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Overcome gambling impulses with self-awareness

By: Dr Anastasia Hronis (Clinical Psychologist)

Developing self-awareness is fundamental for people who are wanting to change their relationship to gambling. Without awareness of our motivations, thoughts, beliefs, emotions and behaviours, we are unable to fully understand what drives our choices.

Cultivating self-awareness allows us to gain deeper insights into our internal experiences. These include our thoughts, our emotions, our internal sensations, and our behaviours. It helps us notice any urges and impulses to gamble, and can help us make informed decisions as to how to best manage them. Self-awareness can also help us recognise our strengths, weaknesses, triggers and motivations.

One useful way to build self-awareness is through mindfulness. Mindfulness is the state of being present with the current moment, without judgement. It is a sense of being in the here-and-now. It’s essentially the opposite of running on ‘autopilot’.

There are many different ways we can practise mindfulness. Look around you right now and notice what you can see, what you can touch, what you can hear, even what you can smell. By using the senses, we can be present with our external environment.

We can channel that same attention inwards by taking a moment to focus on our internal experience. Notice your breathing, your emotions, your bodily sensations. Scan through your body and be present with whatever you observe. These exercises help you build awareness. Mindfulness is not just a skill that we can use to build awareness, but a way of ‘being’ in the world.

Building self-awareness can also come via breaking down and analysing any urges or lapses that we experience. We can do this by asking ourselves open-ended questions to better understand our experience. These reflective questions might include:

What was I thinking about before the urge/lapse?

What was I feeling before the urge/lapse? What was my emotional state? How intense were the emotions?

Did the emotions come about quickly, or did they build? Are there particular emotions that make me more vulnerable to experiencing urges or lapses?

Are there particular emotions, memories, smells, sounds, feelings, or environments that make me vulnerable to gambling?

Was there anything I could have done differently? What skills could I have used? Is there anyone I could have reached out to for support?

Building self-awareness is important and has positive implications for our life, beyond just gambling. It can help us recognise when we are hungry and eat sooner rather than get to the point of being very hungry and overeating.

It can help us tune in to how we feel when we are around certain people compared to others, to assist us in choosing to spend time with those who energise us rather than those who drain us. It can help us identify if we are living life consistently with our values through recognising the sense of fulfilment that comes through some activities but not others.

If building self-awareness on your own feels challenging, you may want to consider seeing a counsellor or psychologist for additional support. Ultimately, developing self-awareness requires patience and dedication, however it can be useful to work through the process with a trusted professional.

If you would like additional support with gambling, the Gambler’s Help line can assist on 1800 858 858 or visit our Find Support page for more options.


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