Willpower doesn’t always work!!
Almost all of us have bad habits that we have tried to break but can’t—that’s because we have relied on willpower alone. Willpower can be effective, but it is like a muscle that grows fatigued after awhile, and we tend to slip back into old patterns especially now as we set our resolutions for the New Year. We’re going strong for the first few weeks and then that new behavior begins to wean. Sound familiar?
Habits are neurological shortcuts that we use to save mental effort and get through life more efficiently, but the dependency on automatic routines has a downside. A research study at MIT stated that more than 40% of our daily actions are habits. Our brain goes on autopilot; therefore, we reach for the cigarette, bite our nails, or grab that soda or cookie without thinking.
Habits like these may seem complicated, but they all can be broken down into three components:
Cue: Triggers an urge or craving that we need to satisfy and causes a habitual behavior to unfold. For example, you feel sluggish and want a pick-me-up and go for a cookie.
Routine: Patterns and the actual behavior you want to change such as smoking after a meal.
Reward: Deep-seated desire satisfied by your behavior—having a couple of drinks at the end of each day to relax.
Over time, these three components become so intertwined and encoded in the structures of our brain that they form an intense loop of craving and anticipation of the associated reward.
There are two sides to how our mind works. The left side is the analytical, structured part—it knows what you want and knows what you don’t want. This is where willpower comes from. The right side is the abstract, emotional, and creative part—this is the side that wants to be satisfied.
Most people are right-side dominant (this has nothing to do with which hand is most dominant). If there is a conflict between willpower (left side) and the need to satisfy an emotional desire (right side), the emotional desire usually wins. That’s why many people eat healthy all day, and then by the afternoon when our energy has weaned, we tend to grab something we know isn’t right for us.
Hypnosis plays an important part in breaking a bad habit for good. We at the Motivational Institute of Hypnotherapy use visualization and guided imagery to tap into the emotional side of the brain that wants to continue reaping the rewards of that feel good. With repetition of the new patterns, even if in the beginning it’s only played out in your mind, it soon begins to manifest itself in one’s life.
Trying to ignore cravings and suppress the habitual behavior takes what seems like a bottomless reserve of willpower. Studies suggest that you will have much more success if you change your routine by modifying it to be less destructive—that’s the secret to gaining leverage. Cues and rewards are primal needs that are difficult to deny, but routines are quite malleable and often can be changed. When coupling this with powerful suggestions of your desired goals (let’s say of good health and exercising), the new behavior becomes an embedded pattern with long-term desirable results.
Compounding new behaviors each time you perform a modified activity thickens neural pathways in the brain, and the new behavior becomes stronger.
Be patient with yourself and acknowledge every small win by reinforcing what you want, not what you don’t want.
Creating Good Habits…
Starting a positive new habit such as exercising more or eating better presents a different kind of challenge. Instead of analyzing and altering an existing loop, you have to establish one from scratch by focusing on keystone habits. Good habits seem to breed other good habits; for example, eating better seems to make one exercise more.
Remember, there is no finish line to great health and happiness.
To Your Success,
Marla Brucker, DCH, R.HA