Mindfulness Helps Break Habits

Mindfulness is frequently the butt of jokes. Many interpret mindfulness as navel-gazing and believe it’s a mix of breathing and yogis. However, using the techniques of mindfulness, you can see substantial benefits. We have written before about the fact that people practicing mindfulness have an easier time following a meal plan without feeling hard done by. Now, research shows that mindfulness fights anxiety and can help you give up bad habits for good.

Mindfulness is paying attention to the world around you and all the aspects of your own actions. By paying closer attention to how you feel and what you think you can catch yourself before you do something without thinking. Just like we overeat when watching TV or chatting, a lot of actions are done by rote. When we focus on what we are doing, we can “hack” our brains to change our behavior. Training based on mindfulness behavior was five times more effective than standard treatment in helping people quit smoking. When people paid attention to their cravings, why they wanted a cigarette, what they could do besides smoke, they were able to put the impulse behind them. 

In a new study, researchers at Brown Univ. saw that people who used a mindfulness-based phone app to quit smoking did better than people who used a smoking-cessation app designed by the National Cancer Institute. Their research was published last month in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology. The NCI app allowed people to track triggers, gave inspirational messages and had distractions to help people not focus on cravings. The mindfulness app had daily videos, training in how to recognize and weather a craving and activities to help people pinpoint their triggers. Both apps helped people. The NCI users reduced their smoking by nine cigarettes a day; the mindfulness app users dropped their intake by an average of 11 a day.

Digital therapeutics, such as smartphone apps, are an accessible and affordable way to deliver an evidence-based treatment — if an app is developed with an evidence base behind it, because 99 percent of apps aren’t — with 100 percent fidelity,” Dr. Jud Brewer of Brown Univ. said. “You know exactly what training people are getting, because you’re not depending on a therapist to follow a manual. As a psychiatrist, I think a lot of us are pretty excited about the promise of digital therapeutics.”

The results of study after study have been so promising, that smokefree.gov suggests people use mindfulness to handle the stress and depression that many feel while quitting. If mindfulness can help people get over the chemical dependence of smoking and become nonsmokers, imagine how much it helps with less addictive habits! 

May 31, 2019
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