Why willpower does not work for changing your habits…and what does!

By John Brant | 10th November 2014
A photograph of a woman running at dusk.

At La Crisalida we sometimes have guests talking about their lack of will power which they blame this for their struggles with smoking, weight or physical or emotional health. The problem that we all encounter with willpower is that it only lasts so long!  Eventually the willpower (and discipline it takes) breaks and then often we are back to square one.

What we need to get long lasting results is something all together more robust, something that requires minimal energy and effort and ideally something that is enjoyable too!

The secret is understanding the mechanisms of the mind. If you drive a car you will probably still remember the first few attempts. The accelerator, the brake, the clutch, the gear stick, the steering wheel, the rear view mirror, oh yes and you have to look out the window to see where you are going too! However, with a bit of perseverance it gradually gets easier and there comes a time when you don’t really have to think about it at all. In terms of the mind, we start by learning consciously and eventually the learnings become part of our unconscious mind. We don’t even need to be aware of what we are doing. Sometimes we even drive from A to B and have no recollection of how we even got there (not recommended)!

It has been said that our mind power is 95% in the unconscious mind and only 5% in the conscious. This makes sense when we think about all the things we learned as a child that we don’t have to think about any more eg walking, talking, tying up our shoe laces, reading and writing…

If you buy into this, it soon becomes clear that most of our actions and behaviours stem from our unconscious minds. In other words even though we may be aware of them at some level, we are not normally aware of how or why we do the things we do. It is not just actions we store unconsciously, we tuck away our beliefs, values and virtually everything that makes up our identity. If we are not even aware of these things it becomes virtually impossible to change. This is what most people are trying to do when relying on willpower. They are trying to change their unconscious patterns without even being aware of why and how they are happening.

As all long lasting change must be at the unconscious level, for the most efficient and effective results we must first work on our awareness and bring previously unconscious information into the conscious mind. For this, we could start by simply asking the question why am I doing this? The key is to keep asking, digging down into the unconscious. So for example someone might ask, why am I still smoking? The first answer might be it helps me to relax. That’s a good start, but usually the first answer comes from the level of the conscious mind. Keep digging by asking, something like “so what does the relaxation give you?” The clue that you are getting into unconscious mind territory is an answer based upon the body senses and/or subtle emotions.  Anything conceptual is of the conscious mind. So they might say, I get a warm glow somewhere near my tummy. Now we are getting somewhere. You could then either ask “what does this warm glow give you” (to go deeper into the unconscious) or for the purpose of change at the unconscious level ask, “ok, what else could give you this warm glow instead?” Hopefully you can see just how information previously in the unconscious mind can help people to change. This unconscious mind work is the reason why coaching can be so powerful for people. We don’t know what we don’t know!

What we normally find is that we do things that we don’t want to do at the conscious level because there are benefits at the unconscious emotional level, e.g. feeling safe or feeling loved.

At the retreat our program is aimed at helping bring some of the unconscious mind’s needs into consciousness. This can be done through yoga and meditation, and in a different way through the life makeover workshops at the retreat. In addition we offer coaching and hypnosis. All of these can help you go deeper into your unconscious mind, to unlock some of the things that may have been working in opposition to your willpower for years.

Working with the unconscious mind can give dramatic instantaneous results too. We have even helped people overcome phobias and can help with overcoming allergies as all of these symptoms have roots at the level of the unconscious mind. Working with the unconscious mind we really do have to keep an open mind and embrace the belief “we don’t know what we don’t know”. Happy exploring!

Headshot of John Brant - Retreat Founder at La Crisalida Retreats
John Brant

John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.

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