- Are there any practices or habits that one can employ, either frequently or on a daily basis, to train one's mind to equanimously observe (be aware of) compulsive urges or cravings, without giving in to them / acting them out?
- Can this skill be developed in a general sense, applicable to all types of urges/cravings, or does one need to train a different, tailored technique to handle each type of urge/craving individually?
According to the article "Brief meditation training induces smoking reduction" one kind of mediation-training reduced smoking by 60% while a control group (relaxation training) showed no such effect.
"Integrative body-mind training (IBMT) is a form of mindfulness meditation that involves body relaxation, mental imagery, and mindfulness training accompanied by selected music background. Cooperation between the body and the mind is emphasized in facilitating and achieving a meditative state. The trainees concentrated on achieving a balanced state of body and mind guided by an IBMT coach and a compact disc. The method stresses no effort to control thoughts but, instead, a state of restful alertness that allows a high degree of awareness of body, mind, and environment."
Other relevant references: Tang YY, et al. (2007) Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104(43):17152–17156.
Tang YY, et al. (2009) Central and autonomic nervous system interaction is altered by short-term meditation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106(22):8865–8870.
Tang YY, et al. (2010) Short-term meditation induces white matter changes in the anterior cingulate. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107(35):15649–15652.
Tang YY, Lu Q, Fan M, Yang Y, Posner MI (2012) Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 109(26):10570–10574.
Tang YY (2009) Exploring the Brain, Optimizing the Life (Science Press, Beijing).
The short answer is - yes. There is nothing impossible, save for the theoretical idea of perfect balance.
Generally speaking you will be training your mind (i.e. yourself) not just your brain. The desired state of "still and equanimous" appears to be used as opposite to anxious. The potential cravings accompanied by anxious states are just too many to require one response per one type of craving, but you are on to something with this specificity - wanting a drink is not quite the same as wanting a sweetie.
There will be 2 components - one is the more general response - where you will recognise you are anxious. Hopefully you will also realise what you are anxious about (could it be rejection by a potential partner, could it be a bailiff's letter, or something less threatening?). The more specific component could use imagery - try to remember how you felt when you had the "sweetie" before (as a rule you will be craving something quite familiar to you). If you can successfully recall the state after you had consumed the "sweetie" in the past it very often will be helpful in deciding - do I really want to "eat" this now.