One of my favorite books is Getting Unstuck by Pema Chödrön. In the book, she explores the concept of Shenpa, which can be described as the urge (or hook) which triggers our habitual responses. Specifically, it’s our response to some feeling of unease where we naturally reach for some sort of relief, whether that be alcohol, cigarettes, fast food, our smartphone, or some other form of alleviation. For example, whenever you hear some bad news, your natural coping mechanism is to reach for a bottle of wine.

Rather than indulging in our habitual responses, Chödrön prescribes a four-step process to break the cycle. This includes Recognizing, Refraining, Relaxing, Resolving.


The first step as with any practice of self-improvement is noticing where your urges come up. Are there particular triggers that make you more likely to scratch your itch than others? Knowing ahead of time what will trigger you will allow you to take the necessary precautions. For this step, a mindfulness or meditation practice is invaluable as it allows you to become more adept at recognizing the thoughts and feelings that are going through you at any point in time.


The second step is refraining from indulging in the habit. This is easier said than done, as oftentimes it feels like a burning urge that requires immediate attention. However, with practice, it tends to get easier and easier.


After you refrain from your habitual response, you can now relax into the urge. Notice the sensations in your body - are there particular body parts that are tense? Is your face hot? Noticing these sensations and then relaxing into them will help you anchor yourself in your body, and notice as the sensations start to change with the passage of time.


Finally, you have to resolve to continue to follow this four-step framework to avoid getting hooked. Even those who achieve 20-years of sobriety through Alcoholics Anonymous still call themselves recovering alcoholics, because they know the work is never done. The urges will always come up, and so you must resolve to stay the course and not allow yourself to be hijacked by your urges.