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When does a habit turn into an obsession?

Who enjoys going to the gym? Who feels happy when you begin a diet and stick to it? Who decides to get up earlier? Who begins to drink more water each day? Who arranges to walk with a friend every week? The list is endless of what we all try to achieve to make one feel better within. At some point in our life, I am sure that we have all started a new habit whether it begins as a new year's resolution or something happens and changes need to be made. My question is; when does a habit intensify into an addiction or obsession? When does this habit impact your day-to-day life negatively? Affecting family, friends, work, school, college, or university.

A habit is something we carry out automatically without very much thought. That said it doesn’t just occur after one time, it can take longer for it then to become a routine. A habit loop in psychology is a neurological loop that governs habits. It is made up of 3 elements; a cue, a routine, and a reward. By understanding this loop changes can be made from a bad habit to a healthy one.

It usually takes 21 days to consciously create a new habit but unfortunately, it can take far longer to break an existing habit. I am a member of a local gym in Solihull and I must say it is very interesting just taking time out after a productive workout; whether it be an aerobics class, cycling, yoga, or a stimulating swim in the pool and just sitting and people watching. I have noticed that as my classes tend to run at different times of the day on different days I bump into a few ‘regular gym goers’ who appear to always be at the gym! For many, this could be a very healthy and balanced hobby or interest but for some, it gradually becomes an obsession. Some feel they have to compensate or punish themselves for daily food intake or what they perceive as true about their body.

After discussions with friends and clients, it is apparent that many think of addictions as drug or chemical-related, but addictions are a result of brain changes making you compelled to engage in certain behaviours. This could be anything from exercise, video gaming, work, technology (especially the phone), reducing calorie intake …. to mention but a few. Did you know that according to, 1 in 200 people are addicted to gambling? The simplest way to find out if you may have an addiction is if you feel that you cannot stop and your thoughts are engaging in the addictive behaviour constantly or maybe you have noticed this could be true of a loved one, you may notice certain changes that ring alarm bells. One way to analyse a habit is to keep a journal. Note how many days/hours etc.. you are carrying out the activity, how you feel when you are engaging in it, and how you feel when you are not.

How to tell if you or someone you know may have an addiction:

  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after long periods without the activity

  • Experiencing uncontrollable desires for the act.

  • Reducing other areas of life to make time for the activity.

  • Mood swings

  • A decline in work/school performance

  • Changes in physical appearance and health

  • Relationship problems

So what is the difference between a habit and an obsession?

An obsession becomes a ritual or compulsive routine which becomes part of your everyday life often bringing with it anxiety especially if you have been unable to carry out the task. Whereas a habit is something you do regularly without even thinking about it. E.g. cleaning your teeth.

Once you have ascertained if this habit is healthy, an obsession or an addiction changing the mindset is key enabling this act to be reframed. This is where hypnotherapy can be used as a tool to either allow you to regress back to the root cause or the reason for the initial act and/or enable you to reframe your behaviour into a more positive acceptable practice. Hypnotherapy works directly with the subconscious mind allowing new patterns to be formed whilst deleting old patterns and beliefs. Visualising is a powerful tool and is used to picture new wants and aspirations.

Quotation from Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury:

‘It’s a shame we didn’t plant this tree a long time ago’ said Tiny Dragon, ‘Imagine how big it would be’

‘We’re doing it now’ said Big Panda, ‘That’s the important thing.’

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