The video here is about twenty minutes long, and covers the core of the content for the next three modules. You can view it if you wish, or simply proceed to the written content.
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Let's say you get a mosquito bite, and you feel a terrible urge to scratch it. If you go ahead and scratch it, what does that say about your willingness to feel the itching sensation?


 
Let's think about it: if you were truly willing to let the itch just be there, it would become irrelevant to your behavior — meaning that it wouldn't lead you to do anything, such as scratch the bite, which we know doesn't help at all. You act against reason and give in to your emotional urges only if you are unwilling to let the itch simply be there. We scratch the itch, or act on any craving, because we want the feeling of the itch (or craving) to go away, because we are unwilling to have it.

 
That's right! You only scratch the itch if you are unwilling to let the itch just be there. The wiser course is to not scratch, knowing that the itch will go away on its own... and knowing that scratching only makes the itch come back with greater intensity.

Let's take another concrete example. Imagine that you are having problems with your Internet connection, so you call your service provider for technical support. After entering dozens of numbers and security codes and menu selections, and waiting for fifteen minutes, your call gets disconnected. In a rage, you slam your phone against the floor. Do you think it is more accurate to say that you slammed the phone because you were angry, or because you didn't want to be angry?


 
Very perceptive! If you are willing to let the anger simply be there, you will see that you are one thing and your anger is another. You can be calm, even when your anger is aroused; you can calmly notice things about your anger, such as where you feel it most in your body, how strong it is on a scale of one to ten, what impulses are arising from it, and how it "magnetically" draws your thoughts in a certain direction. This kind of calm is called patience. If you are patient with your anger, you will be willing just to suffer its presence without giving in to it at all. You will only act on the anger if you are impatient with it.

 
Actually, no — but it is a very difficult question, one which took behavioral therapy many decades to answer well.

If you are willing to let your anger simply be there, you will see that you are one thing and your anger is another. You can be calm, even when your anger is aroused. You can calmly notice things about your anger, such as where you feel it most in your body, how strong it is on a scale of one to ten, what impulses are arising from it, and how it "magnetically" draws your thoughts in a certain direction. This kind of calm is called patience. If you are patient with your anger, you will be willing just to suffer its presence without giving in to it at all. You will only act on the anger if you are impatient with it.

 
It's the same with cravings: you will give in to cravings only if you become impatient with them. If you were fully patient, you could allow the craving simply to be there: it would be irrelevant to your behavior. In this case, your behavior would be free to follow the path of your ideals.

The more impatient you are with cravings, the more quickly — and, therefore, automatically — you act to get rid of them. You might not even be aware of feeling a craving at all! Automation makes us so focused on acting that we end up paying no attention to the emotion that is driving us to act, and might not even be aware of what the emotion feels like.

 
Impatience means, literally, that you are unwilling to suffer the discomfort of the craving. Patience means that you are willing to suffer the craving.

In order to be patient in the face of any emotion, you need a reason for not giving in. That's what ideals are all about: they show us how to act when we're in a challenging situation. When our emotions would drive us to act against our ideals, we need patience to bear with that emotion and the discomfort it brings.

So we can say that patience is the art of suffering well for the sake of your ideals, while impatience is unwillingness to suffer the cravings you have trained yourself to have. Patience is the guarantee of virtuous cycles, while impatience is the guarantee of vicious cycles.

 
Patience necessarily produces what neuroscience calls habituation (also called desensitization or inhibitory learning). This is the process by which you can weaken cravings over time.

Imagine that you have a craving that reaches a strength of around 10/10. If we graph the craving against time (in seconds or minutes) it would look something like this:

 
If you could be patient with the craving, allowing it just to be there without acting on it, this is what would happen. After briefly peaking, the craving would decrease over time.

 
Over time, if you could be equally patient with the craving each time it gets triggered, every subsequent curve would be a bit smaller than the previous one, until finally you achieve extinction, meaning the craving disappears. It would look like this:

 
On the other hand, if you are impatient with the craving and give in to it when it is at its peak, the craving quickly drops, giving a curve that looks like this:

 
If you kept giving in to the craving each time it was triggered, the craving would tend to increase with repeated exposures to the trigger. This is the opposite of habituation, and it is called sensitization. It's how we train ourselves to have cravings. The curve looks like this:

 
So, just to recap: when a craving gets triggered, the way you respond will either strengthen the trigger's power to generate the craving the next time, or it will weaken the trigger's power. The process of strengthening the power of the trigger is called sensitization, and it is produced by impatiently giving in to a craving. The opposite process, which weakens the trigger's power, is called habituation, and it is produced by being patient with the craving. 

What would you guess — does patience necessarily produce habituation?


 
You are right! If you are patient with a craving, you will necessarily habituate it, since being patient means not acting to satisfy the craving, and cravings only grow when we give in to them.

 
The correct answer is Yes — patience necessarily produces habituation, at least within that particular episode of triggering. The craving might increase momentarily while you resist it, but it will come down in time.

 
Let's look again at the habituation curve. The y axis (the height of the curve) depends on the power of the trigger. The more salience the trigger has — the more your amygdala has detected an opportunity for pleasure — the higher the craving gets.

The x axis (the time it takes to get through the curve) depends on the power of your patience.  Generally speaking, habituation can occur fast or slow, with "fast" being around 90 seconds, and "slow" being up to 90 minutes.


 
You can think of patience as having two parts. As mentioned before, patience implies that you are suffering from some kind of pain or discomfort — in this case, the discomfort of the unsatisfied craving. In some sense, this discomfort is the "matter" upon which patience works its magic. The greater your patience, the more you let yourself physically feel the discomfort without distracting yourself away from the feeling.

Patience also implies that you are willing to embrace the suffering. Patience casts a positive light on the trial, seeing the trial as a good thing — e.g., as an opportunity for living your ideals and growing as a person (for you philosophers, this judgment is the "formal" element).

 
These same two parts of patience are what determine how quickly you can habituate an unsatisfied craving. The more positive your appraisal of the trial, considering it an opportunity rather than a threat, the faster you habituate; and the more you are open to the discomfort, feeling it as fully as you can, the faster you habituate. 

Having a negative appraisal of the trial, and distracting yourself from the discomfort (or anesthetizing it with drugs), both serve to make the trial last longer.

 
To have the fastest habituation of a craving, you need to both see it as an opportunity for growth, and fully feel the discomfort of the craving (i.e. tension in the chest). Habituation is faster or slower depending on these two factors, both of which make up patience.

 
Now I'd like you to think about your own case. When you feel a craving get triggered, where are you on the attention-to-discomfort spectrum?

 
Then the idea of giving your fullest possible attention to the sensation of the craving must sound pretty strange! You'll need to be patient (I tried finding another word, but I couldn't). I guarantee that this will all make a lot more sense in just a few clicks.

 
Someone has taught you well! You're ahead of the game. Still, I hope you learn some new things ahead.

 
It's important to see the role that attention plays in the process of overcoming cravings. In the Mindfulness module we will review this in much greater detail. For now, suffice it to say that attending to the tension of the craving in one's chest is incompatible with impulsively giving in to and acting on the craving. On the other hand, distracting yourself from a craving sets you up to give in to it in an automated, impulsive way.

You may not have experienced the power attention has to stop impulsive actions, but I would guess that you have experienced that distracting yourself eventually fails. Am I right?

     
 
That was my guess, because distractions only work when you have a time-limited opportunity.

For instance, if you were told that if you could go fifteen minutes without eating a delicious cupcake you would be given two delicious cupcakes, you might decide to wait for the second one and, in the meantime, distract yourself with your phone. The distraction strategy would work because there's a time limit to the opportunity.

It doesn't work when there's no time limit, because the impulse to give in to the craving automatically will come back strongly when the distraction comes to an end.

 
Distractions only work when you have a time-limited opportunity.

For instance, if you were told that if you could go fifteen minutes without eating a delicious cupcake you would be given two delicious cupcakes, you might decide to wait for the second one and, in the meantime, distract yourself with your phone. The distraction strategy would work because there's a time limit to the opportunity.

It doesn't work when there's no time limit, because the impulse to give in to the craving automatically will come back strongly when the distraction comes to an end.

 
Let's move on to the next spectrum. How much do you dread temptations?

 
When you give in to a craving, how much does it feel like you are on auto-pilot?

 
What is your attitude towards having a craving and NOT acting on it, but instead just letting the "itch" be there?

 
Dreading temptations really means that you are dreading the feeling of a craving; the more you are unwilling simply to abide the feeling of the craving, the more you will automatically and impulsively act on the craving in order to escape it.

The fastest way to become willing to have cravings is to see them as practice. They are occasions to practice mastering yourself, occasions to practice patience, and purity, and all the ideals that guide these virtues. All this practice is a good thing.

 
The next module, called Reframing, will focus on the skill of turning threats into opportunities. As we've already discussed here, this strengthens your patience, making you more willing to abide unsatisfied cravings. Fortunately, it also makes the cravings habituate more quickly.

 
After that comes the Mindfulness module, which will teach you the skills you need to fully feel the discomfort of the craving, so that you can habituate it more quickly as you take away its power to coerce your attention and will.

 
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