Tempted? Addicted? Create a GAP!

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Changing a behavior? Create a GAP!

I always find it amazing that so many people actually survive college. When I say ‘survive’, I’m not referring to surviving a heavy class schedule, ten-page essays, or scary mid-terms; I mean it quite literally. How do we make it out alive?

During my college days, my roommate and I decided to invest in a Kegerator (need picture?) which allowed for an abundant and ever-flowing supply of beer. When it was sloshing with fluid, we continued to consume; quite quickly and efficiently. If beer was a diet plan, we’d be in better shape than Jillian Michaels.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never the type to drink in excess (often), but having quick and easy access to a vice such as this allowed us to easily act upon any inclination that poured into our minds. If I was mid-stride writing an essay, taking an online quiz, or studying for a mid-term it was easy to have a sudden inkling for a tasty, golden beverage – I didn’t have to hesitate! Insert red cup under tap and pull. It was easy!

When red cups are closer to the keg than the water faucet, it’s easy to see how problems would arise!

The objective of this article is not to press upon you our superior college intellect (aka: ignorance) or our brilliance in proper drinking etiquette; it’s to bring up an important technique I wish I’d utilized during these daze of slacking self-discipline (Um, I mean ‘days’).

When we have a craving, the ease of access and ability to instantly gratify ourselves will directly affect our will-power to say no. If you have a sudden case of the munchies and Doritos are two feet away, I doubt you’ll hesitate to act quickly and pounce on that innocent bag of chips.

It might look something like this:


When we have easy access to enacting a behavior we desire, our ability to halt our actions in their tracks are very limited! If a dog sees a morsel of food dropped on the floor, will he not eat it even if he isn’t hungry? Fortunately for our tail-wagging friends, we typically make it difficult for them to gobble down our freshly made PB&J sandwiches. Yet for ourselves, we don’t have big brother watching our actions and we are free to have any vice, addiction or craving easily at our fingertips.

To change our instinctual behavior, we need to create a GAP! A gap between our instinctual response to something we desire and our ability to attain it.

Let me x-plain.

What is a GAP?

A GAP is…

  • a small duration of time or obstacle that prevents you from instantly satisfying a passing craving, addiction, or behavior you’d soon regret.
  • anything that creates a few moments of space for your rational mind to catch up and halt the action in its steps.
  • a special moment in time forced upon you (by yourself) allowing you an extra second to process your next moves.
  • A GAP is used to allow your self-control to win out:

Is this what I want to be doing? How will I feel after? Does this action lead me towards my goals (lose weight, be productive, strengthen relationships, etc) or away from them?  Is this promoting my health?  Is this hurting anyone else… or myself?  Etc!

Perhaps you do something similar:

  • If I put the snack food on the highest shelf I will need a stool to reach it.  It’s not easy to grab… and who wants to go grab a stool?!
  • If I don’t have beer in the fridge I have to place one inside and wait for it to get cold – giving myself time to debate if I want to drink it.  Better yet, if I don’t keep it in the house, I have to run to the store to get it… then I’d have to put on pants and shoes!
  • If I unplug the TV I have to go through the hassle of getting behind it to plug it back in.  Better yet, don’t have a TV.
  • I put the theater popcorn on the floor or a few seats down – when it’s in my lap I unconsciously gobble it down!  Butter butter butter!
  • I put my alarm clock across the room, so hopefully the 10-foot stride to turn it off gives me enough time to talk myself into staying out of bed!

Call me lazy, but these simple hindrances give me a few extra seconds to reconsider my actions.  These are simple examples where you can create a GAP that is just uncomfortable enough to break your routine and force you to ponder if you’d like to continue.  This pause is sometimes all you need to change your mind and decide to do something that will benefit you instead.

Why do I need a Gap?

If you’ve read anything about fighting addictions, temptations, or cravings, you’ll have heard plenty of times that it is recommended to stop, take three breaths, increase your awareness of the present moment, and realize that this is your cravings speaking and not the smarter you.  Once you gain control, you consciously decide if the proceeding behavior goes against your overall well-being… and then you choose how you want to proceed!

That’s great and all, but stopping your focused and driven line of thinking to take these ‘three breaths’ can be complicated when it isn’t a habitual process you do already.  If you have read ‘Create an Environment that Promotes Success’, then you understand my values on controlling your environment.  If you can’t bank on your ability to stop and take breather, than prepare something beforehand that forces you to!

By creating a GAP you force yourself to take a 2-second timeout and during this time, the part of your brain that cares about your overall well-being and success can decide to veto this action.

When we have a conditioned response or desire, we typically act upon this urge unconsciously and immediately and leave little time for our rational mind to overtake our emotional need to carry out this behavior.

GAP It Up!

Controlling your behavior is easier when your frontal cortex (rational thinking) has more time to process and overthrow your instinctual responses.  When you aren’t feeling pulled in any which way, this is the time to create an obstacle (GAP) that prevents you from instantly satisfying your craving.

A GAP can be created for any behavior, no matter how big or small – usually a bigger craving/addiction needs a bigger GAP!  I use the term ‘addiction’ loosely, because an addiction can be anything – and could be defined as a repetitive behavior that you seek to perform on a regular basis.  This is typically a behavior that causes difficulty or suffering when you attempt not to perform it.

Creating a GAP could look something like this:

  1. Recognize the behavior. (Ex. Too much snacking.)
  2. Accept the behavior as what it is and don’t beat yourself up when you slip up, but use it to strengthen your resolve next time you are attempted.  When you actually start to see the weeds, you can’t help but pull them.
  3. Create a GAP – Your rational side needs time to work – remember, your cravings and instincts are subconscious, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on them. (Putting the snack on a shelf that is out of reach… or throwing them out.)
  4. Be Continuously Aware – Cravings and addictions don’t go away easily due to the fact we are currently programmed to ‘need’ them. As soon as a craving enters our mind, our brain tells us we need to satisfy it now! Use a GAP to allow your common sense and self-control to win over the undesired behavior.
  5. Reward Yourself – No no no.  This isn’t a reward yourself with a snack or anything like that.  Do something you enjoy that benefits you and makes you feel good that you did this instead of that. When you feel great after not doing what you thought you ‘wanted’, you’ll stop ‘wanting’ that behavior more and more.

What do you guys think?!  Do you already do this naturally?  How do you encourage yourself to change a behavior or stop a bad habit?  I want to hear it!

This post was written by

Greg has written 69 articles on Student of Me.

Greg is the creator and primary writer for Student of Me. He probably spends way too much time on the computer writing, researching, programming, and working on his photography. He loves escaping from screen-time to travel, ride his motorcycle, experience the outdoors and spend time with loved ones. You can contact him at greg (at) studentofme.com!

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6 thoughts on “Tempted? Addicted? Create a GAP!”

  1. Larry says:

    this is a keeper…thanks for having the intellect to think this through and get it on paper in such a way that makes sense and stimulates the reader’s “gap development” process!

    Good stuff!

  2. Rajid says:

    This makes so much sense to me right now. Thanks for making a simple concept sound so practical… I think I’ll have to try out the alarm clock one tomorrow! lol

    1. Greg Yung says:

      I’m glad! And yes, the alarm clock one helps big time, but sometimes I still manage to crawl back into bed for another comfortable 5 minutes. Maybe I need a bigger ‘gap’… any suggestions? 😉

  3. Liana says:

    With extra stress and a new environment, I recently caught myself starting to get out of control with snacking and junk food. So now any time I get the urge to eat something unplanned, I pull out my phone and write a text message with what I’m about to eat and why. I haven’t gotten to the point of actually needing to send it to anyone for accountability, so far just typing out the message gives me the time I need to rethink what I’m doing and why.

    PS: I get the shoes, but why are you never wearing pants?!

    1. Greg Yung says:

      I like your strategy, that is exactly it. And the pants thing is becoming more of a running joke! Funny you noticed 😉

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