Break Your Bad Habits
Having just looked at a list of bad habits posted on the internet, I can honestly say that whilst they are habitual repetitive behaviours, many of them are also disgusting. One site listed nail biting, throat clearing, lying, interrupting, chewing the end of a pen, smoking and swearing in its top 20 list of bad habits. And that’s not to mention knuckle cracking and thumb sucking.
Habits are formed when a behaviour is consistently repeated. Eventually, it becomes an unconscious behaviour, that is, that you can do it without thinking about it. In just the way your unconscious controls you blinking, breathing and walking without you having to remember to make it happen, it also takes over responsibility for activating the habit.
In a sense, the levels of competency goes some way to explaining how this unconscious activity is created:
Unconscious Incompetence- Not knowing about it and not doing it. (Ignorant)
Conscious Incompetence- Knowing what needs to be done but unable to do it, lack of skill required.
Conscious Competence- Knowing what needs to be done and have to think about how to do it, in order to do it.
Unconscious Competence- Knowing what you need to do, and being able to do it without consciously thinking about how it is done.
We can see by looking at the levels of competency process, how a positive behaviour such as learning to drive for example, is taken through the above stages so that it shifts from a conscious activity, into an unconscious one. The problem with this process is that the unconscious mind will not distinguish between a good habit, and a bad one. When learning to drive, this is generally a beneficial habit to master, and biting your nails for example is not. However the unconscious simply responds to the programming it is given. It does make a distinction about whether it is right for you or not. The more times you repeat the behaviour, the more hard wired the behaviour becomes, good or bad.
This means that in order to break a bad habit, the automatic function of it, needs to be bought back into the awareness of the conscious mind, in order to give the conscious a choice about whether to continue with the action. This could be enough for some to break their pattern, yet for other, even though when they are conscious of the habit, may continue to pursue it. For example, many people who smoke and know that they should give up, are aware of the cigarettes they light up and inhale. Worse than that, they are even conscious of what they are doing to their depleting immune system as they do it- and still they continue- why?!
The answer is that they get some sort of a pay off. An opportunity to be destructive and release some tension by biting your nails, or a moment to drift off and take a break from the busyness of work when having a fag. In the great scheme of things it’s important to note that these payoff are of course only temporary. They only alleviate pressures for a short amount of time and usually come with a down side, such as ultimately damaging your health, the way you look, the way you feel, or the way people respond to you.
NLP techniques are great for helping to get “leverage” for applying pain to the unwanted problem and pleasure to the solution. Anchoring techniques can provide an instant desired state to relieve tension for example, so that it is no longer achieved from performing the habit. Hypnosis can be used to reprogram the unconscious part of the mind, linking unsavoury feelings to the unwanted behaviour (for example feeling sick if you go to put your fingers in your mouth to bite your nails) and forming new habits to deal with stressful/ boredom situations in a new empowering way.
“I’ve experienced a lot of unconscious changes. I now feel more positive in general.”
By Gemma Bailey
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