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Surfing the Urge

Multitasking makes it hard to focus. Doing the opposite helps up make healthy choices.

Can you focus long enough to read this column without running your to-do list in your head?

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Surfing the Urge

Some days, I am not sure that I can. Being mindful and present is difficult. What with blackberries, Twitter, Facebook and a steady diet of sensory overload, it's no wonder most of us find it difficult to focus, even for a few minutes sometimes.

An inability to focus makes it easier to make unhealthy choices.

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This was brought into focus for me recently when I read about the work of Sarah Bowen, a research scientist at the University of Washington's Addictive Behaviors Research Center. She has studied smokers and the practice of mindfulness as a tool to quick smoking. Pretty cool.  

She taught her study participants to "surf the urge" (think confronting a wave, riding the wave, and getting to the other side unscathed) when they had a craving to smoke. Although her control group showed no change in smoking rates after a week, the group utilizing her techniques cut back by 37 percent at a week. 

MORE: Lose Weight Being Mindful

What is Mindfulness?

"Paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally." Take walking, for example. You could walk down the street, thinking of a million things you need to do when you get home/to the office/to the store...or you could walk purposefully, aware of your surroundings, aware of how your body feels. If you walk this way, in the present moment, you are walking mindfully. Good news: we all can do this! It might take a little practice, but hang in there.

I imagine that this technique of mindfulness can be useful for a variety of everyday wellness obstacles: should I exercise today, or is the couch too inviting? Should I finish off those last holiday cookies, or peel a beautiful, ripe and in-season grapefruit?  

Given that it's January, a New Year, and most of us have made at least one New Year's resolution (and perhaps already broken one New Year's resolution), I challenge you to surf an urge today. See what happens when you want to choose an unhealthy option, stop, think about it, sit with it and move on.  

Once you've ridden one wave, the next one is so much easier!

COLUMN: Resolve to Be Beautiful, Anytime

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