Samuel Johnson once said, “The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt till they are too strong to be broken.” He was not entirely correct. Neither was Horace Mann when he said, “Habit is a cable. We weave a thread of it every day until we cannot break it.” Habits are learned behavior. We do establish them by repeated action, but they can be broken.
A habit is an act repeated so often that it has become automatic. When you do something automatically without consciously thinking about it, you are in a trance-like state. Trance is a state of semi-consciousness in which a person is not self-aware and is either altogether unresponsive to external stimuli.
Habits, both good and bad, are products of mental conditioning—they result when your subconscious mind accepts suggestions. These suggestions, lodged in your subconscious mind, are there because you decided (whether actively or passively) to accept them. You can also make a conscious decision to dislodge those suggestions, which can be done in an active, thoughtful manner.
Self-suggestion, or autohypnosis, can result in either positive or negative purposes. An example of autohypnosis for negative purposes is smoking. Smokers, whether or not consciously decided, have hypnotized themselves to believe that cigarettes help them cope with life. On the other hand, reformed smokers have used self-suggestion for a positive purpose—to dehypnotize themselves and to associate cigarettes with the reality of poor health and eventual death.
Development of Habit
Developing a habit is a matter of attitude. Unless physical dependency is involved, most behaviors do not become ingrained overnight. Once a person either accepts or rejects a particular behavior, the seeds are sown. The seeds grow into full-blown habits through continued cultivation and repetition.
Charles Reade, a nineteenth-century philosopher, said, “Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” To paraphrase Mr. Reade: the path most of us take in developing our character passes three-mile posts: Attitudes lead to actions, actions lead to habits, and habits lead to lifestyles. Let’s look at those steps individually:
1. Attitudes lead to actions
Your thoughts are products of your feelings and attitudes. When you feel good about yourself, you tend to function within a positive cycle. You think constructive, productive, healthy thoughts, and your behavior reflects your positive attitude. Conversely, negative feelings, especially shame, guilt, hate, anger, or despair lead to destructive, unproductive, unhealthy thoughts and behavior—a negative, self-limiting cycle. Your actions (how you respond to events, circumstances, and events in your life) will be influenced by your attitudes.
2. Repetition of actions leads to habits
Most of your behavior is based on one of two motivations: what makes you feel good or is pleasurable or, alternatively, avoiding painful feelings, thoughts, or memories in the attempt to feel good. When the action is repeated often enough, it becomes a habit—an act that is performed unconsciously. Fumbling with coins in your pocket, making clucking noises, or tapping fingers on your desk are all habits performed unconsciously as a result of repetitively performing that act.
If the objective is to feel good, why so many people adopt self-destructive actions, you may ask. Regardless of how you view other people’s destructive behaviors, realize that they are getting some kind of positive reward from the destructive act or they would not be doing it. The positive reward may be the avoidance of pain.
Non-smokers may wonder why their smoking friends persist in their habits in spite of the hacking coughs and other resultant health consequences. Smokers may explain that they like to smoke and that it gives them something to do with their hands in social settings. Non-drinkers may wonder why alcohol abusers continue to drink when the practice makes them foolish, dangerous, and hungover. Drinkers will reason that a cocktail (or several) helps them relax. Pot smokers may say that a joint helps them to understand “the real meaning of life.”
Frequently, the subconscious reasons for the various destructive habits are hidden from the individual and connected to the person’s survival hierarchy.
3. Habits lead to lifestyles
We are a composite of our habits. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a habit as “the prevailing disposition or character of a person’s thoughts and feelings: mental makeup.
- Through internal communication within your conscious mind, your attitudes dictate your actions.
- Through communication from your conscious to your subconscious mind, your actions dictate your habits.
- And through reverse communication from your subconscious to your conscious mind, your habits dictate your lifestyle.
For thousands of years, habits—both forming them and kicking them—have been a matter of concern for philosophers, teachers, parents, politicians, and professionals involved with human well-being or human manipulation.
Contrary to what Charles Reade said, however, our destiny does not have to depend on a pattern of ingrained, unconscious, personal habits. Medical hypnoanalysis offers a method to break those patterns and has come of age in helping us conquer unwanted or destructive behavior. One goal of hypnoanalysis is to assist individuals in understanding the basis of their behavior so that they can recognize and deal with their mysterious compulsions. Once you understand that you didn’t set up the rules and values for your life, then those rules and values can be changed, and you take responsibility for changing the ones that don’t work in your life, then happiness is within your reach.
Hypnoanalysis helps in unlocking the origin of a habit, a thought pattern, or an area of concern because it allows access to regions of the mind that are not consciously accessible. A hypnoanalyst can guide a person toward improving behavior and correcting weaknesses by using gentle suggestions to remove limiting beliefs and to construct positive, life-affirming ones. The process is successful because it goes to the basis of the problem. It treats the underlying reason for the condition, not simply the symptom.
If you bite your nails, it’s not because of a physical addiction you cannot overcome. You bite your nails because of an emotional attachment, a release of tension, or some other reason. If you are a smoker, the real reason for your habit is buried within your subconscious mind, and a successful way to uncover that reason is to communicate with your subconscious. Through hypnoanalysis, you can pull out the reason behind the habit and then deal with it permanently. Once that is done, you will no longer feel the need to smoke. The key to success is the patient’s desire to change. Hypnoanalysis, as with other forms of treatment, will work only if an individual wants it to work.
(Content credit to ‘The Secrets From Your Subconscious Mind: How to Interpret the Code for Changing Your Life!’ by Ryan Elliott MSW, a Medical Hypnoanalyst.)