Chocolate Auto-pilot Disengaged!


As a coach always trying to improve my knowledge and techniques it suddenly struck me again about the diversity of experience. It’s not just the general differences in human experience which is of interest, but also HOW things are experienced and what it can mean for our health.

We have our senses and our sense, our bodies tell us if we are hot/cold, in pain/comfortable, if it’s quiet/noisy, stinky/pleasant, salt/sweet. Memories and associations made because of memories are an inner compass, even when we forget about them.

I tried a technique called SWISH, it’s an Neurolinguistic programming technique designed to assist someone in shifting their mindset by active memory recall, visualisation and redirection. It’s very handy and depending on the willingness of the client, very quick when done well.

Tried it on someone today with an addiction to a certain type of chocolate. That’s fine if it isn’t causing a health issue. They don’t eat a huge amount of it, but as they are overweight and unhappy about their life we tried SWISH. Then it hit me. You can use the technique, but there are sometimes reasons it doesn’t hold as long as hoped for and the reason is gustatory stimulous. Huh? It means taste.

We all hear how smell is strongly associated with powerful memories and associations. So is taste. One really cannot have one without the other. I realised more work had to be done in understanding my clients needs if I was to help them long term.

What was it about that particular kind of chocolate that made them reach for it when stressed? What memories did the taste bring? What were they getting fro. This experience that they weren’t getting otherwise?

No, it wasn’t sex! The sound of the wrapping being removed has a particular sound. The freshly released aroma was a biggy. The taste was the pay off, but not enough. It gave them pleasure but made them sad. It gave them the certainty of a pleasant memory, but the relationship associated with it was very toxic. Bang! Self esteem out the window, or at least the brave spectre of it.

This person had been badly damaged by their homelife. They weren’t clinically depressed. Not all sadness leads to the psychiatrists chair. They had tiny pockets of happiness and long periods of great sadness and stress which they carried with them into adulthood, even away from their family. It was grief. it was regret for the impossible. It was trauma. It was bereavement in advance, held in abeyance then laterally experienced fully when their family member died. Of course this person may have needed to see a specialist. They had. They knew what was coming and were wise enough to try to head it off, but still the memory of the taste of this chocolate brought it all back in a truly bitter sweet way.

So, when they reached for this chocolate, they were reaching for comfort from someone they loved, who could not have loved them how they needed to be loved. They knew it, so we had to talk about perhaps looking at how we could change this gustatory/olfactory experience (taste and smell).

Just avoiding a brand of chocolate would not remove the association and the ‘almost tasting it’, pain. We agreed to talk about the good things it signified to them. We agreed to acknowledge their pain as something they no longer wanted and to magnify and intensify the positive side to it, until the experience was changed. We SWISHED the memory by concentrating on the pureness of a small moment when everything was good and comforting. We did not underplay, ignore, or denigrate any part of their previous experience, instead we shifted to an understanding which was more positively powerful, in a realistic tangible and accessible way.

Now how does this prevent the client from buying and eating the chocolate? It doesn’t. It changes what they experience, so the pay off is different. Doesn’t it make it more attractive to eat even more of it? Actually, no. The person was using the previous certainty of an outcome to keep themselves hurting. It was a certainty that gave them a glimpse of happiness wrapped up in something they dod not want. We all do it to a certain extent. It wasn’t the chocolate they needed to let go of, but the series of emotional experiences attached to it. They needed to give themselves permission to feel positive about themselves. They needed to give themselves permission to complete the grieving process and let go of the negative images and associations they automatically replayed, by shifting their attention so well that a new perspective was let in which swamped the old one with positive emotions and insights. Now when they reach for any chocolate they have a changed autopilot, a different experience and pleasure not dependent on pain. Now they don’t really need the chocolate and seek pleasure and certainty in healthier ways. That’s what I call a great result!

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