As a clinical hypnotist I get asked about helping with daily habits all the time. Most of the time it has to do with breaking bad habits like smoking, over-eating, nail biting, etc. Coming in at a close second are people who want to use hypnosis to help with developing positive habits like going to the gym, eating healthy, and being more optimistic.
So the obvious answer is yes…absolutely, hypnosis can help with managing your habits.
The trick of course has to do not only with the habit(s) that the client is needing help with but also with the history of the patient in conjunction with the habit or lack thereof and the effects associated. In fact, failure on the part of the hypnotist to uncover what is termed the secondary gain that goes along with the habit. Many clients and hypnotists who don’t know enough about uncovering the secondary gain are going to be disappointed in the long term effectiveness of hypnosis.
Let’s look at an example. Years ago I had a client who was a lifelong smoker. She had made the decision to quit but I could tell that she wasn’t too optimistic about her chances. After prodding a little she confided that (like most smokers) she had tried many methods over the years to quit including in hypnosis, and of course, she had little to no success. The longest she stayed a non-smoker was about 3 weeks.
The first course of action of course was for me to uncover the ‘real reason’ she smokes. Whenever anyone engages in an activity that they know is doing them more harm then good, there is some other reason or reasons that keep that person engaging in that activity over an over again. Sure, some habits have more of a physical addiction than others. In fact, I would argue that all habits have some form of physical addiction as dopamine and other hormones are released before, during, and after the habits but obviously an addiction to heroin is going to be physically tougher to kick than addiction to potato chips. But, in every case, the secondary gains must be dealt with if one is to have long term success.
My challenge with my client was to uncover something that she wasn’t consciously aware of so I started to investigate the time in her life when the habit started. She had smoked for over 20 years and wasn’t sure exactly when she started. So here is where using other aspects of hypnosis can really help. I took her through an age regression and just had her imagine different times in her past to narrow down the approximate time period when she took up smoking. To her surprise she had an image in her mind of smoking with her dad. He had let her have a cigarette around the age of 17 or so. She was an adult in the eyes of the state and her father had always let her know that once she was an adult she could make her own decisions. Well, I could tell there were some issues there so I prodded a little further and asked her to imagine what she might have been thinking at that time. Even if she couldn’t remember I wanted her to just imagine that she could hear what she was thinking while she shared that first cigarette with her father.
By the look on her face I could tell she was realizing something that was both very emotional and revelatory. The thought that went through her head was that ‘This…ie smoking’, was something she could share with her father. He was never very affectionate to her growing up and she longed for his attention her whole life as all little girls do. After that, they would have cigarettes together often and she looked forward to the time they would spend together even though, like always, they didn’t speak during that time.
Now, her father had passed away shortly after that and she continued smoking as a way to hold on to the times that she felt like he was actually sharing something with her. When you realize how much emotion this woman had tied to smoking, it’s easy to realize why she failed so many times. Success in quitting would also mean giving up the shared experiences with her father. Rationally it doesn’t make sense but when a person isn’t consciously aware of the attachment then the subconscious will step in to ensure the positive secondary gain is preserved every time she would make steps to quit.
So, in order to make sure that she had success with quitting, it was necessary to separate the positive secondary gain from the act of smoking. We came up with several things that she could do to enjoy, honor, and remember those times with her father that didn’t involve smoking. Once she had success with that then getting her to quit was easy. To this day, she is smoke-free. I know because we still maintain contact thanks to the wonders of Facebook. She lives a healthy lifestyle and promotes living with health on a popular blog she runs. I can’t take the credit of course for her change in direction concerning her health, but I do think that whole experience with quitting smoking and helping her to heal some old wounds with her father probably contributed in some way.
So, can hypnosis help you with managing your habits? Yes, but you will have a better chance at creating lasting change if you identify and deal with the secondary gain(s) that go along with the habit(s) you are trying to manage.