Becoming habitually healthy! When healthy eating and exercising are normal!
Over the years I have read many different options about what needs to happen for a habit to change. Sometimes in NLP there is a tendency to make big claims, stating that habits can be changed instantly! In other disciplines suggestions are made that it takes 30 days or 60 days or 6 weeks to change a habit. This is based on ideas around conditioning.
If it was that easy why doesn’t everyone just change unhealthy habits?
I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts on this subject. These are based on my own experiences rather than empirical evidence so the bottom line here is that you need to make your own mind up.
Let me start by the big claims made in NLP. I love NLP and think it is a very powerful tool and yes sometimes the results are dramatic and quick. However not always and in a moment I will share my thoughts on why the change is not always instant.
Other approaches also work in many situations in that by sticking with a plan we can sometimes re-condition our existing responses so that we automatically make the healthier more desired choices. However as with the NLP approach this is not always the case.
So what makes the difference between changing and not changing?
We need to be 100% ready to change. What do I mean by that? Often we talk about changing and it is more about wishing things could be different and maybe we don’t believe we can change. Maybe we are only saying we want to change because the goal is the socially acceptable one to have rather than really wanting it.
We might genuinely want to change but not have the motivation to change. We may have brought into the quick fix mentality and get discouraged when change is not instant and then feel resentful.
Most importantly of all the goal is not simple and straight forward, it is really a series of layers and levels that each need addressing one at a time. For instance it is no accident that self-esteem and weight loss are often connected. Low self esteem and problems with weight are both complex issues psychologically, often inter-connected and more of a series of changes than a simple quick change.
Let’s take a look at changes people can make quickly. The most dramatic change I often see is recovery from a phobia.
For someone to truly have a phobia the level of fear triggered even by thinking about the stimulus is immediate and quick. For example people with spider phobias will have a rush of feeling just from reading the word. Disliking spiders and being a bit nervous around them is not a phobia it is an anxiety and would need a different approach.
In NLP there is an intervention called the fast phobia cure. I have used this intervention many times to help people and often the result is profound and lasting.
Now you’ll notice I use the word often not always. This is deliberate.
If people are really ready to change that change can happen in one short session but sometimes there are things that stop the change either from happening at all or sticking.
In NLP we call this ecology and secondary gains issues. Ecology is connected to what is known as the positive intention. This is based on the idea that all responses stem originally from some kind of positive intention, e.g. something that is positive and useful for the person having the response. The positive intention is not necessarily positive for others.
In the case of a phobia the positive intention is not always clear and we may not always be certain we have identified it. For example some people inherit a phobia and I don’t mean genetically. If a child observes a parent having a phobic response they are likely to be strongly influenced to model the phobia. As children our parents are supposed to be our protectors and if something is scary enough to freak out our parents it must be scary!
A second possibility is that something traumatic happens to a person or they hear something very emotionally charged that distresses them and at the same time happen to see the thing that later becomes the phobic trigger. This cause is harder to identify particularly if the distressing news or trauma have been processed and dealt with. The phobia is left as a residual side effect.
The third possibility is where the stimulus sometimes is dangerous in reality. Sticking with our original example there are some places in the world where spiders are poisonous and being careful is a good idea. Interestingly enough people with this phobia in countries with dangerous species are often putting themselves more at risk with the phobia because of their irrational response. For instance running out into traffic without looking to avoid a picture of a spider in a shop window.
By being aware of the possible positive intentions and building it into the intervention we increase the likelihood of a positive and lasting change.
Secondary gains are unexpected bonuses to an unwanted behaviour or response. Sometimes people become attached to their phobic response and think it is part of their identity. Giving up the response on an unconscious level feels like giving up a part of themselves.
Alternatively sometimes the phobia has created a dynamic a relationship that is positive, for example it might provide a role of rescuer in a partner. This role may be important in the relationship and may make that partner feel loved and valued.
Again it is possible to build this into an intervention to increase the likelihood of success.
So why is it not that easy with weight loss?
Well for a lucky few it is, changing some patterns of thinking can be enough if followed up with cognitive decisions about different behaviours. For most the story is very different. There are likely to be many limiting beliefs, unwanted emotional responses and habitual behaviours all inter-connected that need to be addressed in order to make changes that last and that become the new normal for that person.
Next week I will share with you my personal reflections on what we need to do in order to change. Below is some information about how I am helping others. I’d appreciate it if you could help me by sharing this blog with others you think might benefit from it.
I am also offering NLP and Hypnotherapy Training programmes in both Bedfordshire and Sussex. If you would like to dip your toes in the water we are offering free 2 day introductions to NLP at both locations.
For those of you who already have some NLP training we are offering free taster days for NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer’s Training too.
Our approach is humanistic and we believe in providing our students with ongoing support in their journeys. The link below gives all the information including a free MP3 download.