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How To Build Better Habits, According To A Hypnotherapist    

How To Build Better Habits, According To A Hypnotherapist

Art by FISK

By Matt Walczak, a MyWellbeing Integrative Hypnotherapist

Building new habits is always a hot topic at this time of year. People start their New Year’s resolutions in hopes of bettering themselves, which, on the surface, of course, is a wonderful notion. However, hearing the cliche “new year, new me” can also conjure up skepticism and doubt. 

Why is it that so often we set out motivated and energized about our new ways only to stumble in our attempts to build better long-term habits? I’d like to suggest that there is something inherent in the way we think about New Year’s resolutions in the first place. The idea that you are going to completely change your life from December 31st to January 1st is probably unrealistic and could even be extreme. 

It can be much more beneficial to think in terms of habits instead of resolutions. When it comes to your brain, each time you practice a habit, the neural circuitry associated with that behavior is reinforced. It’s like carving out a new path in a forest. While it takes time, when you are done, you can walk down that path without giving it much thought. Once you establish a desired behavior as a habit, it becomes automatic and doesn’t require much thought or motivation to practice. 

Establishing new positive habits can impact other aspects of your life as well. So let’s say you decided to start journaling, and it’s going well. You have a clearer understanding of your thoughts and emotions and are better able to track them over time. Plus, you get a psychological boost from sticking to a plan. The positives from your journaling habit can carry over to other areas of your life. Perhaps you become more comfortable addressing situations at work, which can lead to more professional opportunities. Maybe you understand your relationship goals better, which leads you to meet someone special. 

Knowing that good habits are good is the easy part, though. Actually, transforming actions into habits is where things can get challenging. So here are some tips and techniques (including some you’ve probably never heard before) that can not only help but also make the process exciting and fun.

Pace It

Even though a quick Google search about building habits will spit out some version of this, it still remains true. 

Let’s say you decided to get more fit by starting running. Most people get hyped up, buy a bunch of gear, and start fantasizing about running marathons. But running can be painful at the beginning and it can take time to see results. If you try to do too much too soon, you can find yourself feeling less motivated to keep pursuing the new habit.

Instead, try breaking up the new habit into smaller chunks and ease into it. It’s way more important to stay consistent. If you run daily at a comfortable pace and distance, you will eventually be able to run faster and longer. 

Visualize It

When you visualize an action, a part of your brain doesn’t know the difference between the thought and the actual experience. When you add emotion and sensation to the visualization, your brain will begin to associate those feelings with the action.

To practice this visualization method, start by being clear about what you want to accomplish. To stick with the running example, perhaps it’s finishing a three-mile run. Then close your eyes and imagine you’re looking at yourself in the third person on a movie theater screen, going through all the steps necessary to do that: lacing up your shoes, heading out your door, passing different landmarks, etc. If you have a memory of running three miles in the past, it may be easier to remember that experience. Think of how you would need to feel to get yourself running. If you’d like to feel energized or excited, imagine sending these resources to your avatar. Just by thinking about feeling a certain way, you will automatically begin to actually generate that feeling within the body. Then float into the character on the screen and notice what it feels like to be there first-person. 

If it feels good, great! If you’re not quite there, just repeat the process. Flow out to a third-person perspective and send the desired feelings to your avatar on the screen. Some people find it useful to think about all the positives of having completed the run, how good they’ll feel and look and sending these positives to the avatar on the screen. Be as imaginative as possible to help make the experience feel more real.

This technique takes just a few minutes and can be applied to anything you’d like to accomplish. Just think, “How do I need to feel to get this myself going in this situation?” and apply it in the corresponding context. Not only will this technique help you in the moment, but if you apply it regularly, your brain will begin associating the positive emotions with the activity itself. 

Switch It Up

This next technique is called the Swish Pattern and uses how the brain codes information to get a desirable result. Let’s say you decided to start developing healthier eating habits. You might not be super psyched about endless bowls of kale. Like any habit, you need patience and perseverance to get through the beginning phases so you can make healthier eating choices as part of your daily routine.

With this visualization technique, you close your eyes and notice the positioning of the image of you eating that healthy bowl of kale. It might sound weird, but usually you can get a sense of where that might be (bottom left corner, far away from center, etc). If you have trouble, imagine you had to point to the mental image of you eating healthy...

The second step is to think of something you absolutely love to do, such as eating a treat like chocolate, and notice the position of that image. Next, switch the positions of the images. If the image of you eating vegetables is in the bottom left corner and the image of you eating chocolate is in the top right, the vegetable image is going to go to the top right position and the eating chocolate image is going to go bottom left. Then clear your mind and repeat the process four or five times. The more you do it, the more you will develop a connection between the new habit (eating healthier) and the pleasurable activity (eating chocolate).

Keep the conversation going by commenting on this story below. You can also connect with us about whatever’s on your mind by texting The Local Optimist Hotline at 310.299.9414.