Do you remember The Biggest Loser, a reality show that featured overweight contestants trying to lose weight? Bombarded with different activities and interventions, a lot of the participants lost a considerable amount of weight. Have you ever wondered if they kept it off?
Six years after the original show, a research team from the National Institutes of Health visited some of the competitors from season 8 to follow-up on their progress. What they found was that, on average, they gained back 70 percent of the lost weight. Some of them weighed even more than before the contest!
This is just one example that A LASTING behavioral change is not easy to achieve. Changing thoughts and habits in an enduring matter has proven to be very challenging indeed.
We probably all agree that a good behavior intervention is supposed to be able to bridge time. However, more often than not, we only respond to interventions that happen just before the target behavior occurs. For instance, meeting your gym coach at the restaurant prompts you not to eat a pizza and two desserts for dinner. Would you restrain yourself if you met them a few hours earlier? Probably not.
Take the seat belt example. One study showed that when drivers were prompted to fasten their seat belts 5 minutes before getting in the car (as opposed to immediately before they drove off), the effect was very similar to not being reminded at all. Most behavior interventions are not very useful in the long-run. Sometimes, 5 minutes can be enough to forget the prompt. It seems we are hard-wired to switch back to the original mode as soon as we can.
So, what can we do about it?
Todd Rogers and Kerin Frey, two researchers from Harvard University, wrote a paper called Changing Behavior Beyond the Here and Now. In it, they describe some of the features of a good behavior intervention that is likely to bridge time. Its characteristics may include:
✅ Feeling socially accountable (e.g. not wanting to let down family and friends).
✅ Plan-making (this is especially potent when the underlying reason for not performing a behavior is inattention or forgetfulness).
✅ Pre-committing to a certain behavior (e.g. leaving your credit cards at home and bringing a limited amount of cash when going out to limit your spending).
✅ Deliberately changing perceptions and consequential thoughts. In other words, changing the content of your thoughts.
The last point—deliberately changing your thought patterns—has been shown to be particularly important for a lasting behavior change. Our thoughts are often consequential to a behavior, therefore, changing our thoughts can be a crucial step in the right direction.
And this is where hypnotherapy comes in. Hypnotherapy is an efficient technique for creating new cognitive pathways that can support new habits. When performed by a skilled professional, it can have a lasting impact and goes beyond the usual behavior interventions. It doesn’t have the limitations of interventions that rely on short intervention-behavior lag. In hypnotherapy, we work on changing the way you react to old triggers. In this way, you can change your behavior patterns permanently.
A Final tip:
Make Sure You’re Not Self-Licensing
Remember a time when you rewarded your 30 minutes of workout with a milkshake? Or, you decided to have a celebratory cigarette after a long day at work? This is what we call “self-licensing”, also known as “the permission to sin”. When you feel you have invested legitimate effort into something, this justifies a little indulgence, which often involves food, sweets, and naughty pleasures.
The best advice I have for you here is to be mindful. This is another technique you can work on with your hypnotherapist. Look at what you are trying to accomplish and always gut check yourself to see if you are self-licensing. Make that a new habit, too.
 Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Brychta, R., Chen, K., Skarulis, M. , & … Knuth, N. (2016). Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity, 24(8), 1612-1619. doi:10.1002/oby.21538
 Austin, J., Sigurdsson, S. O., & Rubin, Y. S. (2006). An examination of the effects of delayed versus immediate prompts on safety belt use. Environment and Behavior, (1), 140-149.
 Rogers, T., & Frey, E. (2014). Changing Behavior beyond the Here and Now. Working Paper Series. Retrieved from http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/todd_rogers/files/changing_behavior.pdf