Control your bad habits using “The Mind-bus technique”

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Do you like chocolates so much that it’s next to impossible for you not to have a small bite? Do you wish to eat those delicious butter cookies resting at a safe spot in your kitchen? Above all, do you know well enough that such food items have empty calories and yet you eat them to ruin your whole well-planned diet? If you’re like most people I am sure it happens with you. In spite of being aware of the repercussions of consuming refined sugar, you often fall prey to such strong cravings. But need not worry. Thanks to research psychologists who are dedicating a big part of their lives into discovering techniques so that you learn how to act upon your noble intentions.

The Experiment

In the British Journal of Health Psychology a research was published in the year 2013 that gives hope to people who are looking for breaking their bad eating habits. Researchers Kim Jenkins from Swansea University and Katy Tapper from City University London recruited participants for the study. Participants included people who were actually looking to break their bad habit of consuming chocolates. The participants were then divided into 3 groups:

  1. Cognitive “defusion” group: 45 participants
  2. Acceptance group: 45 participants
  3. Control group: 45 participants

In case of first group i.e. cognitive “defusion” group, 45 participants out of 135 were taught that ‘they were not their thoughts’. This is what’s referred to as cognitive “defusion”. The participants were made to imagine that they were actually the driver of a bus and all the disturbing & difficult thoughts were passengers. For the next 5 days the participants were given a bag full of chocolates. They were asked to carry with them the bag at all times and whenever they felt cravings they should practice the ‘mind bus technique’. In case of second group i.e. acceptance group, a technique called ‘urge surfing’ was introduced. In the following technique participants were instructed to accept all the uncomfortable thoughts they were having regarding eating chocolates and not control them. In case of last and third group i.e. control group, participants were instructed to control their thoughts and practice any relaxation technique to overcome the cravings. The participants of the study were asked to keep a diary to record all the chocolate consumption.

In the study it was concluded that the first group ate lesser chocolate compared to the other two groups. In other words, participants who followed the ‘mind-bus’ technique ate lesser chocolate during the period of 5 days when compared with the participants who were asked to control and acknowledge their urges.

Mind-bus technique beyond the chocolate consumption

It is important to note that the mind-bus technique is not limited to controlling chocolate urges or cravings of any bad food for that matter. We can apply it to any situation that involves negative thoughts. So, you can always apply the technique by following these steps:

  1. Think for a while a negative situation you want to resolve.
  2. Write down 3-5 negative thoughts involving that particular situation.
  3. Close your eyes and imagine you being a driver of a bus and all the negative/disturbing thoughts as passengers.
  4. Assign each of the negative thoughts a different voice, a different personality.
  5. Imagine you telling each of those thoughts things like, “Thank you for your kind suggestion. But I am the driver of this bus and this bus is under my control.”
  6. Visualize that you are letting those thoughts get off the bus one by one at different bus stops.

The research is not a panacea to controlling all our bad habits or negative life situations. Definitely, there are many flaws in the research (for an instance, participants selected for the study were already motivated and firm to let go off their consumption of chocolates so intrinsic motivation could have played a role. Therefore, it is not plausible to say that mind-bus technique was solely responsible for cutting down chocolate consumption of the participants). Nevertheless, we can try to become driver of the bus!!

Craving for bad food? It all goes back to Agricultural Revolution

Picture credits: The Atlantic

Imagine I am holding a powdered-sugar doughnut right in front of you. It is very delicious, no doubt!! Now tell me, would you be able to control yourself from eating it; at least a bite of it? If we are both being honest then I can openly say- NO!! Yes, a big NO…

Why do we crave for sugar and carbs  so much? Why they seems so delicious and tasty to us? Why is it so hard to resist ourselves from eating deserts or doughnuts or ice creams or rice or even having drinks filled with sugar?

It all goes back to our ancestors. It all goes back to millions of years ago.

We are living in a modern world that is suffering from an obesity epidemic. According to CDC (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention) in the year 2015-16, approximately 40% of adults aged 20 and over were obese. In other words, they were suffering from obesity. The fundamental reason behind obesity is a long-term energy imbalance. By energy imbalance it means that people are consuming more calories while burning lesser and lesser amount of it over a period of time. Sadly, consuming too much sugar is one of the biggest causes of energy imbalance among children and an adult population.

Something that went wrong in history

Not just us- Homo Sapiens– but other human species including Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthals, Homo Ergaster survived by gathering plants and hunting wild animals. By plucking wild gigs and hunting wild sheep they managed to survive for millions of years.

But things changed about 10,000 years ago when Agricultural revolution began. From hunting and gathering our ancestors began diverting their time to sowing seeds, watering plants, plucking weeds, etc.  Domestication of plants and animals became common. Wheat, rice, maize, potatoes became the main plant crops that provided majority of calories to Sapiens. And this was the turning point- consuming handful of plant species like wheat, potatoes, maize and rice which were not doing a lot good to the bodies of Sapiens. These plants species were the main culprit. Too much carbohydrates!!

Then v/s now

Although it is true that the beginning of bad diet began during the agricultural revolution, the story doesn’t end here. When Sapiens were hunter-gatherers they needed a lot of energy to look for food that required many longer hours. And whenever they found any sweet fruits they used to consume them as much as they could because food was not guaranteed to be found after covering some distance. Even as farmers they were required to do a lot of work including clearing fields, weeding under the scorching sun, building fences, watering plants, etc. And their bodies were not evolved yet to manage so much of work. So, it was natural to consume more and more calories. Carbohydrates and sugar helped them in the process.

Story of the modern world is a lot different.

Our ancestors had some very genuine and good reasons to consume carbs and sugar in large quantities. We don’t. And there are reasons for it too.

Carbohydrates are not all bad and we do need them to survive every day. Such carbohydrates are called good carbohydrates/complex carbohydrates and they include whole grains, vegetables and fruits. We also need natural sugar that comes along with many fruits and other food items. The real problem comes with refined carbohydrates including sugar that causes a sudden spike in our glucose level making us feel all energized only to find out that very soon we are hungry again. Refined carbohydrates are equivalent to “empty calories” and are affecting our health badly; very badly. Our bad diet is one of the biggest reasons why we are seeing so many people suffering from Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, etc.


There are two best solutions to the health epidemic that we are facing in the 21st century at an alarming stage:

  1. Restoring our diet
  2. Physical activity

Food industries are not helping us. They are not our friends. They are our enemies making every way possible to ruin our bodies. That is why our health is in our hands. Moreover, governments are also needed to stop being on the side of food industries and start making some stringent policies to ensure good health of its citizens. It is completely irrelevant to blame our ancestors- what had happened throughout millions of years is of no significance right now because we can’t go back and change it all. Evolution doesn’t care about our resentment. But after having all the facts right in front of us and still turning a deaf ear is no wise.