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Bad Habits – The Black Ops Of Your Brain

Nun with a bad habitFirstly, if you still haven’t grabbed your free copy of 70 Amazing Facts About Your Brain yet, and by free I mean I don’t even require your e-mail details, you’re running out of time.

As from the 16th January 2013 the book will no longer be free and the only way you can get a copy is either to sign up for my newsletter (well worth doing by the way!) and waiting 4 weeks or buying it on Amazon.

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If you haven’t read my post Bad Habits: Why Are They Difficult to Break? go and do so now.

Unless you understand what a habit is and why ingrained habits are tricky to break, your chances of banishing your own annoying routines are grossly diminished.

Firstly, there is an important distinction I need to make regarding the difference between a bad habit and an addiction.

Bad Habits Are Not Necessarily Addictions

There are similarities such as both are learned behaviors and can be detrimental to your health and habits most definitely can turn in to addictions, but equally there are some significant differences.

Not least of which, is that people can rarely control an addiction whereas they can a habit. If that is, they can bring it into their conscious awareness and remind themselves of what they are doing, or about to do.

I am by no means an authority on addictions and whereas some of the advice I’m about to offer may prove useful I really urge you to seek specialist advice if you think you may have an addiction issue.

Finding local specialists is not that hard, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

For the sake of brevity because this post will be way too long otherwise, I’m going to link to some older posts on certain techniques.

I’m also going to presume you have a bad habit of worrying, so if your real problem is nose picking or goat fondling, just map the information across.

Habits Are Largely Unconscious Actions

As you now know because you sensibly went back and read the first post, most, if not all habits are unconscious actions the majority of the time.

You probably don’t decide it’s now time to worry because you’re stressed, you just do it and probably won’t even realize you’re doing it until after the event, by which time the damage is done.

With bad habits like chronic worrying it’s pretty much pointless for me to tell you that worrying achieves nothing and is rarely the call to action people think it is.

I can tell you that if something is in your control, just use the emotional energy you’re employing worrying on acting instead.

And I could also point out that if something’s out of your control there is zero point in worrying because you can’t control whatever it is.

But it would have little effect, because as I said, your actions are unconscious and I’m delivering information to your conscious mind that you probably already know.

Some of the advice I’m going to give you is obvious and if you’re a regular here you may even be familiar with it, but you probably haven’t implemented it otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post.

The Black Ops of Your Brain

As you know, your unconscious loves to replicate patterns of behavior and bad habits are like the Black Ops of your brain.

They move in silently and imperceptibly, do what it is they want to do and then depart leaving you to pick up the pieces and wonder what the hell just happened.

It’s almost impossible to remove any habit without being mindful of it.

In other words, every time you switch into autopilot mode you are at the mercy of your Black Ops and who knows what they have been instructed to do?

1. Fill The Void

When you are trying to remove a bad habit it is absolutely crucial you replace it with something else. If you don’t, you create a vacuum and your brain hates vacuums more than my dogs do.

I know I’m blurring the edges between addiction and habits, but for smokers having sticks of celery and other assorted crudities can work well because they can reach for a healthy carrot stick rather than a cigarette.

In and of itself that’s not going to be enough, but it’s a great starting point, unless that is you spend 5 minutes trying to light a stick of celery and end up burning the house down.

2. Meditation

There was a period a year or so ago where I started to feel like I was banging the meditation drum a tad too hard.

Now however, I feel I’m not banging it hard enough as research study after research study prove its effectiveness in helping in so many areas of our life including health, happiness levels, and yes, even breaking bad habits.

Let’s presume you’re not bothered about being happier or healthier, but you do want to stop worrying, which of course will help with the former two things.

I’ve mentioned several times now the fact that bad habits are run by the unconscious part of your brain. Therefore, it stands to reason if you can be more aware (mindful) of what you’re doing you’re utilizing your conscious mind and thus less likely succumb.

When you’re mindful your Black Ops are shut down.

Mindfulness is like inviting them to walk down the red carpet on Oscar night and they hate that kind of exposure more than a Kardashian hates being told to wear clothes that fit her.

You can skip this stage if you like because after all it takes up valuable worrying time and it is all a bit woo-woo, but I wouldn’t advise it.

If you’re unsure of the benefits of meditation or what to do, grab my free ebook and/or audio book  Don’t Hesitate – Meditate and take the time to learn because this can offer you a lifetime of free benefits.

Yes of course you can break habits without employing a meditation practice, but it’s  trickier to do because meditation and mindfulness are one and the same thing and we have already established the importance of being mindful, right?

Meditation helps you tap into mindfulness (because to all intents and purposes that’s what it is) more easily than would normally be the case.

3. Hypnotherapy

The reason hypnotherapy is useful in this context is because a good hypnotherapist will communicate directly with your unconscious mind.

And great hypnotherapists are amazing story tellers weaving tales specific to your life and using complex metaphors to sneak in past your critical conscious mind.

Think of hypnotherapy as White Ops.

If you want to know more about hypnotherapy check out my post cunningly called ‘What Is Hypnosis?’

By the way, if you ever visit a hypnotherapist and he or she reaches for a book of scripts make an excuse such as you left the cat turned on at home and leave post haste because they probably suck.

4. Anchoring

It takes perseverance and effort to build a strong anchor and most people don’t want to take the time.

If you tend to start to worry every time you get into bed or arrive at work, then you have anchored your worrying to those two events and are creating a condition response or reflex.

There is a process in NLP called collapsing anchors, but that would take way too much tome to explain and is a tad technical.

So all I’m going to do is refer you to my video post on anchoring and urge you to learn how to set an anchor for calm and then fire it when you notice your worrying has taken control.

5. The NLP Swish Pattern

The swish pattern is a strange beast because as I say in my post NLP: Science or Magic, there is no scientific proof that it works, just a boat load of anecdotal evidence.

Having said that, there was no explanation of why anchoring or reframing worked until advances in neuroscience and in particular neuroplasticity shed light on the structural changes to the brain both techniques can make.

The Swish Pattern looks to replace one habit with another so it ticks two boxes at once. You’ll have to watch the video to understand how it works because it would be a full post in its own right.

Note; If you are viewing this is an e-mail or an a phone and cannot see the video click here to watch.

One word of warning, this is not an easy process to get right for somebody with no NLP experience. You can in fact further embed a bad habit if you get it wrong, so be careful or hire an expert.

Building A Good Habit

In some respects the easiest way to remove a bad habit is to replace it with a good one. That way you are grooving the new neural pathway whilst the old one starts to wither and die.

Think going to the gym rather than going to the pub. Or reading a book rather than mindlessly turning the TV on. Or even in the case of worrying, meditating or practicing the incredibly powerful skill of reframing each time you start to worry

However, as I said last time it can take a long time to fully remove a bad habit, so you have to be on your guard and not get complacent just because you have stuck to your new behavior for a few weeks.

Here are a few quick and fairly obvious bullet points to utilize in your form your new habit:

1. Core Values

Make sure you understand your core values so that you can align your new behavior with your values. If you set off trying to form a habit that is out of alignment you are setting yourself up for failure.

2. Pick A New Habit That Excites You

Even though I go to the gym 3 times per week I rarely enjoy anything about it other than the drive home.

However, when I was younger I played a lot of Squash and loved it. I didn’t need to push myself to go and play because I really enjoyed the game and the competitive element.

If you want to develop a reading habit, don’t start with reading material that will bore you. I have known plenty of clients who have forced them to read self development books that were dry and boring.

Even I hate books like that!

If 50 Shades of Grey is what you really want to read, read it and screw what anybody else thinks.

3. Get Help

This can be from friends, family members or even outside help such as hiring a Life Coach. Trying to do everything on your own makes things exponentially more difficult.

If you are going to work out, get a work out buddy. The same goes for trying to lose weight, it’s much easier if you have other people encouraging you and making you accountable

4. Use Your Calendar

Using your phone or calendar to remind yourself of times when you want to work on your new habit is crucial. It’s very easy to simply forget no matter how great your intentions are.

Don’t rely on your memory because your Black Ops can hi-jack that sucker quicker than you can say “What did I plan to do again today?”

5. Commit

I had a client one time who wanted to stop exaggerating so much. So she agreed to pay anybody that caught her doing so $5! It cost her a fortune in the first week, but it also cured her of her habit.

That it total commitment to change and it worked. Your Black Ops can spot a lack of commitment easier than the paparazzi can spot a drunken ‘B’ list celebrity.

6. Focus on The Future Not The Pain

There probably will be days when you are fed up with all the effort and that’s because you’re focussing on the here and now and not the future benefits.

I know I said being mindful is important with removing bad habits, but you can also be mindful of the future, counterintuitive though that may sound.

Tenacious people push through because they know the true rewards are around the corner and not sat inside the middle of a chocolate cake.

I’m going to call it a day at that because this post is developing a life of its own. Maybe my next ebook should be an in-depth look at habits?

If you have any advice to offer that you think can help others, please feel free to leave a comment. Don’t e-mail me with it, just comment!

12 comments to Bad Habits – The Black Ops Of Your Brain

  • “It’s almost impossible to remove any habit without being mindful of it.” Totally agree with it!

    You can’t move forward to a change until you accept you have to make a change.

  • This is an extremely valuable post. I was just discussing this topic on a friends wall via Facebook and we’re so on the same page man.

    Excellent post Tim!

  • I would have used government ops, not black ops. Black ops are outside the box thinking types who are amongst the most resilient operators in the world, whereas government ops are riddled with bad habits, ineffective protocols, and repeat the same mistakes ad nauseum till people just give up…. oh, wrong rant.

    Otherwise, great post Tim!

    • Precisely!

      Your internal black ops are clever, reslient and not easily defeated. Unfortunately they didn’t get the right mission sent to them and they are using their skills in the wrong way.

  • This is powerful, exactly what I need to kick my bad habits! I’m going to put it to action. :)

  • I just watched the YouTube re: the NLP swish method. I no longer smoke but I do have so other bad habits like “tuning out” when other people are speaking to me that I want to be shed of. I’m quite good at visualization so I’m definitely going to use NLP swish to zoom my image of me being a good listener to the forefront as soon as I experience the tuning out trigger. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  • I think public accountability helps too Tim to build habits.

    I decided to build the habit this new year of writing weekly on my blog. I’m going to use all the tips you suggest here to build this habit.

    I’ve been reading recently about seeing your habit daily – like having to check in with your habit on your phone, or on paper or an app. that may be a good way to make your habit reality on a daily basis.