November 9, 2013

Breaking Free of Bad Habits for Good

Old habits die hard- aint it the truth?

How often do we find ourselves reverting back to the same old unproductive behaviors? Whether it’s biting our nails, procrastinating, or reaching for a third helping of chocolate cheesecake, we all have at least a few bad habits we’d like to overcome.

Why is it that we so easily get stuck in these negative patterns, especially when we know better?

Good News: It’s not you, it’s just your unconscious mind.


Understanding the Unconscious 

Neuroscience tells us that approximately 95% of our emotions and behaviors are regulated by the unconscious part of our mind while the remaining 5% of our activities are the domain of our conscious thoughts. We also know that repetition plays a leading role in forming habituated, or unconscious patterns. It is of course a good thing that after spending a few weeks learning to drive a car, we get accustomed to the steering wheel and brake petal so that steering and hitting the brakes become an automatic, unconscious activity. The trouble comes when we’ve been telling ourselves every day for years on end that we are unworthy, fat, poor, and other undesirable things. Such ingrained beliefs-good or bad-lay the foundation of our unconscious operating system and largely control our thoughts, words and actions.

It’s only logical then, that when we wake up in the morning and say with every ounce of our conscious 5% of the mind, “That’s it!- No more chocolate for me!” we’re still likely to be digging into a hot fudge sundae before 6PM. When it is 5% against 95%, who’s gonna win? Your conscious mind knows it would be preferable to go easy on the cacao but somewhere your unconscious mind has associated eating chocolate with comfort, protection or another positive resource.

Many bad habits provide us with short-lived comfort at the expense of long-term gain. The short-term deliciousness of that chocolate in your mouth and the temporary good feeling it brings too often overpowers your long-term goal of being healthy.

So is there anything we can do to break free of unconsciously-rooted bad habits? Absolutely.


Minding Your Triggers

In hypnosis and NLP, we have a wide variety of ways break down negative habits and rapidly create new beneficial behaviors. A central part of overcoming negative behaviors is practicing awareness.

Stress and anxiety are the most common triggers for our bad habits; who among us hasn’t reached for that bag of chips, slice of cake, beer bottle, or cigarette after receiving stressful news? Our triggers set off an unconscious response that often results in our negative behaviors.

The key lies in becoming aware of our triggers before we can follow through with the bad habit and then intentionally shifting our focus. When we choose to distract ourselves before we engage in a negative behavior, we are teaching our brain to react differently to stressors and, over time, can break down the habituated pattern.

Here is a great NLP-enhanced awareness method that anyone can use to help conquer bad habits:


  1. Choose a super secret codeword- try a word that makes you feel powerful and in control.
  2. Take a few minutes and close your eyes. Imagine a scene -real or created-where you felt extremely happy, content and powerful. See it all play out in vivid detail. Feel the emotions and really get into it.
  3. When you believe these positive feelings have reached their peak, take your thumb and index finger and tug your right earlobe for three seconds, take a deep breath and say your codeword.
  4. Each time from now on that you find yourself about to bite those nails, wolf down that chocolate sundae or engage in any other bad habit, tug that earlobe, take that breath and say that codeword.
  5. Choose to distract yourself with a different, empowering thought or activity.


When done on a consistent basis this technique rewires the unconscious mind so that it no longer relies on negative behaviors for fleeting comfort, making it much easier for you to eliminate your bad habit for good.

Stick with it and always remember that you control your awareness and you’re the boss.

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