Could NLP be the short cut you need to motivate yourself to exercise or eat better?

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I grew up in a cigarette smoke-filled house back in the 1980s and 90s. Even now I shudder at the thought of the damage that might have been done to me and the rest of my family’s health.

I watched over the years as my mum tried so many times to quit with various methods, all of which invariably failed after a certain amount of time. The sheer sustained willpower required with these attempts was just never enough to change such an addictive habit for the long term.

And then my mum attended a one-day seminar that changed everything. 

Nearly 10 years ago now, she went to an Allan Carr quit smoking seminar. She sat in a hotel venue for the day listening to the seminar leaders talk. The attendees smoked throughout and then ceremoniously had a ‘last’ cigarette near the end of the seminar.

After which, my mum headed to her car, reached for the back-up packet of cigarettes she’d brought for after the ‘quit smoking’ seminar. But to her surprise she just didn’t feel like smoking so she put them back and drove home.

The next day, there was no urge to smoke. So she didn’t. And the same happened the next day and the next day. And in the 10 years since, she has never picked up another cigarette. She looks at other people smoking and all she thinks now is ‘I’m glad that’s not me anymore”

It was truly incredible. I couldn’t believe the transformation.

How could one day of talking have such an incredible impact on an ingrained habit of over 40 years?

I had to look into this.

Allan Carr’s seminars were based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which sounds scarier than it is. Their website has a huge selection of testimonials from all sorts of celebrities about how they’ve quit smoking with the method (and I looked up a few of them for external references to confirm this).

I started to investigate NLP and over time have experimented with it myself. It has truly changed key aspects of my life too, helping me to stop my own addiction to chocolate(!), totally revamp the way I eat, motivate me to exercise, and stop procrastinating, and I’m sure it can continue to help me in future.

In this blog, I’m going to:

  • Explain more about NLP and why it is so powerful;
  • Give examples of NLP techniques I’ve experimented with and the results they’ve generated;
  • Provide pointers for how you can use NLP to make important changes in your life too.

What is NLP and why does it work?

There are lots of long-winded descriptions out there but in my mind it’s a methodology for reshaping the thought patterns in our mind to generate success.

If you have a thought pattern that tells you that you’re no good at exercising and that you just don’t have the time or energy to get your butt off the sofa, there’s an NLP technique for that. Or that you just can’t get through the day without eating tons of chocolate or biscuits or drinking too much beer or wine.

The ideas you have in your head will be challenged and the way your mind responds at the thought of having to motivate yourself to move / eat less / drink less will be ‘reprogrammed’ by making you create new thought patterns to associate reason and pleasure with the behaviour you want to have.

Things that are holding you back from ‘reaching your potential’ are all in your own mind! Even if you think it’s someone else’s fault or because of something that happened in your childhood, or that it’s too hard to change, or that there’s just nothing that can be done, it’s just not true. You are the only one standing in your own way.

NLP is a hugely effective technique to challenge the perceptions you’ve built up in your mind over time, and change those thought patterns that are the true barrier to making progress. It can help you to:

  • Eat more healthily and lose weight
  • Exercise
  • Quit detrimental habits such as smoking or drinking too much
  • Get over fears and phobias very quickly
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Improve communication skills
  • Much more

The experiments – How it works

I’ll describe a few examples of NLP techniques I’ve experienced and the results they’ve had.

Stop procrastinating!

The first direct experience I had was an experiment with a friend who had recently qualified in NLP. This was about seven years ago. I didn’t think I had a specific thing I needed to ‘fix’ so we chatted and he asked me a series of questions and zeroed in on the fact I wasn’t moving forwards on a few things because I was procrastinating.

To be honest, I wasn’t too thrilled with this finding as I’ve always thought of myself as a productive person but when I thought about it I realised I could get distracted in the middle of the day and wasn’t tackling everything I probably needed to do. But I was resistant to admitting that I might procrastinate.

We didn’t move forwards until I was able to swallow my pride and admit that this was something that was an issue that I wanted to address.

We then set about visualising a scenario where I felt at my absolute most effective, in peak workflow, churning out tasks without hesitation. I had to really try hard to visualise this (which can sometimes be difficult) but I came up with an image in my mind and as I was visualising it he tapped on my four finger knuckles of my right hand – index finger to little finger in order (which I now know is the NLP anchoring technique). We repeated this quite a few times and then I was tasked with doing this more at home in my own time and to keep this going over the next couple of weeks.

I felt a little bit silly doing this, but also quite curious about what the impact might be.

I then found myself churning through tasks I had been putting off and no longer was I getting distracted in the afternoons – I just stayed focus. My productivity went through the roof.

I’ve reflected on this occasionally since that time and think that the productive mindset has just stayed with me. I am so rarely distracted from what I want to achieve and I am much more willing to tackle challenging tasks head on than let them fester and drag me down. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t occasions when that happens, but I find a way to get through them pretty much always now.

Perhaps I just grew up and took more responsibility? Or perhaps my new mindset and thought pattern about just how productive I am became a reality through this very simple technique of associating a feeling with a physical trigger?

Quitting Chocolate

We then followed up in another meeting with my over-indulgent love of chocolate. I knew I ate too much of it although I wasn’t too concerned as I was still in my early thirties and managing to keep my figure pretty much intact and had little regard for ‘healthy’ eating at that point!

But still we did another visualisation where I had to figure out what effect putting my hand in a massive bag of chocolate M&Ms did to me (made me ‘feel’ excited and happy – which I recalled with my eye movements looking up and to the left apparently). I then also had to imagine a future where I wasn’t eating chocolate and how I might feel and what I might be doing (I pictured myself dancing around feeling super skinny in a lovely floaty dress).

The next step was to associate these images in my mind with eye movements: As I imagined the image and feeling of putting my hand in the chocolate bag I had to move my eyes up and to the left (this I think might vary depending on how you personally recall information); and then switch to the vision of my future super skinny self whilst moving my eyes up to the right. I had to continue this a few more times there, and then repeat it daily 10 times for 10 days to embed those images. I also needed to do it any time I saw or felt tempted by chocolate.

I kept a bag in a drawer in the kitchen and saw it several times over the following week, each time repeating the exercise. The immediate effect was that the craving I had felt disappeared and I walked away from the bag.And after a week or so I didn’t even have to do that – I just didn’t feel the need to eat chocolate.

This one wore off after about six months. But since then I’ve gone on and off chocolate binge periods (but then again I haven’t reused that visualisation trick which might have helped me re-establish it if I’d have felt so inclined).

Eating more healthily and losing weight

A while later, after my third child, I got to the point where I just felt so inactive and out of shape that I had to do something about it. I knew the Allan Carr group did a seminar for losing weight just like the quit smoking one my mum had been to. My skeptical but very supportive husband agreed to come with me for the day-long lose weight seminar.

Again, I was a bit skeptical myself and worried about what my husband would make of it. It was a day in a not particularly nice meeting room of a hotel with a small group of people of varying sizes. The seminar talked through some key concepts according to the Allan Carr method – again it was a lot of talking.

But afterwards we went to the supermarket and bought up a whole load of vegetables and food that we thought was healthier and we embarked on a sugar-free way of eating.

The first two days were SO painful. I had such a constant bad headache and was completely lethargic, but I felt like I was on a mission and had to continue, hard as it was. I also had to learn a different way of cooking. I bought a handful of recipe books that were more in line with a sugar-free, more vegetable and healthy fat-heavy approach to food and experimented with lots of new recipes.

I lost some weight and I felt better and saw this more as a lifestyle change, so it was very effective. But it wasn’t until I combined with the exercise (probably a year later! Read my blog here about that NLP experience) that it really started to get me into the shape I was truly happy with.

Be open to the possibilities

There are detractors from the NLP method, particularly focused on some of its ‘scientific’ claims, which are not backed by any studies. I think it’s important to question the validity of claims, but at the same time to remain open to possibilities.

I am careful not to talk too much about NLP in case people think I’m a little crazy or overzealous! But if you’re reading The Life Reporter you are hopefully a like minded person looking to experiment with ways to make your life better.

For me, I saw the incredible impact it had on my mum – helping her quit a very addictive 40-year long habit when all else had failed and that was enough for me to take this seriously. But now I attribute my ability to maintain a long-term fitness programme and much healthier eating regime to NLP.

Could it have been a placebo effect? Perhaps – and if that’s what works, then I’m happy with that!

So you may be excited about the prospect of exploring NLP for yourself and what it might help you with. Or you may be skeptical and questioning how such a thing could possibly work.

Either way, I’d recommend trying it!

It’s important to find a genuine practitioner who has experience. I did go to a local lady once who claimed to ‘do NLP’ and it was an absurd session where she clearly had read a few things, maybe even done a practitioner course, but had no real idea what she was doing. If that happens, don’t lose faith; try again.

Or perhaps you can try researching some methods yourself and experimenting (although that might prove harder).

But give it a go.

The worst thing that could happen is that it might not work for you. But it has the potential to help with so much.

Let me know your experiences with NLP or what you think it could help you with in the comments below.

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