Habits: things that you are used to do, most of the times in an automatic way.
- Anchors: words, sounds or physical actions which elicit a specific response.
- Conditioning: the act of creating an automatic response to a stimulus learned and reinforced through repetition or strong experiences.
Each one of us during our life has learned to answer to a specific stimulus in a particular way and most of the times this kind of automation eases our life and let us to concentrate our thoughts on different things. But sometimes we develop habits which in reality make our life worse or more difficult and we would really like to get rid of them. Or develop some more positive ones.
There are good and bad habits but clearly what we want to stop are the bad ones. Think of a habit as a kind of highway in the mind. If you have to go from one place to another you usually take the highway as it’s the fastest way to arrive at your destination. It’s large, paved and it doesn’t get slippery if it rains. This is a habit, a highway of your mind. A behavior you usually have because you know what will be the outcomes. Habits are predictable and comfortable.
Habits are usually created through anchors; a link between a stimulus and a response. They are very much used in the field of NLP but anchors are really a simple tool, so simple that you’ve always used them. It can be a word, a song or a physical action and it automatically causes a specific response. For example anytime you hear the song which was playing when you first met your loved one you are instantly thrown back in time and live again that special moment. The song is the anchor and your feeling good is the response.
Once an anchor is in place then a habit is established and the highway created. Any time you receive that stimulus you give the related response. And this becomes a habit when you perform an action in order to get the response. As in the example above any time you feel not so good you put that song on your stereo because you know you’ll feel better soon. You have the habit to listen to music any time you feel down.
Anchors and habits are a result of conditioning which is nothing more than the act of creating a link between a stimulus and the response. Conditioning also derives from the fact that we learn from our experience, either positive or negative. Let’s say that conditioning is a result of what happens to us. That link is created because something either positive or negative happened to us so we are conditioned to avoid what makes us feel bad and to do what makes us feel good.
Let’s say that once you got scratched by a cat and it was a lot of pain. Seeing a cat you are conditioned to be uncomfortable so you develop the habit of avoiding cats at all. The cat is the anchor to the pain, the habit you develop is to avoid them.
Conditioning to work doesn’t strictly need repeated stimuli, in reality it’s the total weight of the experience which matters. Light stimuli repeated over time have the same effect of a strong stimulus which happened only once. How many scratches you need to develop fear of cats? Or of bees? Snakes can elicit a conditioning even if you’ve never really got in touch with them, isn’t it true? Many times just once is enough.
Now, to keep this article short let me take as an example the lady who scratched herself in my article about OCD Disorders. The first time she scratched herself she felt better and released stress. This established an anchor between stress and scratching to release tension thus she developed a habit to scratch herself anytime she feels tension increasing. The conditioning can go so far that she can even scratch herself just to feel better.
Do you see the power of conditioning? Really it makes our inner world moving.
The good thing about conditioning is that we can reinforce behaviors with positive outcomes and weaken those which have negative outcomes. We can drop bad habits and learn and reinforce good ones. Now it won’t be always easy but that’s definitely the truth. Also as regards conditioning if the connection between the stimulus and the response, the anchor, is not often reinforced with time it vanishes.
So to sum up habits are a result of anchors due to conditioning.
Now, I’ll probably have to write deeply another time about conditioning and anchors but as regards habits and breaking bad ones my opinion is that it’s a perfect job por positive affirmations as I said in my article on Positive Suggestions in Hypnotherapy.
We have our highway, and we know that even if it’s the fastest one it’s not the right road for us. We have two choices, either breaking the highway, but this would require a lot of time and it could also not work for long. Or we could consciously search for the right lane and decide to walk on it until it becomes as big and as fast as the highway, which in the same time will become filled with grass and trees until it won’t be useful anymore.
Stay tuned for the second part, but I’d like to know your opinion on this. And if you like it feel free to stumble it.