By Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. (Article from Watkins’ Mind Body Spirit magazine, issue 30, May (Summer, 2012)
England’s inspirational writer, James Allen (1864 – 1912), wrote, “You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration.” Unwanted habits constitute our controlling desires; stumbling blocks on the way to realizing our dominant aspirations, making us small in the eyes of others and ourselves.
Unwanted habits carry a price, consuming time and money. Overeating and smoking, for example, damage health. Habits of vice, such as viewing pornography, erode authenticity when they become one’s “dirty little secret” or a private indulgence. Some habits that initially seem harmless or experimental intensify to become crippling addictions and compulsions; acts of unintended self-destruction.
Caught in the grip of habit, people feel foolish, angry, frustrated and afraid when they try to stop and find they cannot. In over two decades of practice in hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I’ve worked with thousands of individuals stuck in a habit, unable to find a way out without assistance.
The worst habits seem intractable because they activate the brain’s pleasure centers, burning a memory tract that says, in effect, “This feels good.” Pleasure-inducing behaviors spur repetition. Pleasure-inducing substances spur chemical dependency, fortifying habit’s pull. The brain favors repetition, giving more neurological real estate to whatever we do most often. Neuron density leads to automaticity. Stop the habit, and seemingly intolerable anxiety and discomfort ensue.
We accept our bad habits until the costs outweigh the pleasure. Readiness to stop might come about gradually or abruptly, upon a rude awakening such as dire medical diagnosis. Dropping a habit often requires careful planning. A pessimistic mindset poses a major obstacle, when we think of “giving up” a habit as a loss, an ordeal, or a continuing, daily battle with temptation.
Hypnotherapy helps, especially when paired with behavior modification and solution-oriented, cognitive strategies offered through NLP. Hypnosis is often convincing because trance momentarily changes brain activity to increase suggestibility. Using that suggestibility, I incorporate NLP strategies to help clients shape a different mindset.
NLP patterns vary, but typically begin with coaching the listener to state a congruent intention. With hypnosis, I then encourage habit release by emphasizing the drawbacks of habit, evoking emotion and imagery with metaphor and analogy. I reframe limiting beliefs that have blocked success. To increase motivation, I describe how the behavioral change coincides with the listener’s values. I encourage the listener to access personal strengths through memories of accomplishments achieved via persistence and flexibility. Guided imagery and mental rehearsal allow the listener to envision coping skills selected to prevent relapse. Instead of a loss or an ordeal, the listener comes to see ending the habit as a doable accomplishment bringing freedom, expanded choice, and increased self-efficacy.
Repeated hypnosis sessions are more effective than a single session for most people. That’s why hypnotherapists give clients recordings of their sessions. The success of repetition is one reason why self-hypnosis is worthwhile to learn. Trance is a naturally occurring state that happens whenever attention is transfixed, inwardly (as in say, daydreaming) or outwardly (as in say, watching a movie). With self-hypnosis, we take advantage of this natural ability, applying it toward behavioral improvement, insight, relaxation, mind-to-body communication, and coping skills. Self-hypnosis resembles meditation, except that in self-hypnosis we purposely direct thinking (through auditory and visual representations) toward specific outcomes. Self-hypnosis trains the brain in a new direction, supporting new, worthwhile habits.
Pursing worthwhile habits, we develop self-discipline: an underrated virtue. With enough of it, we master life’s difficult challenges. Destructive habits distract us from defining the meanings and purposes of our lives. By releasing unwanted habits, we enrich our lives. We free up the energy to pursue those dominant aspirations that Allen wrote about.
About the Author: Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D., is a licensed counselor, life coach, author, and speaker with advanced certifications in hypnotherapy, solution-oriented counseling, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). In her solo practice, Motivational Strategies®, in Springfield, Virginia, she addresses client concerns regarding health issues, emotional problems, and performance excellence. She is Executive Director of the National Board of Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists. She has authored over 200 articles, book reviews, and hypnotherapy audio scripts. She wrote The Weight, Hypnotherapy, and Your Weight Reduction Program (Crown House Ltd, 2006), a manual for hypnotherapists and NLP practitioners working with overweight clients.