Breaking the habits of a lifetime

by | Sep 13, 2023

How do we form habits?

When we repeat a behaviour many times, it becomes hard-wired into our brains. This is why we practice learning how to ride a bike or drive a car until eventually we can do it without conscious awareness.This is also how habits are formed.

  • Some habits are useful – we automatically clean our teeth and wash our hands after using the toilet.
  • Some habits are neutral – we tend to park in the same place, buy the same food for lunch, place our mats in the same place in Pilates.
  • Some habits can be negative – things we would prefer not to have such as eating too many cakes or biting our nails.

Habits develop over time with repetition and tend to be a response to a trigger which is often stress-related. The brain produces a reward for this behaviour – a positive feeling produced by the neurotransmitter dopamine – which further encourages the behaviour.

How do we break a habit?

It is helpful in breaking a habit to recognise the trigger – where and when does it happen? Then find a new and enjoyable activity to replace the unwanted behaviour – find the dopamine reward in a different activity. So, for example, massage your hands with some hand-cream when you notice you are biting your nails.

The more you repeat the new behaviour, the more it then becomes hard-wired and gradually replaces the old behaviour.

It can be difficult, and the old behaviour will come back from time to time, but repetition is the key.

For more on the neuroscience of habits, read this article.

How can solution-focused hypnotherapy help?

Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is a bit different from a lot of other therapies – it doesn’t focus on the problem. Instead, we help the client to identify the changes they need to make in their lives to overcome the problem.

The Solution Focused process encourages the client to envisage how things could be different, how things could be better for them in the future. It can be difficult to imagine a future without the problem or see a time when the problem will not be there – it seems too great a task to undertake. But, with the use of careful questioning, the therapist can help the client to identify where things are not working and take the series of small steps needed to move towards a better lifestyle.

There are three areas we can focus on changing to help break a habit:

  1. Changing Patterns of Behaviour
    Hypnotherapy can help to make new, better habits, again one step at a time. Just change one thing and that will soon become the new accepted pattern. Continue changing one thing at a time and it will soon be a whole different story.
  2. Changing the Self-Talk
    We are our own harshest critics, aren’t we? We often focus on the negative or the things we “did wrong”. But the good news is that we can change the way we talk about ourselves. We can take back control by being positive about ourselves and treating ourselves kindly. Hypnotherapy can help to develop confidence and positive thinking. Learn more about self-talk in my blog post on the subject.
  3. Changing the Chemistry of the Brain
    Understanding why we do certain habits can help us to break them. Associations are made throughout our lives, starting in childhood. We feel a certain way when we carry out a habit. Mood lifts occur when we have the right balance of chemicals in the brain.The neurotransmitter serotonin is the positive chemical we speak most about as it is probably the most important. Serotonin helps us to feel happy, confident and motivated. There are many ways to achieve the production of serotonin and hypnotherapy can help to overcome negative habits by working with the client to identify and promote new ways to get the ‘feel good’ chemicals.

Get in touch if you feel like you have a habit you’re struggling to break. I have helped clients to change eating habits, stop smoking, talk more positively to themselves and more!