Change the story first, then you can quit the habit

February 10, 2021

By Elaine Goldhammer MD

Elaine Goldhammer is a medical doctor who has practiced western medicine for 24 years. In  2018, she created Inner Freedom Therapy to help clients in a deeper and more meaningful way.  She is now the leading Hypnotherapist and Life Coach in West Chester, PA. 

Quitting should be easy, right?  You stop doing the thing.  Stop smoking, stop over drinking, stop eating after one cookie.  It should take less energy, not more, to quit the prolonged smoking or drinking rituals.    So why is it so freaking hard to stop doing these things?  

The simple answer is: our brains don’t like to change.   So although it takes time and effort to go to the store, buy the cigarettes or alcohol, the lighters, chill and pour the beer, etc., we have been doing these things for so long it has become a habit.    Our brains LOVE autopilot mode. 

Plus, if you aren’t drinking tonight,  you have to answer the question,  “What do you do with yourself when you aren’t drinking?”  Your brain does NOT want to answer that question. It feels uncomfortable even to ask it.   

The third item our brains are wired to seek pleasure.  The evening drink is pleasurable at the moment.  Even if it causes a headache, dry mouth, and night sweats hours later, it is pretty darn delicious at the moment.  Our brains don’t like to think about future consequences, but that immediate dopamine hit, YES!  give me more. 

Voila, I just described to you our primitive brain’s triad of desire: avoiding pain, seeking pleasure, and creating the path of least resistance.  This triad, my friend, is the sneaky source of all habits.  

So how do we break out of this “primitive brain” pattern if we honestly want to cut back on drinking or stop smoking?  

Luckily, we are human beings that can learn things well enough to develop new habits.  If you do something over and over, eventually, it will become a new habit.  If this sounds hard and exhausting and you are ready to go back for your second glass, I have good news. There are many ways to make this more comfortable, more fun, and a chance to develop a skill that you can replay over and over in other areas of your life.  

The first part of this is the narrative.  In other words, “the story”.   Every human brain learns and informs through stories. We are not computers with linear thinking that stores data.  No! we are big globs of stories. Having an account is why you remember geography better after you have traveled.  If you practice medicine, you don’t thoroughly learn how to treat the disease until you meet the patient who describes how it has affected their bodies and lives.  A juicy story is why you remember holidays in your childhood where someone behaved badly and not the holidays that went as expected.    Not all of these narratives are helpful. We tend to get all sorts of messages that we can apply to many temptations in our lives. For example, we get mixed messages about smoking or alcohol all the time.  Here are a few stories that may sound familiar. 

  • You are morally weak if you drink too much.  
  • You are one of the cool girls if you sip wine at the bar.  
  • It is funny and charming to want a drink after a stressful day.  
  • It’s COVID, so there is nothing else to do.    
  • He is an artist, so of course, he smokes.  
  • She is European, and they all smoke.  

We hear these narratives and accept them as an explanation of someone’s behavior.  But it is not an explanation. It is an embellishment of their story. It fits into a narrative that we had heard before, thus making sense to our brain.  Of course, the fact is that the only reason people are drinking or smoking is that they decided to drink or smoke.  (not very interesting, I know)  

But the good news is that if the narrative they tell themselves perpetuates the behavior, then changing the story can also help stop the behavior.  

When trying to quit anything, the lasting change happens when two things come together.  First, change the behavior pattern, do it repeatedly until it becomes automatic, AND change the story!  

If you believe you are an artist, and that is why you smoke, if you want to quit, then tell the story that you are an artist who no longer smokes.  I admit this is not rocket science, but it is necessary.  If you believe this story, you see that you can be a sexy artist and not smoke. It releases you of this old identity and helps you create another.  It is not painful to let old identities go if you fall in love with the new identity you create.  

Here is what Hypnotherapy can do: Find the hidden stories in your subconscious brain, and by making them conscious, we can tell your brain that it was a story from your past that no longer makes sense to your adult life.  We can finally let that bully from second grade no longer be necessary, or that emotionally neglectful parent no longer rule your brain or no longer equate Doritos with love.

Here is what Life Coaching can do: Learn the skills to build a new habit.

Join me in creating a new narrative for yourself with the magic of hypnotherapy and life coaching.  

How can Inner Freedom Therapy help?

If you would like to discuss this click to book a free consultation. 

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