store to move more customers through, or fix a hole in the roof or some other short-term fix to their business to make them feel better in the moment.

The equivalent of buying ice cream. SOLD! To the person in the white shirt.

But not every person behaves like this. Not every business owner operates (pun!) like this. I’ve had some wonderful clients who’ve gone above and beyond for themselves and their employees. It IS possible. It DOES happen.

2) People fear change. We want to do something and have it work all the time, forever. We don’t want to work very hard for very long to see results. We want to do it and get it over with. That’s something that’s getting “worse” with technology as it creates “solutions” otherwise known as feeding the Instant Gratification Monster. But impatience has been a pretty consistent human trait for about as long as we’ve all been around. How do I know? I’m not very old. Well, on my own personal development path, I’ve read many old masters who speak from their experiences and the experiences of their teachers. So that wisdom has been passed down to me and I’m sharing it with you. Human beings crave security and most associate security with consistency, which is why people (including company and small business owners) will say, “this is how we’ve always done it.” And those ways often work to a large extent (they think) so they see no need to change. People want to feel good and fear changing what’s bringing them some sense of comfort or familiarity even when the reasons to change are staring them right in the face with blaring sirens and bright signs in neon lights.

But didn’t I say ice cream was an easy sell because it doesn’t last? That’s right. It’s about impermanence. People crave permanence even when the only constant in life IS CHANGE. They hate change. They fear change. They want things to sit still and STAY so they don’t have to constantly adjust and adapt and deal with life. They don’t want the work involved in initiating and maintaining and actualizing change. They don’t want to experience the discomfort of the adversity that brings real resilience in life. So, ironically, we are pulled toward short-term fixes that never last. We are compelled by hundreds of thousands of tiny little temptations that bring the promise of relief from the millions of moments of personal agony.

Ice cream doesn’t last, but it sure does make things seem better in the meantime.

Avoidance does this. Denial does too. And these can last for as long as we want them, too…sort of like Willy Wonka’s Ever-lasting Gobstopper if you pulled it out of your mouth and placed it in a Tupperware and sucked on it once a week for a few seconds.

That’s how most people dance around changing anything in their life. They put it off and put it off and look at it on the shelf and say, “I really should do something about that,” and then busy themselves with a billion other things instead of the thing that needs addressing to actually bring about true relief, lasting reassurance and transformation. They try a diet and lose a few pounds or do intermittent fasting (FAD ALERT!) because it works right away and then eventually crave (ice cream) food and poof the pounds are back on. You get the idea.

Health coaching or personal transformation or spiritual evolution or whatever else you want to call this business I’m in takes a really long time. Jeez, I’ve been at it over 25 years and I’m only starting to actually do what I know to do more often than I don’t. But I know a lot from all I’ve seen and done, so the knowledge is there, the wisdom is in putting it into place.

Imagine how many people don’t even know what they don’t know? Imagine how many are walking around with these blinders on, bumping into things, and leading companies or political agendas and they hardly have a clue about who they are and what they’re doing?

So many people don’t think it’s them. They’re pretty sure they have themselves figured out, even when the evidence around them says otherwise.

But that’s too hard to think about. It’s too much work to address.

That’s why it’s easier to sell ice cream.