Perhaps the simplest way to describe them is that they are short cuts in our brains.
Unconscious patterns of behaviour that are set into motion without us really having to think about any part of the process, so their function is in freeing up our minds to think about more important things.
They can be very useful, for example having a habit of regularly drinking water, waking up and going out for a run, brushing your teeth or a great proportion of your driving behaviour.
However they can also be “bad habits ” such as smoking, mindless eating, biting your nails and lots of not so good driving behaviour such that our old driving examiners would certainly not pass us in a test if we took it now !
Neuroscience has shown that these habits are laid down as a series of connections between the brain cells in the limbic part of our brain far away from the pre frontal cortex where we make our conscious decisions about behaviour.This why it can be so hard to break a habit and willpower is seldom enough ! How often have you found yourself, without really realising it, doing the very thing you don’t want to ! It’s as if your pre frontal cortex is shouting from far far away ‘ No – Stop ! ‘ but the limbic system is already stuck into its process before it hears that far off message .
So how can you break a ‘bad habit ‘ ?
First you need to disrupt the automatic loop and then this gives an opening for you to change the behaviour.
Breaking into the automatic loop can be helped by doing things differently. Do you have a particular trigger or association. If you come in and always open the fridge and find your self mindlessly eating can you change your pattern and go upstairs instead. If you find yourself finishing off that bottle of wine because it’s on the table – putting it back in the fridge can break into the loop as it will require a conscious decision to get it out again.
Hypnotherapy can also help by accessing the unconscious mind, breaking into that old patterns and then setting down new triggers, associations and patterns in the unconscious mind.
However I’m sure you have experienced that it can take time to really establish a new automatic loop of good habit and it seems all too easy to fall back into the old pattern of behaviour.
Perhaps to carry on the driving theme you could almost consider the old bad habit loop as a motorway in your mind, easy, speedy, smooth – you zip down it and there you are before you know it.
The new behaviour might in comparison feel like a windy track. Perhaps a bit bumpy, you have to really focus on the whole process, it feels clunky and you have to really concentrate to get where you want to go.
However the more you drive down the new path the easier and more smooth the ride becomes , you forge a new motorway and you find the other is eventually closed down through lack of use.
Neuroscientists have found that it takes between 21 and 42 days of repeating a new habit for the connections in the brain to become truly established and take on motorway proportions.
I use this information in my hypnotherapy practice by asking clients to listen to a personalised recording I make for them for at least 21 days after a session with me.
You could also use this time frame if you are wanting to set up a new supportive habit in any aspect of your life.
Make a conscious decision about what you would like your new pattern of behaviour to be and start today. Visualise the narrow road to begin with but each day feel it getting wider and the behaviour more automatic.
You could also try something a lot of my clients find a useful tool, especially after that initial enthusiasm has worn off and the goal of 21 – 42 days seems still far off !
Each day you perform the new habit move a marble from one jar to the other. The mind can then focus on the short term rather than the long term goal and a small positive daily recognition is a reward that can help you keep going till the new pattern is set.
Good Luck – You can do it !