behavior change

Here are articles on behavior change

How to quit smoking without going nuts

On my Facebook page, a member of the Get-it-Done Guy community asked: how do I quit smoking without losing my mind?

How to quit smoking is a huge topic. I’ll answer in a couple of seconds, in the hopes I can at least point you to some good resources. If I were going to quit smoking, based on everything I’ve been exposed to, here are the tools I’d use. I don’t know if this will work—I’ve never smoked—but this is what I do whenever I’m trying to change a physical habit.

I’ve used these techniques around eating, when I discovered that my diet as a 19-year-old somehow didn’t look or feel as good once I was past adolescence. I also use these techniques to overcome my resistance to exercise and pushing myself at the gym.

There are three areas I concentrated on: dealing with the physical sensations, dealing with my beliefs and mental habits, and dealing with the actual behavioral triggers to eating.

Physical sensations. I would eat until I felt stuffed, instead of eating until I stopped feeling hungry. I used self-hypnosis and gave myself a lot of suggestions like, “as soon as my body is no longer hungry, let me feel full.” And “with every bite I take once I’m no longer hungry, let me feel fuller and fuller.” For the gym, I used hypnosis so sore muscles now feel good to me and immediately make me think of how studly I’m becoming. *grunt*

For smoking, I would pay close attention to the physical sensations of wanting a cigarette and use hypnosis to make those same sensations triggers for feeling like taking a deep breath, or feeling good about how I was quitting smoking.

Beliefs that trigger me. When contemplating going to the gym, my first thought would be, “that’s so much work!! It will be so unpleasant!” I would also think, “I just don’t have the genetics to be able to get a really good-looking body.”

The most effective thing I’ve found to identify and deal with beliefs that trigger or get in the way of physical behaviors is The Work of Byron Katie. You can buy her book, Loving What Is, or download the entire important pieces of the book for free at http://www.thework.com.

Though Katie markets The Work as self-help, I even use it for very concrete things like physical preparation for singing. I used to have trouble hitting certain high notes and noticed that right before I sang the note, I thought, “This is a high note. I’ll have to reach for it,” and that thought triggered the tension in my throat. I did The Work on that thought and suddenly became calm and clear in my singing.

For smoking, I would write down every belief I could find about smoking and do The Work on them. For example, “I look cool when I smoke,” “I need to smoke to calm down,” “Smoking feels good,” “Smoking will help me feel better,” etc.

Behavioral triggers. When you start to do an unwanted behavior, you can change the very action of the behavior into a reminder to do something else. For example, if I give in to my desire for Oreo ice cream cake, I arrange for the sight of it approaching my mouth to trigger a reminder that looking like a stud-muffin is way more important to me than eating a second piece of Oreo ice cream cake.

For behavior triggers, I use the “swish pattern” from NLP (neurolinguistic-programming), as discussed in the book Using Your Brain—For a Change by Richard Bandler.

For smoking, I would use the swish pattern to shift from the image of my hand approaching my mouth with a cigarette or lighter to a reminder of how great I’ll look, feel, and smell(!) when I no longer want or need cigarettes.

I hope this helps.

Establishing a new habit

Today’s Get-it-Done Guy episode deals with how to form a new habit. Becoming more productive, setting new years resolutions, brushing your teeth differently … any sort of behavior change involves, well, changing behavior. Unfortunately, humans aren’t very good at changing behavior.

I’ve been fascinated for years by psychology and the human brain. I read research into cognitive and social psychology, behavioral finance, brain-based science, and so on, always looking for stuff that works to help develop new skills or change old ones.

I do all this because I love learning, and really enjoy anything that helps me do it better. One of the most effective models I’ve found for understanding how humans think is NLP or neuro-linguistic programming. Developed in the 70s, it’s considered a pseudo-science and not taken seriously.

I found, however, that I could use it and get effective, repeatable results. To this day, I teach elements of it to clients and friends and get demonstrable, measurable results.

Over time, various areas of science are independently discovering elements of NLP. Just this month in the January/February 2011 issue of Scientific America Mind, there’s an article discussing how we talk and think about the world in ways that correspond pretty directly to our bodies. In NLP, we call this “organ language” (I am shouldering a burden). Another NLP phenomenon called “submodalities” suggests that we speak literally about our internal world. “Things are looking up” would suggest that the speaker is making a mental picture and positioning it in the top area of their mental field of vision. I suspect submodalities will be next on the rediscovery agenda.

This Get-it-Done guy episode is the NLP “new behavior generator.” When it was developed 35 years ago, no one knew about mirror neurons, and sports psychology was in its infancy. Today, visualization is established as producing measurable results in sports performance. I’ve attempted to capture the essential elements of the actual behavior change technique, while augmenting it somewhat with poisoned apples and the occasional lesson in introspection and emotional self-management.