How to Change Bad Habits – Learning how to Operate your Mind

Using the Power of your Will to Change your Lifestyle

Many people seek to change what they’re doing and what practices they engage in that they find enjoyable, gratifying, or pleasurable somehow, and because they don’t realize that the only reason they experience these activities in that way, is because of how they’re using their mind and imagination to form internal representations of them. How we think about something forms an internal experience through what we associate with it. When we think about something in a way that makes it seem pleasurable, we form a strong desire for it, and we have trouble resisting it, or saying no when it’s available or offered to us, and giving it up can cause a form of pain and constant struggle where we experience suffering, simply because we don’t understand or realize that it’s our own mind and how it operates naturally that’s producing the reality of pleasure around an idea or activity.

All experience is a product of the mind, which directs and controls the activity of the body. Our behavior and actions are the direct expression of our thoughts about things as internal representations that form how we experience the outer world. We form internal reps by how we present ideas to ourselves in an imaginary form by what we associate with it that makes it seem either pleasurable and desirable, or painful and disgusting in some way. While many don’t realize that these natural internal processes are actually self-produced rather than automatic and beyond our control, and that because we produce them unconsciously, we can work to change them consciously. We simply have to become aware of how we represent ideas to ourselves by what sensory experiences we associate to them, or what other types of ideas we associate them with.


Whenever we think about and activity or doing something, a whole chain of association takes place, and we access memory of various sorts around the idea, and use it to form a representation of the idea that infuses it with the same type of experiences inherent in the memories. We use the associations to create a kind of sensory preview that acts as a template for creating our actual experience of it. We do this in what seems like a natural and automatic fashion because it’s a function of the subconscious mind, which means we don’t have a direct awareness of what we’re doing or why, unless we take a position of objectively observing what happens inside our mind whenever we’re contemplating an idea. When we learn to observe our own internal processes, we notice that as we’re considering doing something, we’re imagining the experience we’re going to have, and what it’s going to be like. We present the idea to ourselves, by infusing it with the qualities and sensory enhancements that create a desire for it, or a neutral take-it-or-leave-it position, or ones that make it undesirable or even repulsive and disgusting, which makes it very easy to resist or say no to.

Our subconscious produces all of our behaviors in a very natural and spontaneous way. The subconscious doesn’t think in “words” or through internal dialogue like the conscious mind, but rather in terms of “real life experiences” that are reproduced in the imagination as having the “experience of something”, much like a memory. So the way to work with our conscious mind to change the representations of our subconscious mind, which is necessary to change habits and addictions, is to learn how to work with our own imagination as mental and emotional previews that drive our behaviors. By changing what we associate to an idea or activity, and how we create our experience of it in our mind, we can make pleasurable ideas not pleasurable, or even distasteful and revolting, all based on what we associate to it as a way of creating the template through which we experience it. We can take an idea that we currently find pleasurable and reform it to be painful or disgusting somehow by not only infusing it with sensory qualities that are repulsive, but also associating it to other ideas or realities that we find undesirable. By restructuring our internal experience of something, we naturally change our outer behavior in response to it. In this way we can change undesirable habits in an automatic fashion that’s easy and doesn’t create a feeling of suffering.


A simple formula for learning to work with your own mind, is to sit quietly, and start self-reflecting; Think about a habit or addiction that you want to change, and what habit or activity you want to replace it with. As you think about the habit, notice how you present the idea to yourself by how you think about it, what sensory experience you create (what it looks like, feels like, tastes like, what sounds your hearing, what you’re telling yourself about it), and what meaning it has for you, what need is associated to it? Once you realize how you’re structuring your internal representation, and what other ideas you have associated with it (makes me feel better, relaxes me, comforts me, tastes good, makes me look good, etc.), you can begin realizing a kind of formula and what are the key components that make it compelling that you need to replace with other sensations and ideas that will change how you relate to them. By structuring them with a whole different kind of experience, that we play out in our mind as a reality, where we develop our desired response to it (makes me feel bad, smells terrible, looks disgusting, hurts me, will make me unattractive, etc.), as a natural response to it, or what immediately starts running through your mind in response to it. Once you get the imagined response just the way you want it, imagine yourself in an actual live situation where you’re encountering it, and run the new response to it through your mind, and repeat it several times, changing it slightly each time, until it becomes automatic and instantaneous. Until it comes automatically without thought.

If it involves giving up something that you regularly partake in, such as quit drinking soda pop, you should also form a clear idea of what you’re going to replace it with, such as tea, water, fruit juice, and so on. This way, when you’re in the moment where you normally engage in drinking soda pop, you’ll have an immediate idea of what to do instead. Whatever you replace it with, structure your internal representation so that its very pleasurable and makes you feel good about yourself and your decision, not only in sensory terms, but emotionally and psychologically in terms of what it means about you and what you’re creating as a result.

The basic formula for Creating a Positive Internal Representation:

  • Emotion: Associate a very positive emotional state with the desired behavior that makes it very compelling (excitement, relief, passionate, empowered, confident, etc.)
  • Sensory experience: what am I seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling
  • Internal dialogue: What am I telling myself about it? What does it mean based on what I’m telling myself?
  • Associate other ideas to it that support it and make it desirable (being healthy, feeling good, helping someone, looking good, saving the planet, etc.).
  • What does this experience or activity mean about me as a person?
  • What’s its going to create in my life, or allow?

Once you realize how you’re structuring your internal experience, which makes it pleasurable and desirable, you can make new associations and infuse it with different qualities that will change how you think about it, how it makes you feel, and what you relate to it, or in what way you’re identifying with it. As with all things, we are the ones who create our own experiences of things, good or bad, and our internal experience forms the basis for our external experiences. The secret lies in your imagination and how you use it to create in your life. The secret of the will lies in the imagination.

Dr. Linda Gadbois