Break Bad Habits

“Change before you have to.” Jack Welch

While driving through the mountains over the holidays, we listened to an excellent audio recording of the book ‘Switch: How to change things when change is hard’ by Chip Heath and Dan Health. Using the analogy of a person riding an elephant, they created a way to change the behaviour of both individuals and populations.  The Rider represents the analytical conscious mind (~ 8% of consciousness).  The conscious mind is judgemental and decisive but can get stuck in analysis paralysis and naval gazing.  In contrast, the Elephant represents the unconscious mind (~ 92% of consciousness).  The unconscious mind, often compared to the mentality of a 3 year old, is driven by emotions and is very slow to turn around;  The Path they travel is the situation.   The book suggests that humans are challenged by change because we are of two minds – one is emotional and one is analytical.  Since both are generally in disagreement, the confused mind says no and change doesn’t happen.

Hypnosis by-passes the ‘Rider’ (the conscious mind) and
motivates the ‘Elephant’ (the unconscious mind).

As an alternative to hypnosis, I’ve used the Shift Change Framework to illustrate the example of quitting smoking.  With addiction, it is always the Elephant (the unconscious mind) that holds us back.

1. Direct the Rider (The conscious mind needs analytical evidence):  Find the bright spots – in the case of a smoking addiction, are there times when the smoker doesn’t smoke?  Determine what’s different about those times and find a way to replicate those conditions;  Point to the destination – What date will be Smoke Free Day?

2. Motivate the Elephant (The unconscious mind is motivated by emotion); Find the feeling – is that person a stress smoker or does smoking make them feel part of a social group, or is there some other way it serves them?  Determine another way to reduce stress or feel part of a social group;  Appeal to the emotions ( e.g. provide articles on the heartbreak of a child dying from lung cancer due to second-hand smoke or a grief-stricken widow whose husband died of lung cancer).

3. Shape the Path Change the situation.  Instead of going outside with colleagues for a ciagarette, walk around the block or join a fitness group.  Provide crystal clear instructions on how to become smoke free.   Create steps to freedom (e.g. no cigarettes after 6pm, only 2/3 pack per day, then 1/3, and so on).

When you understand that we are of two opposing minds – the unconscious emotional mind and the conscious analytical mind, it’s much easier to understand why change can be difficult.  However, change is made easier with methods like the ‘Switch’ change framework and much quicker with Hypnosis.