Life Coach: Break Bad Habits!

Life coach Richard Blakeborough loves a nice glass of wine, but he doesn’t want to have one … well, only occasionally.

I was excited when I saw my first column in Family Care, and even though I wrote it, I found myself re-reading it. I was conscious of my comments about alcohol and reflected on that behaviour, because I’m a coach: I need to model the behaviours my clients may want to change in their own lives.

Back on the horse!

Before my heart bypass operation, I had not touched wine for over four years. Post-op, though, I was struggling to find a way to manage my intake so that I could still enjoy the wine, and not let the habit become an issue.

In the past I had tried several techniques. I created SMART goals, I declared my desire to a support network, I ceremoniously poured a bottle down the sink in a pseudo-ceremony; I even tried hypnotherapy.

I did have a modicum of success and, after all, had already proven to myself that I could leave wine alone for over four years. At some point, though, normally a point reached much sooner than I had wanted, I would let my guard down and have a quick glass … and then I was back into my habit or behaviour.

After viewing my Family Care article, I decided it to try something new. What’s the point of doing the same thing time after time? The result will be the same. So I just stopped focusing on the thing I didn’t want, because a friend of mine told me that ‘holding on to anything too tightly can squeeze the life out of it’.

I stopped talking about it, stopped writing about it, stopped thinking about it, and stopped doing it. In the interests of journalistic integrity, the ‘stopping’ lasted six weeks. I’m not perfect! But if I can manage six weeks, relapsing only because I was snowed in when Canterbury got its snow, then I can manage seven weeks – and the speed with which you get back on the horse, as it were, is the key.

Out of mind

What was different this time? Previously I was soooo focused on the thing I didn’t want to do that I ended up constantly focusing my mind on that very thing. My mind was full of the issue I didn’t want to think about, repeatedly reinforcing the idea of not being able to have it. Let’s face it, who really wants to lose something? We are virtually hot wired to seek gain and avoid loss. I discussed these ideas with my NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) trainer mate, and he agreed that when we focus too much on what we don’t want, we can actually draw ourselves towards it.

Woofy the cone dog!

Now, this is all very esoteric, so let me provide a good pragmatic example. Years ago my employer sent me on a defensive driving course, which also involved a skid test. I remember having to battle with the car as we entered a skid and being told not to hit a single orange cone on the track. Now, I wanted to impress my work colleagues, and as I was first up I worked very hard on not hitting the cone.

Not only did I hit it, but it split! So we replaced the cone and tried the simulation exercise again. This time, to help me really focus, the instructor told me I should imagine the cone was actually a small dog that had strayed on to the racetrack.

There was no way I was going to hit a dog, no way at all.

I hit the skid and put every ounce of thought, effort and contorted facial expression into not hitting the dog (cone). Unsuccessful again! I hit the cone.

In attempt three, the instructor said, “now I want you to simply focus on where you actually want to go. Don’t worry about hitting the cone. Don’t think about the cone. Just put your car in the place you want it to be by only looking at the spot on the racetrack where you want the car to go.”

As we hit the skid I ignored Woofy the Cone Dog and looked solely at the spot I wanted the car to arrive at.

It worked! I missed that cone by several feet and went where I intended.

Is this ringing bells?

What does all this mean for you? Sometimes when we have goals or dreams to change a negative habit or avoid a problem (I want to stop cracking my knuckles or I want to lose 10 kilos) we are focusing on the very thing we don’t want.

If this is ringing bells for you, try reframing the idea: “I want to recreate my body at x kilos”, rather than “I want to lose 10kgs”.

Don’t focus your energy on the thing you don’t want, because energy flows where attention goes. Focus on what you do want. Ignore the thing you don’t want.

As with anything, if you already have a system that works for you, great!

Keep working with anything that gets you to where you want to be. If, though, you’re struggling to reach your goals, try playing with some of these ideas.

Trying anything is a better education than doing nothing and hoping something will change. And remember … sometimes ‘holding onto anything too tightly can squeeze the life out of it!’

RichardBlakeboroughRichard Blakeborough is a life coach and regular Family Care NZ contributor. One day Richard was a fit and healthy man, then his cardiologist told him he had heart disease and needed a triple bypass.

His e-books, Life After A Bypass and That’s A Big Fat Lie Richard, chronicle his journey following heart surgery and subsequent departure from the corporate world to become a life coach.

Click on our Amazon links to purchase your own electronic copies of Life After A Bypass and That’s A Big Fat Lie Richard.