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Can EMDR help with Habit Formation?

According to author Charles Duhigg who wrote the novel, “The Power of Habit,” routines are made up of a three-part “habit loop”: a cue, a behavior, and a reward. Understanding, interrupting, and implanting within that loop is a key to controlling your habits. A few co-workers and I have been exploring this topic for over a year, and the tools and techniques we’ve learned have made a positive impact on our personal and professional lives.

One of the most important things we learned is that some habits are formed very early on in life and maybe the root cause for some of our behaviors – whether productive or not! I wondered if I might use some of the techniques I was learning to challenge a specific resistance. For example, my resistance to exercise. I don’t consider myself a lazy person, most in my circle would consider me a highly productive individual with energy and drive. I did the habit loop work to encourage daily walks, scheduled them in my calendar, engaged in external accountability, best year yet goal setting, habit tracking sheets, created rewards – I even slept in athleisure wear so I could immediately begin my day with a walk! But I still found it extremely challenging to meet my goals and wondered why even though I prioritized this goal so adamantly, I was still stuck.

I read an article from blog author Anastasia Pollock who writes, “EMDR has several wonderful applications. In addition to decreasing disturbance associated with trauma, it is effective in decreasing anxiety and targeting irrational or negative thinking, both of which may get in the way of performance. In addition, it can help a person to gain confidence in his or her ability to perform a task or reach a goal. EMDR works to achieve this by installing positive beliefs…and helping the person tap into their strengths.”

This intrigued me and I wondered if this innovative Therapy could have any connection with habit formation and productivity. Were some of the habitual challenges that I faced, for example my resistance to exercise, potentially connected to a long-forgotten trauma or limiting belief?

On a Tuesday morning in January, I attended my first EMDR session with a licensed counselor. One of the things that I uncovered during the session was a limiting belief that I view prepared or proactive people as automatically good and (alternatively) those who don’t prepare as automatically bad. Another random revelation I learned that I have a strong connection with physically signing something. I recalled signing a shirt in kindergarten promising that I would never smoke cigarettes and taking that signature very seriously! To this day I have never smoked. I am sure other reasons have prevented me from developing that habit, but it was odd to recall how strongly I felt about the signature. I began recalling many other instances in which I took my physical signature very seriously.

I didn’t notice any improvements in my willingness to exercise after the first session, though I noticed benefits in other areas. I was less emotionally triggered and sleeping better. I decided to attend my second session with a focus on limiting beliefs about exercise. I walked myself through running a race and came to some negative beliefs such as, “I am going to fail. I am not good enough. I’m a bad person because I don’t work out.” I then reimagined running a race with positive beliefs such as, “I am strong, capable, and I can achieve success in any area. And I enjoy my self-care.” It felt a bit silly at first, but after a few 2 min sessions, I started to believe it more and more.

It has been a few weeks since I explored EMDR, and I continue to see improvements. For starters, I printed out my goals and intentions for this year and (you guessed it) signed the paper with my physical signature. I am working to redirect my negative beliefs by saying my positive beliefs out loud daily, especially before engaging in physical activity. I also practice mini EMDR sessions by thinking of my success and positive beliefs which is helping me to develop the habit of a more positive mindset

It’s been a tough road for many individuals these past 2 years. And it’s possible that the long-term anxiety may have stirred up some things for many of us. If that seems true for you; I’d recommend exploring EMDR therapy as a potential tool. When you become aware of how you respond to your current circumstances, you can make more empowered decisions and access your creativity and potential as a result. I believe that if I maintain these practices and engage in creating new habit loops, I will begin to see success in any area I choose. After all, I am strong and capable!

Author – Stephenie Rockwell

Director of Operations & Relationship Lead

About InteraWorks

InteraWorks is a global learning company on a mission to elevate the human experience at work. Specializing in professional development and performance enablement, we offer top-rated learning programs based on four defined conditions that must exist for individuals, teams including Effective Edge, Best Year Yet, and the Essentials series. Our integrated learning framework and online tools generate immediate and sustainable breakthroughs in performance. Through decades of working at all levels in enterprise companies across many industries, we’ve built a reputation for helping people and organizations harness their focus, mindset, talent and energy to produce results that matter most. 


We’ve defined four conditions that must exist for an individual, team or organization to be effective within the arena of performance and development; Accountability, Focus, Alignment, and Integrity. We’ll continue to explore these and more in our blog and look forward to your engagement and interaction with us. Stay tuned as we engage the edges.