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Why Are Habits So Hard To Break?

Our minds have a marvelous capacity to adopt automatic programs of behavior. Most of the time this works in our favor. The subconscious mind turns tasks we once laboriously practiced into things we can do without even having to think about it. Imagine what it would be like to have to calculate precisely how to find your mouth with a spoon every time you ate, or consciously re-establish your balance each time you lifted a foot to take a step forward! Your deeper mind is a habit-making master and you can be glad that it is.

But sometimes we “teach” our subconscious minds to do things that do not serve us over the long run. When you first learned to smoke, or comfort yourself with a bowl of ice cream, of bite your nails - whatever the habit you struggle with may be - it was for a good reason at the time. Because every unwanted habit began as a way to feel better, distract ourselves from something that was upsetting, or discharge nervous energy, to give just a few of the most common good motivations behind our “bad” habits. Another way to put this would be to say that all behavior is purposeful, no matter how out of touch we may have become with the original purpose.

Along the way, we layer on emotional associations to our habits that make them even more engrained. They get interwoven with our unconscious beliefs about what we need in order to feel okay. “Do without sugar? Never! Life would be horrible if I couldn’t have my daily fix!” “No cigarette to take me outside and get some alone time to think? Unimaginable!” No wonder we come to think that our habits are stronger than we are. They have been serving a purpose that cannot be denied. 

The Key to Breaking Habits

Fortunately, the very same subconscious capacity to learn and adopt automatic programs can be used to reverse old habit patterns. No matter how long a habit has been part of your automatic programming, it is always possible to update the instructions you provide to your subconscious mind, to teach it a new way of responding. The key is to give it:

  • Alternate behaviors and responses that answer to those very important purposes.

  • Clear instructions for the new way you want to respond to old habit triggers.

  • Compelling images of how much more satisfying the new response will be. 

  • Strong positive emotional cues attached to the new response.

  • Practice responding differently.

  • Repetition.

Anyone willing to apply these steps patiently over time, repeating as often as necessary to break a habit, can succeed. Chances are, you have changed many things at different times in your life doing just this. The problem is that some habits are so deeply engrained and have so many non-conscious motivations keeping them going (remember: all behavior is purposeful) that it’s more common for people to give up in despair when trying to change the habits that bother them most. Then a vicious cycle sets in. You berate yourself for your perceived “failure,” and decide it’s no use, you might as well just continue doing the habit and get as much satisfaction out of it as you can. You try not to think of the habit’s negative consequences, but it’s always there, undermining your sense of well-being. That’s where hypnosis comes in.​

How Does Hypnosis Help Break Stubborn Habits?

With hypnosis we go directly to the very level of the mind where those old habit patterns are stored. While the body and mind are in a relaxed state of well-being, the deeper mind’s voracious appetite for learning becomes your ally in creating a new way of responding. The deeper motivations behind the old habit are met with new, more genuinely satisfying patterns of response. You play them out in the fertile field of hypnotic imaging. I give you hypnotic suggestions that repeat the new ideas over and over again in a variety of ways, essentially over-writing the old programming. I lead you into new emotions of comfort and well-being and pair them with your inner rehearsal of behaving in the new way. As a result of all this, it becomes wonderfully compelling to carry that new behavior out into your life.

What Kind of Habits Are Responsive to Hypnosis?

Virtually any kind of automatic behavior is responsive to hypnotic re-patterning. We often think first of the most common New Year’s resolutions: to stop smoking and/or to lose weight. Hypnosis is great for attaining these goals. It can also be used effectively to change other kinds of habits, like:

  • How your body and mind habitually respond in sports performance.

  • Study habits and test anxiety.

  • Time-wasters, like too much TV or internet.

  • Whatever you keep doing, that you wish you could stop doing, or do less frequently!

Why work with Lynn Sparrow Christy?

Lynn has been working with clients for 25 years. She has helped people repeatedly with common goals like smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise motivation, and great academic performance. Her broad range of clients has also given her experience with a great variety of specialty goals and habit changes. Things like improved competitive horseback riding, musical performance, a better golf game, and kicking bad time management habits are all part of her bank of experience. Unlike many hypnotherapists who read scripts for habit change, Lynn treats every client as an individual. Her work will be tailored to you, your habit, your circumstances and the reasons you want to make the change.


Appointments are available at my Virginia Beach office or (in many cases) via videoconference. Call me at 757-491-3900 or use the form below to request a free telephone consultation to discuss your goals and your options for working toward them. I will contact you just as soon as possible after receiving your request. Your phone number and anything we may discuss during your consultation will be held in strictest confidence and will never be used for any other purpose.

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I have referred several of my patients to Lynn Sparrow Christy for smoking cessation. Typically, these patients had tried several methods to quit smoking without success, immediate or lasting. They often feel a sense of inadequacy and despair. I sent them to Lynn and, under her expert hypnotic guidance, the narrative begins to change and to evolve through individually tailored imagery so impactful as to create a nonsmoker. Lynn’s technical skills are superb, her delivery is an art, her compassion is palpable; she is a true Master.

Daniele P. McNeill, Ph.D.

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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