The motivation to change

April 7, 2010

by Michael Carroll

We had a film crew at the NLP Academy last week filming me deliver my ‘Smoke Free Life’ process. I have to say that the Smoke Free Life system is brilliant for smoking cessation. Hardened smokers such as Rick Parfitt (Status Quo) and Fish (former front man of Marillion) and now solo artist, have used the system to break long term smoking habits.  The NLP structure for breaking smoking habits can be used for breaking any habit hence the topic of this article. You will find this article useful if you are seeking change in any area of life.

A greater motivation to change than maintaining the habit

After the smoke free life filming I went for a walk.  The day was gorgeous and I had been inside for most of it. As I walked along the street towards the park, my attention was drawn to all the people puffing away on their cigarettes outside their places of work. I took a look at these people, their skin grey, with smokers lines and their hacking coughs, and I could not help but wonder ‘what keeps them persevering with this clearly unhealthy habit?’ The answer is simple, and it’s the same answer for any habit. The inner motivation to break free is lower than the motivation to stop. All habits have benefits attached, and people are often scared of losing the benefit, and therefore have low motivation to make the change.  In the case of the smoker, the benefits might be a feeling of calm, relaxation etc.  The first step of changing a habit is to have a higher level of motivation for breaking free of the habit than maintaining it.  You may notice the language I use to describe the change, I use the phrase breaking free, rather than giving something up. If your attention is on giving something up, your motivation will reduce because attention is on losing something rather than achieving something.

The benefits of change

It’s all well and good saying ‘get motivated’, but the ‘HOW’ for many people is a challenge. Your desire increases when you are clear about motivational factors for breaking the habit. When I worked with Rick Parfitt, such factors as his quadruple heart surgery, a throat cancer scare and his requirement for his vocal chords to be in top shape for his career were NOT his main motivators for change. This was evident because he had maintained his habit, despite all of the above. His motivation came from the fact that at 61 he had become a Dad to twins. For him, the biggest driving force to change his habit was underpinned by his desire to be an active Dad and see his twins grow into adults. That’s not to say his overall health and singing career were not instrumental, they were, but not strong as his desire to be there for his kids. If you have a habit you want to change, identify all the motivational factors, that is, the benefits of changing behaviours and breaking free of the habit. Write them down and be totally honest with yourself in establishing what your key motivators are. You will soon see the habit from a different perspective.

Positive intention, the benefits of holding the habit

In NLP we say all behaviour is motivated by a positive intention. In every day terms this means there are benefits attached to the habit. To break free of habits it is important to find new ways of bring the benefits to you that the habit previously brought. Habits remain habits because, paradoxically, part of you enjoys what that habit brings so there is a sense of loss attached for changing.  For many, binge eating brings comfort, smoking eases nerves and drinking boosts confidence. However, all of these benefits are short-lived. The effects of that cigarette soon wear off and another is needed, and the same for the effects of food and alcohol. More of the fix is needed and so it becomes a loop. Somehow, the mind has generalised the benefits of the habit and the individual lacks the means of achieving the benefits naturally.

The same is true of habits such as procrastination, nail biting, fiddling, untidiness and so on, the immediate benefits are generalised, making the habit more compelling than the choice of giving up. You will break free when you have established different choices that include the benefit (calmness, confidence etc) of the old habit but without having the habit itself.

Exploring past choices

When I do my one to one work with clients, I help people explore the choices they make in their life. It’s quite surprising how many choices are generalised. As human beings we unconsciously learn new behaviours at a young age and hold on to them. The moment we unconsciously accept the behaviour as a habit we are making a choice, a choice that removes choice i.e. the habit takes over. Part of my work is helping people review their past choices and the intentions associated with the choice. Such reviewing processes enable people to clear any negative associations connected with their habits and move on from the initial choice of taking that behavioural route. Behavioural editing, change personal history, re-imprinting and time-line re-patterning are all processes to help people explore past choices.

Create an empowering future

Your perception of the future will impact your choices in the present equally as much as the past impacts the present. Create in your mind an empowering future that includes crystal clear representations of a future full of everything you ever dreamed of and more. Include in your future representation all the long term advantages of making the changes you want to make in the present.  You will now find that your motivation to break free of redundant habits far outweighs the motivation not to, making the actual process of change much easier. In Rick Parfitt’s case, his future representation was built of many many years with his children as a healthy Dad, plus a lot more. Yours is anything you want it to be – enjoy!

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