Are urges ever urgent?


An urge is like an itch; scratching may relieve it. Most often, it makes it worse.

On the whole, we have incredible instincts and going with the flow with our body’s intuition makes total sense. When you are thirsty, drink. When you are hungry, eat. When you are tired, sleep. When you need the bathroom, well, you get the picture. However, things are not always that simple; many habits power up urges and most often we are more than aware of this but feel powerless. We reach for that chocolate,  bite our nails, pick at a scab,  procrastinate. I recently observed that the hardest habits to tackle are those that are linked or triggered by some instincts. This is where another faculty is called for.

Time-management experts advise their client to watch out for those tasks that are urgent and non-important. When something pops up as urgent, the trick is to pause and to ask the question “Is it vital?” If it isn’t, consider if it is important at all. Finally, what are the consequences of not acting upon it? This is the theory. In practice, it is very easy to get caught off guard. Imagine that you are working on an important project, and your phone starts ringing. You will probably get an urge to pick it up. Your ‘chimp’ brain perceives the ringtone as an alarm – needing an immediate response. It is nearly compulsive. The ability to pause between stimulus and response is what some people believe distinguishes us from most other animals.

An interesting exercise is to become very mindful when an urge comes and slow the time down so to speak. Let the phone ring for five seconds say. Watching the process can sometimes stop the chimp in its track.

Many urges lead to undesirable compulsive behaviours. So getting to recognise and understand them is a really valuable exercise. Urges are much harder to control as long as there are seen as urgencies. Mindfulness slows down the process and can allow us to dismantle them. 


One sentence journal – day 4:
“Being granted space and time should be a luxury, I am both grateful for having had it and disappointed with what I did with it ”

This blog is part of a renewed 42-day writing challenge inspired by Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits Book.
Photo: Jonathan Pielmayer