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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

A Trash Can for Cravings; and other useless thoughts.


Since starting on my Neuro Linguistic Programming journey 10 years ago, when I read my first NLP book, I have found one of the most useful exercises is the one where you change the way you feel about something by changing how you experience it inside your mind. This past weekend, I had the great fortune of attending the Happiness Habit Seminar with Brian Colbert, of the https://www.nlp.ie/" target="_blank">Irish Institute of NLP. Brian once again reminded me of how fun it is to banish unwanted thoughts and with his help I have added a few new ways of doing this and I know my vivid imagination will come with a few more over the coming weeks.


This strategy is not only useful for helping you to change how you feel about the past and people you find challenging but also in helping you to discover how your mind works. I regularly use it will clients and often teach it in my confidence classes and workshops when I address the subject of stress management and anxiety. Before I tell you how I use it when it comes to cravings, I will give you an insight into how it works.


Think of an event, person or time in your life which often pops into your mind and bothers you. If you close your eyes and think of it, you will probably find there is some sort of picture in your mind. It may not be very clear and it might only be fleeting but if you pay attention you will find that it is there. If you then change this image in your mind by making it smaller, black and white or by imagining it as sheet of paper and tearing it up, you can change your experience of the thought or memory. Brian gave us some nice ones such as shooting it out of a canon or smashing it with a sledgehammer as if it is a pane of glass. My personal one is imagining it on a white board and wiping it clean. If you do this several times in a row you will programme your unconscious mind to stop bringing the memory back into your mind, neat huh!


I have played around with this over the years and by developing my skills in Mindfulness, so that I could pay attention for longer periods of time, I have discovered that I store different information in different places when I think of them. I have places for things I love, things I dislike and things that don’t matter to me. The ‘place of things that don’t matter’, I call my trash can. When I close my eyes, it is down and to the right a little. I have found that when I think of things I no longer care about they appear there in my mind. It’s got things like Coca Cola, something I loved when I was young but wouldn’t drink if you paid me now. It also has white wine, that ended up in there after a blinding headache one summer’s day after one glass. It also has rock climbing, Pringles, pasta and other things I once loved but now can take or leave.


Recently, I’ve started using this to help deal with cravings. I have a sweet tooth and I love Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and chocolate and numerous other tasty treats. After years of struggling with my relationship with food I am now at the point where I can have things if I want them, but I don’t mind either way, and I no longer eat until I’m stuffed and regretting it, I’m sure many of you have been there. I had to use a lot of Mindfulness and Mindful eating to help me with overeating and knowing when I was full, but I definitely have that under control now. The thing that continued to happen was, I would still crave sweet things even though I didn’t want them or wasn’t hungry. I know that it is not the food that I am seeking but my association with food and bonding with others but it didn’t stop me thinking about chocolate or ice cream or cake and that was a bit of a pain. So, what I started to do was put those things, when they came into my mind, into the ‘place of things that don’t matter’. Soon, I stopped wanting those things, I might still have a craving for ‘something nice’, or a little treat, but when I’d walk around a shop I’d find myself saying, ‘not that, not that’.

I now find I can take it or leave it when it comes to sweet food and I have programmed myself to only eat food if I am hungry. I also have a little mantra that I say when I notice my mind is looking for some form of comfort or reward. ‘I love craving the feeling of slim’. I still have to remind myself to fulfil my need for connection or bonding in other ways, a good bear hug usually works or a chat or text from family or a friend but the power food had over me is no longer there. I feel very liberated and as I always remind students and clients when I teach and coach people, ‘you always have choice when it comes to how you feel’ you just need to take charge of your own mind to do it.

So, if you find you have issues with cravings or unpleasant or unwanted memories then take some time to find your own trash can and fill it with the things that no longer matter to you.

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