Fighting urges can be hard, especially when they are an urge to do something other than what you know you need to do.
From exercising when you say you will, to having difficult conversations, to finishing projects on time, to sticking to plans, to stopping bad habits – these can all come with urges that are so powerful that it can be hard to take any action at all.
In this article and video, I’m going to share with you a simple system to help you overcome these urges and take action. I’ll show you how this system can help you stop unhealthy habits and beat procrastination, so you can rewire your brain to overcome the urges that hold you back.
It’s a simple reward system similar to what parents use to help children perform simple habits and it works great on adults too because of how our brains are wired.
It’s called the urge jar.
I learned about The Urge Jar from a podcast episode with the same name from Brook Castillo of The Life Coach School Podcast.
Check out the video to learn about what the urge jar is and how it works (or read on below):
The urge jar is a system where you reward yourself for not giving into your urges by putting an item in a jar. It’s a simple system, but it’s not easy.
It might sound incredibly primitive, even childish, but it works. Mostly because parts of our brain that are activated during urges are incredibly primitive, even childish.
The part of the brain I’m talking about is the Amygdala.
The Amygdala is part of the limbic system of the brain which is responsible for emotions and survival instincts. It’s the area that is the primary structure of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response.
The Amygdala is also called the lizard-brain, or croc-brain because it’s one of the oldest and most primitive areas of our brain.
When you’re fighting your urges, your croc-brain is lighting up. It wants the immediate gratification of giving in to your urges now because it knows it will get a reward right now.
The croc-brain doesn’t care much for rewards later like saving for a house, but it knows it can get that reward now buy buying doing things like buying the new Apple Watch.
When you resist the urges of the croc-brain, you’re still going to be OK. You will survive. This is key to understand and the best way to understand it is by experiencing it, and the best way to experience it is to repeatedly resist urges. When you’re faced with an urge, you might not feel like you’re going to be OK, because the croc brain is behind the wheel and it’s controlling you with your emotions, but as you take small steps to work on improving your patience and self-control to just sit with it – it will pass.
The more you resist, the weaker the urge becomes.
This is where the urge jar system helps.
The urge jar simply rewards the amygdala in a system it can understand:
Do thing now, get reward now.
The croc brain likes this.
Here’s how to set yourself up with an urge jar:
- Get an empty jar (I use an empty coffee jar)
- Get 100 small things that can fit in the jar (I’m using pebbles from the beach but I’m sure you could use something like buttons, beads or bottle tops)
- Write “100” on the jar
- Put the jar and the 100 things in a place where you want to change your behaviour or take a certain action (mine is on my desk, in my vision and within my reach).
- Every time you perform the desired behaviour, take the action and resist the urge to do anything else – put one of the items in the jar.
That’s all there is to it.
The thing is, most of us know what we need to do and even how to do it, yet we still don’t take the actions we need to get there.
We know we need to eat healthy to lose weight, but we’re still ordering Uber Eats and buying ourselves “treats”. We know we need to run multiple times a week to be fit, but we sleep in on the run days because it’s warm under the covers. We know we need to work on that assignment before the due date, but we leave it until the last minute.
We know what needs to be done. We’ve planned it all out with checklists, calendar entries, organised our clothes and workspaces so it’s all lined up for us to work through our well-laid plan.
Yet still, we don’t do what’s needed.
The problem isn’t in the plan, the problem is in the present.
In the present, we’re working with our emotions, urges and the amygdala. We need to use a system and language that this brain understands so we can take the actions we need to in the present moment.
That system needs the present moment rewards and present moment progress of the urge jar.
Just like with children, we’re going to encourage positive behaviour and not punish failure. We’ll encourage ourselves, just like we would with them or a good friend, and we’ll keep collecting urges and making progress.
After a while, you’ll see your progress and be able to overcome urges and take actions easier than you have before. You might not even need the urge jar anymore because of how you’ve been able to create a new way of overcoming your urges and taking all the actions you say you’re going to take, without hesitation.
If you’re not quite at that point yet, try the urge jar out.
If you’re considering trying it, then make a start by setting it up right now. Don’t read yet another article on productivity or procrastination without putting something into practice.
I hope you find it useful and that it helps you build better habits in your life.
I’d love to know – what tips or advice do you have for overcoming urges and facing resistance? How do you focus and get what you need to get done?