The Urge Jar

We don’t do time outs, naughty steps or sending to rooms.

As an adult; if someone asked me to do any of those things, I wouldn’t be able to do any self reflecting for the shame and dread I would feel as a result of the person I loved and trusted most banishing me out of their sphere. So I can’t rationalise doing them with the humans I’m trying to teach about life and love.

And yet…those humans I teach, they do still have some learning to do.

So, the 6 year old in our house – he knows what’s what.

He knows the rules but he’s also learning to manage his impulses.

He isn’t naughty. His brain just tells him to do stuff and he obeys.

Your brain does this too and so does mine. Every single time we don’t do the thing we said we were going to do; or that we do the thing we said we weren’t going to do.

When I come down the stairs and he has turned on the TV when it isn’t time to watch TV; it isn’t in defiance of me. It’s in obedience to his primitive brain.

Did you ever put your phone down and say ‘I’m not looking at this again for the next hour‘ only to find yourself, phone in hand – mid LinkedIn scroll – less than 10 minutes later? You know what I’m talking about, then. And even though you decide you’re really not going to look at it again for the next half hour; you’re off in it 10 minutes later again.

The reason is dopamine. Your brain wants the hit of the distraction; the ease of falling down the online rabbit hole and sends out a signal to lift the phone. When you respond; this lights up pleasure centres in your brain; even when the LinkedIn feed was disappointing but you form a thought – behaviour loop:

Brain says ‘check the phone’ ? you check the phone when your brain tells you to.

Every time you repeat the loop, you reinforce it and make it stronger – automate it.

‘The Urge Jar’ is a tool you can use to help anyone self-regulate their impulses to do whatever it is you keep telling them not to do; or yourself to manage your phone checking impulse / your reaching for the biscuit jar impulse; we’ve also used it to stop nail picking…

It works really well because it gives the brain a different kind of dopamine hit at the same time as interrupting the thought – behaviour loop and weakening it.

What you’ll need:

  • A human you’re trying to teach how to manage impulses – any age
  • An empty jam jar
  • A bag of marbles.

Every time you have the ‘urge’ to check the phone / turn on the TV / grab Mama’s phone for a sneaky Minecraft and DON’T respond to the urge: you get to put a marble in the jar.

Putting a marble in the jar gives a dopamine hit; collecting the ‘wins’ and the pride of having done what they said they would.

You’ll love to watch the marbles gather up; especially if there is a reward for a specific number of marbles collected.

When you get 100 marbles in the jar, it is very likely you have created a totally new response in your brain which interrupts the thinking pattern that would have you do the thing you don’t want to be doing / not do the thing you do want to be doing.

When I come into the kitchen and see another marble in the jar, my 6 year old is so proud to tell me of how his brain told him to do something but he decided not to. It’s so lovely.

Let me know if you have any questions about applying this really simple but highly effective tool and I’d be glad to help.

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