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How to Quit a Bad Habit by Answering Four Power Questions

How to Quit a Bad Habit by Answering Four Power Questions
How to Quit a Bad Habit

    I bet there’s a habit you’d like to quit.

    Maybe you have even tried, but things haven’t worked out as you hoped. Unfortunately, the very idea of “quitting” can make things difficult for you: let’s discover why.

    • The forbidden fruit is always very attractive. When you were a child, do you remember how everything became more attractive after it was forbidden? Well, there’s a part of you which still works in the same way…
    • Quitting something is difficult when you always think about it. When your
      habit change strategy is driven by the idea of quitting – quitting cigarettes for example – you’ll often think about the very thing you want to forget.
    • There’s no excitement in just saying no. Have you ever tried to take something away from a little boy? Not easy. And what if you give him something else instead? Now you’re talking! If the new toy is “exciting” enough, the old one will be given up with ease.
    • Our unconscious mind doesn’t understand negation. As Freud said, and as every hypnotherapist knows, there’s a part of our brain which simply doesn’t understand negation. And there’s more to it. An hypnotherapist would avoid telling you to “Quit smoking”, because your unconscious mind might drop the word “Quit” and produce an urge for “smoking” instead…
    • You never simply quit something, you do something else instead. Your bad habit takes time. When you stop, you’ll have some free time on your hands: you can make space for something new and exciting, or simply indulge more often in a pleasant activity you already know well.

    In short, the idea of “quitting” is not doing you any good: something positive need to become the engine of your habit change. And this lead us to the first question…

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    1. What will you do instead?

    Quit! Stop! Control! If there’s something you really want to remember about this post, it’s the idea that you should turn a negative worded goal of “quitting something” into a positive one. I’ll give a few tips on how do to it, but you are flying solo here, and gut feelings will be your guide.

    Let’s make a specific example: how could you turn the negative worded goal of “Quit smoking” into a positive one?

    • Look for positive consequences. Any habit change opens up new possibilities. Let’s forget for a moment the health benefits you get when you quit smoking: you’ve probably heard them a million times… If you are short on cash, when you stop smoking you’ll suddenly increase your pocket money: is there something you’d love buying with such money? For me, the goal could be: “I’ll buy myself a luxury breakfast everyday with the money I was previously using for purchasing cigarettes!”
    • Look for mutually exclusive activities. Sometime if you choose to do something new, and then stick to it, you became practically unable to engage in your old bad habit. For example, it is difficult to smoke a lot when you are preparing for a marathon.
    • Go nuts! Have fun thinking of weird and interesting things you could do instead of smoking cigarettes. For example: “When I feel like smoking a cigarette I’ll have a sexual fantasy instead!”

    2. Do you really want to change?

    I have a confession to make: sometimes I complain about something even if I don’t really want to change it.

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    I guess it’s a way to release stress, and I accept it, even if I don’t particularly like it.

    What about you? Have you really decided to change? If the answer is no, praise yourself for your ability to have such a deep insight about yourself, and buy a little treat. On the other hand, if you really want to change, get ready to answer the next question.

    3. Is now the right time?

    You’ve heard it many times. I’ll tell you once again. It’s important to focus only on one habit change at a time, so if you have too much on your plate right now, you might want to wait before introducing new challenges.

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    4. What’s in it for you?

    Successful habit change requires a strong motivation.

    The best way to fire up you desire to change, is having a full picture of all the positive things you are bringing into your life, and of all of the negative ones you are moving away from.

    In short, you can answer the fourth question by writing down two separate lists: “Good things I move forward to”, “Bad thing’s I get away from.”

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    The trick here is to make sure that all of your personality has a say in writing those two lists: you don’t want to approach change only with a parental attitude “I should be doing…”, or in a purely logical fashion “smoking is detrimental to my health, hence I quit”.

    Follow the steps below and you’ll make sure that nothing is left behind.

    • Put a piece of paper in front of you and write down: “Good things I move forward to.” What would be those good things for your parents?
    • Keeping the focus on good things, consider all of the objective information you have on your habit change, and write down all of the benefits that such change will bring.
    • Imagine explaining the advantages of your habit change to an intelligent 8 years old child. Write down simple worded benefits which could be attractive and understandable to a little boy.
    • Now repeat the same process with the “Bad things I move away from.”
    • You’ve done it all: it’s time to celebrate!

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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