Feeling the urge to do something? How to get control back.

An urge is a desire to do or not do something. It appears in our body as feeling. We have genuine bodily urges to sleep, eat, drink water, move, procreate and go to the ladies!

We also have urges to do or not do something that feel genuine but are not. Urges are driven by our thoughts, beliefs and habits for example: checking our phone when we just checked it two minutes ago, to eat or drink or do something we promised ourselves we wouldn’t.  

Resisting and reacting to an urge   

Whether our urges are genuine or not, we are mostly taught two options. Resist them or react to them.  Resisting an urge is often known as ‘white knuckling it’. Hanging on, gritting our teeth and using all our determination to not do the thing that the urge is telling us to do. The opposite is reacting to the urge, giving in, letting ‘it’ get the better of us and doing what we had promised we wouldn’t do and then feeling bad afterwards and making it worse by beating ourselves up. Hands up all those who have done that. Chocolate, wine, online shopping? I have!

There is another way

There is another way with our urges. An urge is just feeling in our body driven by a thought in our brain. The more we repeat the thought, the more we train our brains and the more the urge will appear. We know this with these ‘wine’ habits of ours. Or whatever your habits are …. Insert appropriately! For example, thoughts such as the ones below:

  1. I have had a tough week I deserve it.
  2. It’s the weekend, I can relax and ….
  3. Everyone else is doing it…. there’s a pandemic on!
  4. I’ll start again on Monday.
  5. I’ve got no willpower…
  6. Just one …. can’t hurt and it makes me feel good.

When we keep repeating patterns of thought we are carving deep neural pathways in our brain. Our thoughts become ingrained and when the external cue is triggered, the urge appears, again and again. The good news is, we can change, if we really want to.

Choosing to observe an urge instead

This a very powerful premise. We can choose our thoughts, and we can choose to observe our urges. But we need to learn to do this. Often, we feel that our urge to do or not do something controls us. It’s like sleepwalking. We hear people say, ‘suddenly I found myself in front of the fridge’, or ‘opening a bottle’, or ‘handing over my credit card’. 

6 steps to breaking an urge

When we choose to observe our urges instead of reacting or resisting, we can let the feeling go through our body and pass through. We can literally let it ‘wash over us’.  An urge, a feeling, is a vibration of energy that may need to be observed many times over and over until the link in the chain of events from circumstance to action is lessened or broken. If you are trying to break from an urge that is not serving you then try this:

  1. Reflect when the urge to do or not do something usually appears. After a tough day? When difficult emotions surface? At a set time of the day?
  2. Notice what the urge to do ‘the thing’ feels like. Do you feel disconnected? Do you lose time? Do you move quickly? Can you name the feeling in your body? It’s ok if you react to it at first and go ahead and do the thing, but progress is knowing that there was an urge and how it felt.
  3. Take note of any patterns. For example, ‘it’s nearly 6pm, this is when I normally feel the urge to ….’. At this point you can also choose to use distraction as a supporting tool. If 6pm or whatever is a trigger to do a thing, change your routine around that time. The urge may still come but you have already taken yourself out of the usual circumstance and you are already lessening the pattern. 
  4. Plan for the next time. Be ready and plan to ‘sit with it’. This means sitting, breathing, really focusing on your breathing and waiting for the urge to pass through your body. The urge is a feeling, an emotion and we know that emotions pass with time.
  5. Helpful self- talk and phrases such as ‘ah this is what the urge to do….… feels like’. ‘here it is, right on cue’.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Words don’t teach, only experience teaches. Knowing this is intellectually good, but until we practice in real time for ourselves, we won’t know what it feels like.

When we have practised thoughts into unhelpful urges then we need to find thoughts that support our desire to change. Helpful thoughts such as: ‘It’s possible for me to change or stop or do less of or more of … something, leaves the door open to change. Finding your own sentences like ‘it’s possible for me to allow this urge to pass without reacting’ are so kind and gentle to ourselves. Using words like this in the midst of an urge are known as ‘pattern interrupters. They literally change your brain and in turn change your feelings and the action that you take or don’t take.

Learning to get back in control when urges are having a little bit too much impact in our lives build self-awareness, trust and integrity with ourselves. This builds our personal power and confidence. Isn’t that a good thing?

If you have an urge that you are reacting to, a little too often and would like to stop, do get in touch. I help people get clear on their goals, find the empowerment they need to achieve what they want, their way.

Dale Potts

Business and Career Coach



1 thought on “Feeling the urge to do something? How to get control back.”

  1. Brilliant post Dale. In our planner group we are focussing on minding our habit this month so I will share your post with our planners!

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