Can NLP help Ed Sheeran’s ‘bad habits’?

smoking, drinking and partying bad habits

You have to wonder if a little NLP might help with Ed Sheeran’s bad habits. In his latest hit song, the singer, songwriter focusses on the bad habits he has later in the day. Some might interpret this as a reference to drink and drugs, and others to partying and one-night stands. As with all songs, the interpretation lies with the listener to a certain extent.

What is a bad habit?

Before you can resolve a problem, you need to be aware that it exists. Often we find ourselves experiencing repeating patterns in our careers, personal life and relationships that we find difficult to explain. Maybe we typically begin a relationship with passion and commitment and then start to develop jealous behaviours or possesiveness that destroys what we have. In a career we might start by loving the job but then get into a loop of complaining and politicising and end up leaving.

There can be lots of things behind these patterns, but if there’s a pattern, then maybe there are habits behind that pattern. What if we changed some of those habits individually? Would that lead to a different outcome?

There’s always a bigger picture, and our behaviours have all sorts of sources and origins, but sometimes, just concentrating on specific behaviours can help.

Does NLP help with bad habits?

Bad habits are unconscious behaviours that we use to help us fulfil a need. At some point we learned that having a drink at night helped us get to sleep at night. We noticed that after smoking a cigarette, we seemed to feel more relaxed. The habit of biting nails, or thumb sucking is a way of comforting ourselves – some would say a substitute for the mother’s breast.

In the song ‘Bad Habits’ Ed Sheeran is connecting his behaviour with his failed relationship. It’s often true that we often fall back into these kinds of behaviours when we are trying to cope with change, loss or rejection.

Habits sometimes come in chains or sequences. People will talk about the things that ‘trigger’ their behaviour. NLP can help with bad habits by looking for ‘strategies’. For example the habit drinking heavily at night:

  • feel sad that we are on our own
  • imagine a long night of continuing to feel that way
  • picturing the bottle of wine in the fridge
  • imagine feeling the sensations of becoming drunk, drowsy and falling asleep
  • reaching for the bottle and pouring a drink

The process is triggered by a pattern of feel–imagine a feeling-see–imagine a feeling–act. Often such sensory patterns occur in all sorts of situations. With NLP I find ways to disrupt the pattern, perhaps by adding in an additional step, such as saying ‘how will I feel in the morning?’ after the feel stage.

Another approach might be to use a visual process such as an NLP ‘Swish’ pattern to install a new behaviour. Different things work for different people and there are many things that will help.

The other thing to do is to find a different way of fulfilling the need that the habit fulfils. Maybe some self-hypnosis or meditation would help the person sleep. Or maybe they need to go out and visit a friend to fulfill the need for connection.

Ed Sheeran’s song ‘Bad Habits’ touches a nerve with many of us and we need to recognise that we are not helpless where bad habits are concerned.

Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.