How do habits form?
To understand how our habits are created, we first need to understand the different parts of the mind and how they contribute to the process of learning something new.
The conscious part of the mind is responsible for our rational, critical thinking, our thought-through decisions and our conscious bodily responses like holding our cup of coffee and raising it to our mouth to drink, or getting dressed in the morning.
The subconscious mind is responsible for all of our automatic bodily functions like the heart beating, blood pressure and even our breathing. It also stores all of our memories, beliefs and thought patterns. Our habits are also stored here, once we’ve consciously learnt to do them.
Remember learning to ride a bike? At first the conscious mind is in control. You are consciously aware of every part of the process - sitting on the saddle, hands on the handle bars, starting to pedal, keeping your balance as you move - and these details take all of your attention.
When you’ve practiced enough, the subconscious mind realises that you really want this skill and so it takes it on as a new habit. When this happens, riding a bike becomes automatic. Your conscious mind no longer needs to be involved in every part of the process and is free to enjoy the ride, free to look around and notice the scenery etc.
It’s the same with a learned habit such as smoking, eating too much or drinking more than we should. It is a conscious decision to do these things to start with, and then because we’ve ‘practiced’ them enough, the subconscious believes we want the habit. Even though this habit may be unhealthy for you, the repetition of it convinces the subconscious mind that you want it and so it becomes automatic.
How can we change our habits to better ones?
The reason that it is often difficult to use just willpower to stop doing something or change a behaviour is that we are using only the conscious part of the mind. Most of our automatic decisions come from the subconscious. So, even though we consciously want to make positive change, the subconscious doesn’t want to let go of the habit. It needs to be persuaded to transform the habit to something more advantageous for us. The subconscious holds onto habits and learned behaviour unless it is persuaded otherwise. After all, some habits are essential for our survival. Imagine if you just lost the learnt behaviour or habit of driving a car; it would be dangerous wouldn’t it?
How does hypnosis help?
When using hypnosis to help someone, we are communicating directly with this powerful subconscious part of the mind. Every habit (even though it may not be healthy) has a positive intention for the person. Reaching for that wine or sugary snack at the end of a tough day may have the positive intention of a well-deserved reward. In hypnosis, once we’ve found out what the positive intention of the habit is we can transfer it to something better; a more beneficial option that will still give the person a reward, but is more healthy and will increase their well-being.
Think of a wise parent and imagine their child is playing with something dangerous or breakable. The parent doesn’t just whip away the toy; to avoid a tantrum and make it easier to remove the forbidden toy, the parent replaces it with something else. If the switch is done cleverly and with minimum fuss, the child will often just take the new toy and forget about the other one. We follow the same principle when doing habit transformation in hypnotherapy, always ensuring that the person is able to get the positive benefit that was intended from a more healthy habit, before taking the old one away.
If you’re wanting to change a habit it’s wise to engage both parts of the mind, using the conscious mind to set your goal and engaging the subconscious mind in hypnosis to get both working in unison for the same successful result!
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About Becca Teers
Becca Teers DIP CBH MNCH (reg) CNHC (reg) GHR
Author, therapist, trainer and speaker.
Hello and thanks for reading. I am an author, cognitive behavioural clinical hypnotherapist, certified NLP practitioner and holistic therapist. I am passionate about helping my clients to overcome limiting beliefs and to empower them to make positive change.