We are all running on numerous habits. It’s whenever you are doing what you have always done and you are on automatic pilot. The constant repetition of a thought leading to a particular behaviour hard wires in a neural pathway in your brain, which automatically carries out the behaviour. It is a subconscious process, like a computer program, which will continue to play out the habitual behaviour for you, until you install a new program.
You’re so used to following a particular route that you just automatically go that way without even thinking. When we first moved house to our current home, my husband drove back to our old home several times on automatic pilot! It was a habit. Having done that journey so many times, a program, a neural pathway had been wired into his brain to automatically go down that path. It is as if he had walked through a cornfield many times, treading down a clear pathway that draws you down it again every time.
What if taking that path, that route, or that action is no longer required, appropriate or relevant? Is it true that it is difficult, even impossible to stop a habit? How long did it take my husband to develop a new habit of driving to our new home? How quickly can you learn to take an easier route through the cornfield?
It is actually not difficult at all and can be accomplished quite quickly. ( A couple of weeks in my husband’s case. ) According to research, a habit can be changed in at most 21 days – if you know how! But most people make a fundamental error when they want to stop a habit; they put all their effort into stopping or changing the behaviour, such as trying to stop smoking, cutting down alcohol, stop eating cakes etc. When you try to stop the habitual behaviour it does not work. The thoughts and beliefs that are driving the behaviour are still running in the subconscious mind. Eventually you will go back to the old habit.
Habits of action are run by habits of thought. The way to change a habit is exactly what my husband did to make a new habit of always driving to our new home. You have to change the thought to one that creates your new desired behaviour. After sufficient repetitions of specific thinking about the wonderful desired destination, a new habit of driving home replaces the old habit. You now automatically drive to the correct home every time!
This change takes place in three ways.
First, repetitively, specifically and precisely thinking the right thought that describes and makes the required behaviour is creating a new habit. It’s exactly what you did to create the old habit, so you know it works. Maybe you used to think you couldn’t possibly start your day without a hot chocolate and a Danish Pastry, so that’s what you ended up doing. Your new thought says that what you really, really want and choose is a cup of tea, an apple and nuts for breakfast because you want to feel light, energised and focussed to start your day. And you really like that.
Secondly there is a thing called ‘recency’ which means that your mind responds to your most recent learning, and you can’t go back and believe what you used to believe. ( I can’t believe I used to have sugar in my tea, that’s much too sweet for me now. )
Thirdly the old program (habit) is not being activated, reinforced and maintained, because you are not doing it anymore. The neural pathway in the brain is breaking down, vanishing, disconnecting. It’s just like the pathway through the cornfield, which is growing over and disappearing. It is no longer an option available to you.
Your mind wants to do exactly what you tell it to do, and it only knows what that is by the words you use and the pictures you make in your imagination. And it needs clear, precise and specific language. Get detailed. To change your habits, change your thinking! The more you do it, a new neural pathway wires in. There’s a new preferred path through the cornfield and it’s the only one available to you. The old one doesn’t exist.
If you decide you want to change a bad habit, rather than trying to stop what you used to do, change what you used to think and believe. Tell yourself that you love, love your new alternative choices, it’s absolutely what you want, and then focus on the positive results you expect to get from sustaining this change. Keep it up and it will no longer be what you do, but who you are. You will have a new healthy habit, that runs automatically all by itself, with no effort at all.
Please note that if self help techniques do not work it can indicate that there is an emotional block at the subconscious level, which can be addressed using hypnotherapy.