Thirty-four years old Lisa had started smoking and drinking when she was sixteen, had struggled with obesity all her life and was been chased by debt collectors to recover 10,000 Dollars she owed by the time she was in her mid twenties.An old resume listed her longest job as lasting less than a year.
Today, Lisa is sitting in a room full of researchers. But the woman sitting in this room was lean and vibrant,she looked a decade younger and she could out exercise anyone in the room.Lisa had not smoked for 4 years, had lost sixty pounds and run a marathon since then. According to her latest record, she had no outstanding debt,didn’t drink,and was in her thirty-ninth month at a graphic design firm.
People like Lisa who go from extreme excessive behaviours and change their lives in a short period are delightful specimen for researchers. In Lisa’s case, researchers were trying to understand what was going on in her brain when she felt the urge to smoke or overeat like she used to but now she didn’t. What researchers noticed was that the old patterns of behaviour that made Lisa smoke and drink when she felt the urge were still there. They were however overridden by a new pattern of behaviour.
For most of us who are not in the excessive range like Lisa, what can we learn from Lisa’s story and other people like her who have gone from the extremes and totally remade their lives? Given that we are also constantly trying to change something in our lives: a habit, a behavior or improve how we spend our money, our time or our relationships with people.Is there a technique that works for everyone and help us create the lasting change we want?
Anthony Robbins in the book ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ proposed a 3 step process called Neuro-Associative Conditioning (NAC). The techniques propose 3 fundamentals:
1. Get Leverage on yourself: To change, you must get to the point where you know something must change, and you must change it, not should change. It’s not about, ‘I think I have to change’. Getting to the point for a lot of people means knowing if they don’t change, they will lose everything. In Lisa’s case, she travelled to Egypt after being divorced by her husband. While in Egypt, she realised to get out of the depressive state and to change her life she needed a goal. Her goal was to work through the desert.And she knew to do this, she had to change her lifestyle.First by giving up smoking.
2.Interrupt the pattern: In Carl Duhigg’s book, ‘The Power of Habit‘. He describes every habit as following a loop.To change a habit, you need to interrupt the pattern.What Duhigg refers to as the routine.Replacing your immediate response to the urge to smoke, drink or eat excessively with something else that gives you the same reward.(By the way, Lisa’s story is in the prologue to Duhigg’s book).
3.Create a new Association: To sustain lasting change, you need to replace old associations with new ones. If you consider running as a painful exercise before, you might change the association to a fun activity that keeps you vibrant and you can share with friends. This new association makes it easy for your brain to adapt itself to deriving pleasure from this new habit.
Thomas Edison wrote: ‘If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves’. Time to make that change.