Most of us have at least one bad habit we’d love to break and it’s often one of the big resolutions we make to kick off each year.
Whether you have decided this is the year you’ll stop smoking, overeating or biting your nails, bad habits can be overcome but it may take more than sheer willpower alone.
I’m going to talk about how bad habits develop and how they can be broken, including the role that hypnotherapy can play in this.
Why do habits develop?
Habits are instinctive and often develop as a way to cope with things like stress, anxiety and even boredom.
They are also subconscious in that there isn’t an active decision by the brain to perform them.
If a particular activity or behaviour is performed repeatedly, it can become second nature without you even needing to think about it. One example of this is driving to work (or anywhere that you drive to a lot) on autopilot without having to think about the route.
Repeating behaviours so much encourages an association between the cue and the behaviour, to the point that the behaviour happens on autocue every time the cue occurs.
These type of automatic behaviours mean that the brain doesn’t have to consciously decide to perform the activity in question and can instead focus its attention elsewhere.
Another factor is the ‘reward’ for performing certain behaviours and activities, which can trigger habits and be a factor in overeating and various addictions including smoking and Internet/social media ‘addictions’.
Behaviours that feel good can encourage the brain to release a chemical called dopamine, which reinforces the habit even more. This means you’ll keep wanting to perform the behaviour even if you’re actually trying really hard not to.
How long does it take to make a habit?
If you decide to try to develop a new habit as a New Year’s resolution, how quickly can you expect it to stick?
The brain can start to develop a new habit after just one day, although it can take much more time than this for some habits.
21 days is a figure that is often bandied about for getting a habit to be established. Although it seems achievable in our minds, research suggests it’s not that realistic as a time frame.
According to a study carried out by a health psychology researcher at UCL, it can take much longer than three weeks to fully form a habit. Some habits were established in just 18 days but these tended to be ones that didn’t involve a lot of hard work to keep up with. The more work involved in keeping a habit, the longer it typically took for it to become ingrained for the study participants - up to 254 days in some cases!
The length of time it can take to develop a habit is one of the main reasons why it’s not realistic to think that you can simply cast it aside overnight if you want to change it.
Tips for starting a new habit
Starting a new habit can be a big challenge. Here are two tips that can help if you’re trying to make a new habit become second nature.
Consistency. Performing behaviours either at the same time every day or in the same context each time can help to reinforce the idea that the cue will dictate the behaviour.
Perseverance. Telling yourself what you’ll do in a given situation and committing to doing it can also help to make a habit stick. It may take a while but with time, it should take less conscious thought.
How can hypnotherapy help to break bad habits?
Sometimes, willpower alone won’t be enough to fully break a bad habit and this is where other options such as psychotherapy and hypnotherapy can come into their own.
Hypnotherapy can be very powerful in helping to break bad habits and this is mostly because of the ability to tap into the subconscious mind. This is where our instinctive behaviours are formed.
Hypnotherapy can help in a couple of ways:< /br> Hypnotic suggestions and visualisation techniques can help with bad habits. If you perform certain actions or behaviours when you’re stressed (or when you feel a particular emotion), hypnotherapy can encourage you to channel this in a different way.
This may involve replacing a negative habit with a healthier and more positive habit that allows you to deal better with the trigger. It can also give you the tools to relax more, reduce stress and generally cope with stress better so that you’re not using bad habits as a coping mechanism.
Quitting smoking is a little different and can be done in just one session. The focus here is on encouraging serotonin production to rectify the negative effects that smoking has on the body’s serotonin levels.
If you’re interested to see how Solution Focused hypnotherapy can help you to break bad habits and replace them with more positive alternatives, January is a great time to test the waters.
I’m offering a 20% discount on sessions booked in January to celebrate our entry into 2018.
For those of you who aren’t based in or around Aberdeen, don’t forget that I also offer sessions via Facetime and Skype.
Ready to take advantage? Contact me today to take that first step towards positive change and getting rid of your bad habits!