Changing Habits and Behaviour – How Do We Do It?

Have you heard of the “Ironic Process Theory?” No, I hadn’t either! This is the name for the process we all go through when we try to not think of something. Try it – clear you mind totally. That’s difficult, but try. Now try not to think of a Black Sheep. Really try not to think of that Black Sheep. The effect? Yes, we can’t help but think of a Black Sheep! That’s what is Ironic I guess. Research shows that thought suppression has counterproductive effects on behaviours. To view a summary of this research (2 minute read) click here. If you have ever thought about not scratching that mosquito bite, or not having another of those Easter chocolates, you will know what this is about! Carl Jung had a great quote for this: “What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” So if we want to change a behaviour, and resistance only makes it worse, what can we do?

Don’t resist, replace. When the urge comes to have another chocolate, don’t just resist it, replace it with another action. Anything will do but it needs to be specific and not unpleasant. For example, have a drink of water, peel an orange, do a push up, sing a song, whatever rows your boat! In the brain this action will use different pathways, and those different pathways will help you change a behaviour.

This is linked to focus, in that when we try not to think of a distraction (looking at our phone, reading an email), the distraction will persist, and grow in size. If we resist it we will be distracted by it even more. And away goes that focus that we needed. So replace the thought with an action. Have a drink of water, take a walk, do whatever, and the power of that distraction will decrease.

Happy Easter, replace the distractions, but eat more chocolate! Cheers

Phil Pickford

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