Reintegrating the body, brain and mind in counselling and therapy

ABC Blog Post

15th September 2018

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

 ~~~

Dr Jim’s Blog: Mental health is not just about childhood experiences;

Or current stressors; or badly managed thoughts…

Mental health is related to diet and nutrition, inner dialogue, physical exercise, re-framing of experience, and sleep science…

Introduction

Body-mindIn science as well as popular culture, the body and mind have long been pulled apart, and treated as separate entities.

And when they are treated as being connected – as in the modern psychiatric theory of ‘brain chemistry imbalances’ causing negative moods and emotions, the ‘brain chemistry’ in question is taken to be unrelated to how you use your body; what you eat; how well you sleep.

It is assumed to be ‘special brain chemistry’ – separate and apart from Lifestyle Factors – which can only be fixed by consuming dangerous drugs!

Front cover Lifestyle CounsellingIf you are interested in the impact of lifestyle practices on mental health and emotional states, then you will enjoy our page of information about how all of the ideas above are presented in our book about Lifestyle Counselling.  We see this as the core of most holistic healing practices of the future.

In the immediate future, lifestyle counselling practice will be a novel service offering for counselling and psychotherapy clients who have realized that:

# the body and mind are intimately connected;

# that the body-mind is an open system, permeated by a whole range of lifestyle factors which can be managed well, or mismanaged,

# which results in excellent or poor mental health, physical health, and personal happiness.

In the pages of our popular book on lifestyle counselling, we have presented:

Diet,exercise book cover– a summary of our previous book about the impact of diet and exercise on mental health and emotional well-being;

– a chapter which integrates psychological theories of emotion with physical sources of distress – for the emotions of anger, anxiety and depression – and recommends treatment strategies;

– a chapter on the negative effects of sleep insufficiency on our thinking, feeling and behaviour;

– a chapter on how to re-frame any problem, using our Six Windows Model (which includes some perspectives from moderate Buddhism and moderate Stoicism) – but excludes the extreme forms of those philosophies of life!);

– a chapter on how to divine and assess the counselling client’s multiple sources of emotional disturbance, using our Holistic-SOR Model;

– and a chapter on how to set about teaching lifestyle change to counselling and therapy clients.

For a page of information about this book’s contents, including extracts, and the contents pages and index pages, please click the following link: *Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person… by Jim Byrne***

And/or you could also look at our current range of six books on this area of counselling and therapy theory and practice: Books about E-CENT Counselling.***

~~~

BlueLogo13CThat’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

~~~

~~~

Lifestyle factors complicate counselling and therapy assessments

Blog Post No. 174

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

~~~

Dr Jim’s Blog: “What’s wrong with my counselling client?” Lifestyle factors complicate counselling-psychological assessments…

 Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

~~~

Introduction

Emotions-and-survivalMany of the human tragedies that clients bring to our counselling and psychology consulting rooms have pure social-psychological roots. These include:

– childhood abuse or neglect;

– traumatic experiences later on;

– stress and strain of difficult lives;

– relationship problems;

– and the normal human responses to losses, failures, threats, dangers, frustrations and insults; and so on.

We also see our fair share of

– attachment problems;

– personality distortions (or mal-adaptations to parents and others);

– and retreats from an intolerable reality.

New complications

DrJimCounselling002But all of this is now complicated by the existence of

– widespread consumption of junk food;

– disruption of normal sleep patterns by economic stress and new technologies which destroy melatonin;

– plus adoration of sedentary lifestyles;

– and various other lifestyle factors that

# precipitate problems of anger, anxiety and/or depression, in their own right; or

# magnify emotional disturbances that have psychological roots.

Body-and-mind

Because of this changed reality, which has come upon us in the past couple of decades, in the main, we now need to be able to spot the contribution of lifestyle factors to emotional and behavioural disturbances which may or may not be otherwise psycho social in origin.

SOR-model3

Our solution

The Lifestyle Counselling Book

We have done a lot of research on the multiple sources of human disturbance; and compiled that in a book, titled Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.

We have also written a page of information about these Lifestyle Counselling problems, abstracted from our book, which you can find by clicking the following link: https://abc-counselling.org/counselling-the-whole-person/

~~~

This book, like all our other books, is available via Amazon outlets, all over the world, as both a high quality paperback and as a downloadable Kindle eBook.

A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

~~~

diet and exercise links to mental health

Blog Post No. 173

By Dr Jim Byrne

8th September 2018

~~~

Dr Jim’s Blog: Understanding the links between anger, anxiety and depression – on the one hand – and nutrition and physical activity – on the other…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, September 2018

~~~

Introduction

drjim-counsellor9Renata and I did a lot of research and reflection on the subject of the impact of diet and exercise upon mental health and emotional wellbeing. Nata-Lifestyle-coach92

We did this work because we wanted to consolidate and expand our pre-existing level of understanding of the part that nutrition and exercise play in the emotional well-being of our coaching and counselling clients, so that we can help them as much as possible; and also to inform a wider audience of a range of helpful research studies.

Our overall aim is to put an end to the false assumption that the body and mind are separate entities, which can be treated in isolation from each other (by medicine, on the one hand, and by psychotherapy on the other).

The complexity of human body-minds

Human beings are very complex; indeed the most complex entities in the known universe.  But that does not mean we cannot hope to come to understand ourselves better than we currently do.

There are, for example, some identifiable factors which contribute to the makeup of human personality; and there is now a good deal of research which needs to be added to the psychological model of the human being.

Holistic SOR model

We can learn to better understand our body-brain-mind interactions with our social environments, and this can enable us to understand ourselves and our clients, and to help them, and ourselves, more effectively.

For examples:

– we are affected (emotionally and physically) by our diets;

– the amount of exercise we do;

– our self-talk (or ‘inner dialogue’);

– our sleep patterns;

– our family of origin;

– and all the patterns of behaviour we observed and experienced in our development;

– plus our current relationships, and environmental circumstances: e.g. our housing accommodation; the educational opportunities we had; our social class position; and our opportunities for employment (or earning a living).

Implications

Diet,exercise book coverSince expanding our understanding of this complexity of human functioning, we have developed new approaches to perceiving our clients; and assessing the complex nature of their presenting problems in the consulting room.

We have also produced a page of information on this research, and the book that resulted from it: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression: Using nutrition and physical activity.

You can find our page of information about this book and this research by clicking the following link: https://abc-counselling.org/diet-exercise-mental-health

~~~

A Kindle dBooks imagePS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone: 44 1422 843 629

~~~

Lifestyle coaching on diet and exercise

Blog Post No. 161

By Dr Jim Byrne

2nd February 2018

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Walking the talk of the holistic self-care movement…

Managing my mind by the use of exercise, diet, meditation and self-talk…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

~~~

Introduction

natajim-coaching-counselling2My wife, Renata Taylor-Byrne, sometimes reminds me of the important principle of ‘extreme self-care’.

I didn’t learn any such principle in my family of origin, where the main message was to ‘behave yourself’; and to uncritically go along with the dominant trend of social pressure!

Over the years, I have woken up to the problem of (physical and emotional) stress, and how unmanaged stress leads to all kinds of mental, emotional and physical health problems. Also, because I developed a problem with Candida Albicans overgrowth – a gut dysbiosis problem – decades ago, I had to become clear about the importance of managing my diet – especially the elimination of sugary foods and alcohol.

This morning

Michael-Tse-demonstrating-Chi-KungAt a certain point this morning, I found myself exercising, and wondering if this information would be helpful in motivating some of our website readers (meaning you!) to shift to following the principle of ‘extreme self-care’. So here I am, following up on that thought, as a contribution to your health and happiness.

I got up this morning, at the same time as Renata, and got some salad ingredients out of the fridge, and put them on one side to warm up to room temperature.  (While that was happening, I checked my emails and website traffic, and so on).

When the salad ingredients had warmed up enough, I chopped them up and put them into two bowls.  They consisted of:

Salad bowl 74 leaves of Romaine lettuce (chopped very small)

2 radishes

a quarter of a yellow pepper (diced)

a quarter of a red pepper (diced)

four inches of cucumber (halved and sliced)

a quarter of a red onion (diced)

8 green olives

2 black olives

2 ozs of petit poise

6 fine beans (chopped small)

2 tsps of Maca powder

2 desert spoons of flaxseed

2 desert spoons of mixed pumpkin and sunflower seeds

8 whole almonds

2 ozs of pickled beetroot

~~~

This meal was so much more exciting and enjoyable than a bowl of cereal, or a full ‘English’ (fried) breakfast; or waffles with maple syrup!  Truly enjoyable! However, it would not be a good idea to eat the same breakfast every day.  Varity is important for gut bacteria and the available range of nutrients!

~~~

On my own bowl, I also added some fermented cucumber (instead of kimchi, which I had yesterday), and some Miso (the brown rice variety).

I then ate this as my breakfast, with a mug of green tea.

(In case I am beginning to sound like Saint Selfless, I had a cafetiere of exotic coffee while I was processing my emails!)

~~~

Meditation and physical exercise

Sitting-meditationWhen we had finished breakfast, I read some brief quotes – about living in the moment, in the main – to set the mood for our Zen meditation, which we did for 30 minutes.  And then Renata led our Chi Kung (Chinese exercise) session, which lasted about 20 minutes.  Then we did a couple of minutes of the Plank (from Pilates) – for core strength – and then I did three sets of press-ups (30 presses in each set), and three sets of sit-backs (for 30 seconds in each set), for arm and stomach strength, and for hips and lower back.

~~~

The sun was shining in the front and back of the room in which we meditated and exercised, and we had Mozart playing in the background for the exercise session.  Divine!

~~~

At the end of this time, I was as relaxed, happy and de-stressed as a person could be, and all set for another session on the computer, working on promoting our book on diet and exercise.

Anger, anxiety, depression, and nutrition and physical exercise, imageThe book is called: How to control your anger, anxiety and depression using nutrition and physical exercise; and it is available at amazon, at the following links:

Diet and Exercise book at Amazon.com*** (North America)

Or:

Diet and Exercise book at Amazon.co.uk*** (UK and Ireland)

If you want to order the book from another Amazon outlet, then please go to the webpage listed below, and order it from one of the other links (in Europe, Australia, Canada, etc.), which are listed there.

Renata has just completed a little 2-minute video introduction to this book, here:

Please take a look and see what you think.

DrJimCounselling002If you would like some more information about the book (or to order it from a non-UK/US outlet), you can find a good introduction on our webpages. Just click the following link: Diet, Exercise and Mental Health.***

~~~

That’s all for now.

I wish you a happy and healthy life, and the wisdom to engage in extreme self-care! J

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

 

 

Health, happiness and self-disciplined goals

Blog Post No. 157

23rd October 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Blog: Health and happiness are the most important goals in (a moral) life

~~~

Introduction

It’s been quite a while since I posted a blog, because I’ve been extremely busy.  I am still very busy, finishing off the writing of a new book, but I thought it was about time I shared some ideas with the world.  The main theme of this blog is health and self-healing, using food and physical exercise.

~~~

Writing about diet and exercise for mood control

Front cover, 8For the past few weeks, Renata and I have been writing our book which is titled, How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.  We have finished writing the five sections, and I am working on constructing a comprehensive index for the back of the book, to make it optimally user-friendly, as a resource.

Several days ago I constructed the index section on diet and nutrition, and type of diets.  And, by finishing time last Friday, 20th, I had just completed a section on Essential fatty acids (EFAs). And today, Monday 23rd, I will begin to work on the index entries for the section on physical exercise.

~~~

Self-healing

Last Thursday, I turned my body, suddenly, while leaving my feet relatively stationary, and pulled a muscle in my back.  Did I run to the doctor?  No!  Did I get some ‘painkillers’ from the chemist?  No!

Why did I not go to the doctor?  Because the doctor would have simply recommended “painkillers”!

Why did I not buy my own painkillers from the chemist?  Because most of the painkillers used today are what are called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). And the problem with NSAIDs is that they cause ‘leaky gut syndrome’, which not only allows whole molecules of food to enter the bloodstream, and trigger various forms of inflammation in the body (paradox of paradoxes!), but they also compromise the blood/brain barrier, which can precipitate mood disturbances!

So, what did I do with my terrible back pain?  I got out my copy of ‘Body in Action’, by Sarah Key, and did five of her exercises for improving the functioning of the muscles and joints in the lower back.  (I’ve done this several times in the past, and I know it always works).

I did the exercises on Thursday and Friday, and by Saturday the back pain had gone – completely!

~~~

Sharpening the saw

Rest and recuperation are very important parts of my self-management of health program.  So, on Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon, I had a siesta (of three hours each time).  I had been feeling tired because of overworking on the index of our new book on how to control anger, anxiety and depression, using diet and exercise systems.

CreasespaceCover8, diet-nutrition.jpg

I also had a restful evening with Renata, and I was in bed by 9.45pm.

By 5.45am today (Monday 23rd Oct) I was fully rested, and so I got up and made my breakfast.  A solid bowl of chunky salad.

~~~

Food for health and mood control

Book-cover-frontI chopped up the following ingredients into small chunks, of perhaps 3 or 4 mm at the widest point:

3 oz of red cabbage; 6 oz of cucumber; 1 spring onion; 1 organic carrot; half an organic apple; and put them into a soup bowl.

(See the Appendix on Diet and Nutrition, in our book: Holistic Counselling in Practice.***)

Then, I added a teaspoon of Maca powder; a dessertspoon of ground flaxseed; two dessertspoon’s of mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, ???), ten almonds, three walnuts, four hazelnuts; ten blueberries; 2 ozs of cooked beetroot (diced); two small tomatoes (halved); and half a kiwi fruit (diced).

I then added some brown rice miso, and some sauerkraut.

After consuming that breakfast, I meditated for 30 minutes.

~~~

Physical exercise for health and strength and mood control

Standing pose 2Let me now describe the exercises that I went on to do, after meditating:

Twenty minutes of Chi Kung exercises.

Followed by a couple of minutes of ‘The plank’ exercise, which is like ‘stationary press-ups’: https://youtu.be/kiA9j-dR0oM

Then I did my own press-ups and sit backs, for about 5 or 6 minutes.

I then moved on to do fifteen minutes of my old Judo Club calisthenics (or whole body warm up exercise), which combine strength training, stretching of muscles, and aerobic exercise, all in one.

Then ten minutes of Zhan Zhuang (pronounced Jam Jong, and meaning ‘Standing like a tree’).  These are body poses which work on our postural muscles, affecting strength and speed and balance. They create a calm and happy mental state.  And they also relax the body and establish whole-body connection.

powerspinFinally I did some strength training using the Powerspin rotator, to build arm, shoulder and upper body strength.

~~~

Reflections

This is clearly a time-consuming start to the day, compared with a bowl of cornflakes, a cup of coffee, and a brisk scratching of the head!

So why do I do it?

Because, I value my health above all things.  Without my physical health, I am unlikely to be happy.  And I am unlikely to be emotionally stable.

The people who do the least exercise, and who eat the worst diets, have the worst physical and mental health outcomes. (I have not seen a general medical practitioner for more than twenty-five years! And I am not about to start now!)

Most people leave their health (physical and mental) to chance, and to the vague belief that there are people who can “fix them up” when they fall apart.  Sadly this myth is totally misleading.  Once you’ve ruined your health – from sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, and inadequate diet (such as one based on junk food, or an unbalanced diet, or too much alcohol [over the government limit], caffeine, sugary foods, gluten, and other toxic substances) – it is then ruined!  And a ruined body-brain is a burden to haul through life!

It takes self-discipline to get on a good diet, and to begin to do regular physical exercise, and to go to bed and have eight hours sleep, without mobile phones or laptops or tablets, and so on.  But the alternative to developing that self-discipline is a life ruined through serious illness, emotional distress, and early death.

Some people will argue with me, and insist that there are some things called “medicines” (and “surgeries”) which can be used to resuscitate their body-brain-mind once they have allowed it to fall into ill-health. The editors of What Doctors Don’t Tell You, strongly disagree with that fantasy!  See the article titled ‘Don’t trust me (I’m Big Pharma).***

~~~

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, it takes time to build up expertise in ‘extreme self-care’; and it’s a good idea to do that one step at a time.  Gradually, over a period of time, this will build up into significant changes, and huge improvements in health and happiness.  And you don’t ever have to adopt the kind of ‘monkish’ approach that suits me.  Some simple changes in what you eat, and how you exercise your body (brisk walking for 30 minutes per day is enough!), will make a huge difference over time.  You can find out more about how to begin these small, easy steps in our book: How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.

honetpieIf you want me to help you to figure out how to live a happier, healthier, more emotionally buoyant life, then please contact me:

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

Telephone: 01422 843 629 (inside the UK)

or 44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

~~~

I hope you have a very happy and healthy life!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

How to change your negative habits

Blog Post No. 40

15th October 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching & Counselling blog: A ‘Rave review’ of “The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change”, by Charles Duhigg

Introduction      

lady-eatingCharles Duhigg’s fabulous book about The Power of Habit is a fascinating read. It’s a very practical guide to changing our habits and is very straightforward, and helpful, and contains case studies which show the process of habit change from start to finish. It’s also got easily understandable illustrations.  So, if you have some bad habits you want to eliminate, this book could be a huge help to you!

The nature of habits

What are habits? Here are two definitions

The definition of Habit by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is as follows: It’s (1) “… (a) behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance” or (2): “…An acquired mode of behaviour that has become nearly or completely involuntary.”

~~~

All our life, so far as it has definite form, is a mass of habits”.

(William James, 1892)

~~~

We are habit-based human beings, and the more we know about how we form habits, the easier it will be for us to change old ones that aren’t working for us, and create new ones.

A researcher at Duke University in 2006 discovered that more than 40% of the activities people engaged in every day were habits, and not decisions they had made.  And some theorists would say that this is as high as 95% (Bargh and Chartrand, 1999).

zigs-quoteOur brains have developed the ability to create habits because they allow our brains to save effort, and to think more efficiently without having our minds cluttered with the mechanics of the many basic behaviours we have to follow each day.

The structure of a habit

In his book, Charles Duhigg has looked very closely at the specific features of what makes up a habit. They are like a loop that has three parts: the cue; the routine; and the reward.  Here is a picture of that loop:

simple-habit-loop

  1. Firstly, there is a cue (a trigger that starts off a routine: e.g. the sound of the alarm clock in the morning).

Here’s an example of a cue that I recently found in the Sunday Times Magazine, in an article by Viv Groscop (who performed her one-woman show at Edinburgh in August this year).  Viv stated that, to make her exercise routine strong, she started keeping her workout clothes and trainers next to her bed, so they were the first things she saw- the Cue! – in the early morning, as soon as she woke up. (She lost 3 stone [or 42 pounds in weight] in one year through changes in her exercise and nutrition habits).

2. Secondly, this is followed by a routine.

A routine is here defined as any pattern of behaviour.  Examples include: eating, going to the pub, watching a TV programme, going to the gym, doing homework, buying clothes, smoking, placing a bet, etc.

3. Finally, there is a reward – the most important part of the loop.

All habits have a reward at the end of them. Here’s are some examples of rewards: The feeling of comradeship when drinking at the pub; the rush of pleasure after you have just done a bout of exercise; giving yourself a cup of coffee when you’ve done your daily exercise. Seeing the good, pleasurable results of any difficult task.

callout-1The importance of craving!

For habit change to work you have to crave the reward.

There is an important alert here: You have to really crave the reward, or you won’t have the incentive to change your behaviour. Charles Duhigg describes a research project undertaken by the National Weight control agency. The agency examined the routines for eating food that had been created by people who were successful dieters. They investigated more than 6,000 people’s routines.

What was discovered was that all the successful dieters eat a breakfast (which was cued by the time of day). But they also had very real, very desirable rewards in place for themselves if they stuck to their diet plans – and it was the reward that they craved. (For example, being able to fit into new clothes in a smaller size; etc.)

lady-exercising-with-mental-image-of-rewardAnd if they felt themselves weakening in their commitment, they changed their focus onto the rewards that they would get if they kept to their plans. This visualisation of the very real rewards they would get, kept them strong in the face of temptation.

Apparently people who started new exercise routines showed that they were more likely to follow an exercise routine if they chose a specific cue (first thing in the morning, or as soon as they get in from work, or before bedtime). So having a cue in place is crucial to initiate the new behaviour.

The new routine follows from the cue.

And the reward is what people crave at the end.  Some of the rewards mentioned were having a beer, or allowing yourself an evening of watching the TV without guilt.

powerspin2As my own experiment, I wanted to establish a daily habit of exercising my arm muscles, to firm them up.  Therefore, I set up a cue which is the start of the BBC TV programme “Pointless” at 5.15pm every day.

When I hear the theme music for Pointless, I get out our “Powerspin” device (illustrated above) and do a pre-planned (recommended) set of exercises.

This exercise routine is designed to strengthen our arms and back muscles, and core (stomach), and is very simple.

And the reward for me (which I crave strongly – otherwise it won’t work) is the knowledge that my arms and back and core muscles are getting stronger and fitter, and will keep me fit and able to carry heavy objects into old age! And so far so good – I’ve only missed a few times!

Duhigg’s own experiment

Charles Duhigg did a really interesting personal experiment to see if he could change one of his own habits.  He was eating too many cookies and he was starting to put on weight. Here’s his explanation.  His description of his experiment and the results are shown in the following YouTube video clip:

~~~

The importance of substitution

What if we have a habit that we want to change? Can we get rid of it?

How do we go about it? Charles Duhigg states that we can’t get rid of old habits – but what we can do is substitute new routines for the old ones, and get the same rewards.

habit-change-process

He explains that a golden rule of habit change, which has been validated by repeated studies for a long time, is as follows:

“To change a habit, we must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but change the routine.

“That’s the rule: if you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behaviour can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same”. (Page 62)

He gives the example of someone who wants to give up cigarettes. If the person wanting to quit smoking fails to find something else to do, when they start to crave nicotine, then they will be unable to stop!  It will be too hard for them.

Stopping addictions

Charles Duhigg states that the organisation called ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ is effective in helping people reduce their drinking habits because it examines and shines a very clear light on the cues which trigger drinking in people; and their program deliberately encourages people to identify the cues and rewards that encourages their alcoholic habits, and then assists them as they try to find new behaviours.

So the implied question that AA asks an alcoholic is: “What rewards do you get from alcohol?”

“In order for alcoholics to get the same rewards that they get in a bar, AA has built a system of meetings and companionship – (the ‘Sponsor’ each person works with) – that strives to offer as much escape, distraction and catharsis as a Friday night bender.” (Page 71)

If someone wants to get support from another person, they can receive this by talking to their sponsor or by going to a group meeting, rather than “toasting a drinking buddy”.

aa-logo

A researcher called J. Scott Tonigan has been looking at the work of AA for more than ten years, and he states that if you look at Step 4 of the 12 step program, (which is to make a ‘searching and fearless inventory of ourselves and to admit to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs’), then he considers that something crucial is taking place, which he sums up like this:

“It’s not obvious from the way they are written, but to complete those steps, someone has to create a list of triggers for all their alcoholic urges. When you make a self-inventory, you’re figuring out all the things that make you drink…”  The cues!

The rewards of drinking

The AA organisation then asks alcoholics (or alcohol dependent individuals) to look really hard for the rewards they get from alcohol, and the cravings that are behind the behaviour. And what is discovered?

“Alcoholics crave a drink because it offers escape, relaxation, companionship, the blunting of anxieties and an opportunity for emotional release….the physical effects of alcohol are one of the least rewarding parts of drinking for addicts.” (Page 71)

So what AA does is gets you to create new routines for your spare time instead of going out drinking. You can relax and talk through any worries or concerns you might have at the meetings.

The triggers (cues) are the same, and the payoffs (rewards) are the same, it’s just the behaviour that changes,” states Tonigan.

structure-of-a-habitDuhigg includes in his book a summary of a valuable experiment conducted in 2007 by a German neurologist called Muellor. He and his fellow researchers at the University of Magdeburg, identified the specific part of the brain (the basal ganglia) where the habit loop is based, and recruited alcoholics who had been in rehab and had been unable to give up drink. They recruited five alcoholics.

What they did next was embed small electrical appliances into the brains of these men. They put them in the part of the brain where the ‘habit loop’ resides, which is in the basal ganglia.

basal-ganglia

These appliances gave off a small electrical charge which interrupted the neurological reward sequence that created a craving in people. This stopped the habit loop completely.

After the operations had taken place and the participants had recovered, they were shown a sequence of images. The images were related to their drinking habits, and they were pictures of a glass of beer, or people going into a bar.

When the electrical charges were being run, they stopped the men reacting in their habitual way, and they stopped drinking. And one of the participants told Mueller that when this electrical current was operating on his brain, then his longings for alcohol disappeared.

However these cravings came back as soon as the participants’ brains were not receiving an electrical charge. The participants’ drinking habits returned with full force for four out of the five subjects.

lads-drinking

What was noticed was that the participants relapsed when very stressful events happened in their lives, and to curb their anxiety they turned to self-medication: i.e. alcohol.

But the good news was that once they learned new routines for managing their stress, their drinking stopped completely! Some of the participants decided to go for therapy, and one participant started attending AA meetings.

So the men taking part in the experiment embedded these new behaviour patterns, or routines – (going to therapy/learning and using new stress management techniques; or going to the AA meetings) – into their lives, and were successful at managing their alcohol use. And one of the men, who had tried to detox from alcohol sixty times previously and was unsuccessful, found that, after this routine change, he never had another drink.

The result of the experiment

To summarise the value of the experiment, it showed that the former alcoholics only succeeded in eliminating their drinking behaviour because they developed new routines which followed the old triggers (or cues), and gave them their comforting rewards.

Apparently the techniques that were developed by the AA for changing habits have also been successfully applied to children’s temper tantrums, sex addictions and other types of behaviour.

The AA is described in Duhigg’s book as an organisation which creates techniques to change the habits associated with the use of alcohol:

“AA is in essence a giant machine for changing habit loops and though the habits associated with alcohol consumption are extreme, the lessons AA provides demonstrates how almost any habit – even the most obstinate – can be changed.” Charles Duhigg

He makes it clear in his book that overeating, alcoholism, or smoking, are ingrained habits that take real commitment to change. But if you know how your habits are working, this makes it easier to experiment with new behaviours.

Sherlock-holmes-image.JPG

Essentially, Duhigg considers that if you look very carefully at the cues (or triggers) and cravings and the rewards that fuel any unhealthy or self-destructive habit that you have, then this scrutiny will help you choose more constructive routines which deliver the same rewards.

The book has several really interesting case studies in it. For example, right at the beginning of the book, Lisa Allen is described. She focussed on one specific pattern – smoking – and this was described as a Keystone habit’. This smoking habit, after being successfully changed by her, led her to reprogram a lot of the other routines in her life as well, because her achievement had a knock-on effect.

What is a ‘keystone’ habit?

Duhigg admits that identifying keystone habits isn’t easy: they are the habits which, if you change them, will give you ‘small wins’. They facilitate new structures of behaviour in someone’s life and start to make it easier to change other, bigger habits. Here are some examples taken from research:

Exercise seems to be a keystone habit that has a beneficial, ‘knock-on’ effect. When people begin exercising, and it can be as little as once a week, they begin to change other, unconnected habits in their lives. It has been discovered that they reduce their smoking, spend money less, and have more understanding for their family and the people they work with.

Exercise spills over“, stated James Prochaska (a University of Rhode Island researcher). “There’s something about it that makes good habits easier.”

Other studies have revealed that families who have their meals together regularly raise children with higher school grades, more emotional control, better homework skills and increased confidence.

Apparently making your bed every morning is also a habit that has a spill over effect. It is correlated with a higher level of happiness, stronger skills at sticking to a budget and a higher level of productivity.

~~~

A powerful example

habit-reversal-trainingHere is an example of the full process of habit change.

Mandy, a chronic, nail-biting graduate student who was at the Mississippi State University, went into the counselling centre at the university and they referred her to a doctoral psychology student who was studying a type of therapy called: “habit reversal training.”

What this psychology student got Mandy to do was very simple: He got her to describe what triggered her nail-biting. (That is her cue!) She was asked to describe what she felt just before she lifted her hands to nibble at her nails. (What cued her?)

The answer Mandy gave was that she felt tension in her fingers (the cue) and once she had started to bite her nails to reduce the tension, she felt she couldn’t stop until she had bitten all her nails.

As they talked, it became clear that she bit her nails when she was bored, and as she described a number of situations, it also became apparent that when she had bitten all her nails, she felt a “sense of completeness”. This was a physical experience that was rewarding for her.

At the end of their first session, this psychologist asked Mandy to do some homework:

“Carry an index card and each time you feel the cue – a tension in your fingers – make a check mark on the card”.

Index-cards-image.JPG

The following week she came back to the psychologist and she’d made 28 marks on the card, at times when she was conscious of feeling tension in her finger tips, which was her cue to start biting her nails.

The next thing the psychologist taught Mandy was to create a “competing response”. When she experienced the familiar tension in her fingers (which had always led to her biting her nails), she was to look around quickly for something that would make her unable to put her fingers into her mouth e.g. putting her hands in her pockets, or underneath her legs, or take hold of a pencil.

Then she was to look around for something physically stimulating like rubbing her arms, or any type of physical movement.

The cue – tension in the fingers – stayed the same. But the routine changed (to rubbing and/or physical movement); and the rewards stayed the same (relief from tension in her fingers).

She practised the new routine and when she left the psychologist’s office she was given another homework task. This time, she was to keep using the card to do a checkmark whenever she felt the urge to bite her nails, and to make a hash mark when she succeeded in overcoming her nail-biting habit.

Manicured-nails.JPG

The result: The following week Mandy showed that she had only bitten her nails three times, and had made the competing response  (rubbing arms, or physical movement) seven times. So she rewarded herself with a manicure, and continued using the cards.

After a month had passed, her habit had disappeared, and her new ways of responding to the feelings of tension in her fingers, the “competing responses”, were now totally automatic! One habit had taken the place of the previous habit.

~~~

Habit reversal

Here is a quote by Nathan Azrin, who was one of the people who developed habit reversal training:

“It seems ridiculously simple, but once you are aware of how your habit works, once you recognise the cues and the rewards, you’re half-way to changing it.”

Apparently today, habit reversal is used to treat gambling, depression, smoking, anxiety, procrastination, and sex and alcohol addiction etc.

Charles Duhigg makes the point that although the habit process can be simply described, it doesn’t mean that it’s easily changed.

mark-twain

Charles Duhigg states:

“It’s facile to imply that smoking, alcoholism, over-eating or other ingrained patterns can be upended without real effort. Genuine change requires real work and self-understanding of the cravings driving the behaviours. No one will quit smoking because they can sketch a habit loop.

“However, by understanding habits’ mechanisms, we gain insights that make new behaviours easier to grasp. Anyone struggling with addiction or destructive behaviours can benefit from help from many quarters, including trained therapists, physicians, social workers and clergy.

“Much of those changes are accomplished because people examine the cues, cravings and rewards that drive their behaviours and then find ways to replace their self-destructive routines with healthier alternatives, even if they aren’t aware of what they are doing at the time. Understanding the cues and cravings driving your habits won’t make them suddenly disappear – but it will give you a way to change the pattern.” (Page 77)

~~~

kids-smokingConclusion

Why do I think this is such a valuable and useful book for people to read? Its value lies in the way it makes habit change understandable, and this is very hope-inspiring in all of us who have habits we want to change.  And also for those of us who are committed to helping other people change their unwanted habits.

The book also has examples of organisations that tried to develop the habits of their employees to make them create more productive businesses and other very interesting information.

So what habit would you like to change? If you have one specific habit in mind, for example like reducing your weight and as a reward, wearing a particular dress or outfit at Christmas, then what this book gives you are the tools to help you change your behaviour.

It’s very tough to do it on your own, and having a lifestyle coach or counsellor can help you achieve these goals. So that’s where I come in.

Contact me if you’ve got a sense of hope from reading about the techniques I have summarised from this book, and you want to change your life in a positive way.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

References:

The Power of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change. By Charles Duhigg, (2012) London, William Heinemann.

Bargh, J.A. and Chartrand, T.L. (1999) The unbearable automaticity of being.  American Psychologist, 54(7): 462-479.

~~~