(Why it takes a lot of hard work to change a habit)

If for some reason you had to give up carrots (I can’t imagine why either!), I doubt that you would struggle – you might not even like carrots? Wouldn’t you simply stop buying them, stop eating them and not give them a second thought?  So why is it so hard to lose, weight, get fit, stop smoking and all those other habits that tend to be the subject of New Year’s Resolutions? Why does it take a lot of hard work to change a habit?

There are many reasons, as I discovered when I wrote my last blog about the failure of New Year’s Resolutions, and so today I’m just going to talk about one common aspect people find irritating and annoying when they try to make positive change – conflict!

If you made a New Year Resolution, I expect it is was because you recognised it was going to take sustained effort to achieve your goal, because if it was easy, you would just ‘do it’ (like giving up carrots). What you may have failed to realise, is your ‘bad habit’ also serves a positive purpose. Not only this, but once upon a time it was a solution to a problem or series of problems.

For instance, you may have started smoking to feel confident, or mature or because you believe it induces a relaxation response (it doesn’t!). Food can be used as a reward, a comfort, a relief from boredom. Chances are, once upon a time this ‘now problem’ served you very well. However, there came a stage when this behaviour started to create problems of its own and now you feel that you ‘should or ought to’ either give it up or replace it with something else. You may be aware that there is a conflict, or this might lie completely outside of your conscious awareness.  Part of you doesn’t want to give up something that feels good or/and has a positive purpose.

Sometimes we can hear our inner dialogue as one part of us argues with the other about what to do. It’s almost like being a witness to an argument, a battle of wills. ‘Go on you know you want to, it won’t hurt just this once, what harm can it do?’ versus ‘No!, you promised, don’t do it, STAND BACK FROM THE CAKE!!”

By exerting your willpower you may be able to overcome temptation but in doing so you will be making a part of you unhappy and visa versa. Whatever you do, one part of you will be satisfied but the other will not. It’s a lose/lose situation that will keep you feeling dissatisfied and unhappy. There is a win/win solution though- it’s through negotiation and compromise.

If you accept that your unconscious mind is always working on your behalf with positive intent, then rather than trying to stifle this important part of you, it is possible to do a deal.  Conflict resolution is a therapeutic approach often used in hypnotherapy and NLP. Working together with a therapist/coach/facilitator, it involves finding a win/win situation that keeps all parts (sometimes multiple) happy, removing the conflict completely.

The solution comes from discovering the intention behind the behaviour and generating alternative ways of achieving this. Only when a change is adopted at an unconscious level will you be successful, as all your thoughts, beliefs and actions are derived from this part of your psyche.

The great news is that when you no longer have an emotional attachment to a particular habit, it takes no effort at all to refrain from it – just like giving up carrots!  Compromise may mean that you occasionally indulge in the old ways, or that you find another alternative that relieves stress and anxiety for example,  but there is no longer a struggle, a winner or a loser.

Change can be hard or even impossible but it can be simple when you simply know how.


Lesley Lyle MAPP: Author, Writer, Positive Psychologist, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Associate lecturer, Laughter Facilitator Director Positive Psychology Learning. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook

Creating positive change through the application of science based processes