What makes you eat that extra burger, get that additional serving, have just one more drink, and maybe at least half a one after that? What pulls the trigger on that negative comment or angry outburst in response to what strikes you as idiocy, or as an insulting remark? What moves us to do almost anything that we later regret?
There's an urge, an insistent urge, and we act on it. Or, to use another helpful metaphor, there's a big itch, and we scratch it. In her practical little book on change, Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, passes on some useful advice. Consider poison ivy. When we have it and scratch, we spread the problem. We end up itching even more. And that most often results in even more scratching, and an even bigger problem. Great metaphor.
The meditative approach that she recommends instead is to pause, notice the itch, feel it fully, live with it, and refrain from reacting quickly and naturally by scratching. It's often more helpful to consider the itch than to obey it. You might ask yourself why the itch is there. You might remind yourself what will happen, as it always does, if you scratch, as you normally do. How will you look back on the scratching tomorrow? The intense urgency of the urge is always a passing thing. Resist for thirty seconds, or a minute, and the battle is won.
Scratch it now and you'll have to fight a bigger battle later. Now is always the time to pause, and consider, and learn to feel, before giving in to the urge that never makes things better, but worse.
Small pauses can solve big problems, and help to erase long term habits. When we use our minds properly, we can defeat what may long have defeated us. What we need is a new urge - to pause.