Have you ever wondered why diets don’t seem to work in the long run? Or, why you really want to start exercising or using that gym membership, but still haven’t?
Or, why those addicted to alcohol, smoking or gambling cannot seem to quit once and for all?
Many start off well but struggle to make their decisions last. The entire experience of depriving yourself of something you feel you must “give up” is a form of stress in itself.
It’s like an “accident” waiting to happen, when you eventually cave in and go “crazy” at the buffet table.
Or give up altogether because you’re miserable most of the time, and exhausted from deploying so much self-control and effort to stick to your plan.
Various studies have indicated that willpower is very much like a muscle that can be used up or depleted. Imagine willpower as a store of energy that can be drained like any other battery when it runs out of power.
So, willpower alone may not be enough to make drastic changes in your life, though they may actively kick them off.
According to the American Psychological Association, there’s a growing body of research showing that resisting repeated temptations takes a mental toll on us. Hence, the feeling of being exhausted or drained from trying to follow all your self-imposed rules is very much real.
Not to mention, willpower comes from the conscious mind. As neurologist Sigmund Freud pointed out, the conscious mind is just the tip of the iceberg, comprising of only 10% of the mind. The unconscious mind, described as the driving force of our behaviour, habits and beliefs, comprises of about 90% of the mind.
Engaging the subconscious mind
Hence, in order to change a behaviour, you must find a way to access and tap into the power of your unconscious/subconscious mind.
As success expert and author Earl Nightingale said, “Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality.”
When a person is relaxed and not in a stressful state, suggestions to their unconscious minds have a stronger chance of sinking in, which is what makes hypnotherapy, sound healing sessions or meditative states so effective because it accesses the subconscious part of us.
A hypnotherapist at the London College of Clinical Hypnosis, who is also a medical doctor dealing with patients suffering from traumas, corporate burnout and rape, shared an interesting story of a man who walked into his office wanting to quit smoking.
In the middle of the hypnosis session, the patient was so relaxed that he fell asleep and could not precisely remember the words that were spoken to him.
However, the remarkable thing was that he quit smoking anyway. The patient could not understand how this was possible but just because your conscious mind is not aware or “awake”, does not mean your unconscious mind is “asleep”.
Studies by researchers at the Columbia University Medical Centre support the fact that the conscious mind is hundreds of milliseconds behind the unconscious processes.
For instance, fleeting images of fearful faces, too fleeting to be a part of conscious awareness still had the ability to produce unconscious anxiety in subjects who had seen these images.
The unconscious mind is like a computer running in the background, storing all your memories, attitudes, fears and motivations.
You are not consciously aware of the multitude of things it does automatically and simultaneously, from making your heart beat, to the unconscious blinking of your eyes, to breathing and digesting your food to stay alive.
To harness its power is to tap into its limitless possibilities. However, in the “filing cabinet” of your mind, it cannot process a negative so the language and choice of words you use to communicate with your unconscious mind is very important.
For instance, a person trying to break the negative patterns of self-judgment who uses words like, “I must stop blaming myself” will not be as effective as “I accept myself the way I am. I am patient with my imperfections.”
For those trying to control their diet, the same analogy applies.
Instead of saying to yourself, “I must not eat so much”, which is still a negative statement, it would be better to say, “I enjoy eating smaller portions and doing things in moderation.”
With any change you would like to see in your life, focus on the positive statements and outcomes you will experience from the change rather than dwelling on what you must “give up”.
It is the same in the workplace. If employees are motivated and happy, they become naturally more productive, and tend to remain longer in their jobs, rather than always being criticised for what they have done wrong.
Jojo Struys is a regional TV host, speaker and wellness personality. She is also the founder of OhanaJo Studio, Malaysia’s largest yoga and sound healing space (www.ohanajo.com)