A Hungry Ghost In The Machine – Phantom Wiring Theory
By Maggie Wilde – The Potentialist
Studies performed on amputees who experienced phantom limb syndrome found that by placing microelectrodes in various parts of the brain, neurons that did not respond prior to amputation were triggered when body parts adjacent to the amputated limb were held. The brain is already learning to adapt. However, after an amputation, neural pathways continue to fire as if the limb is still present. Until the brain has rewired to recognise that the limb is no longer there, it will continue to trigger an experience of the limb. To the amputee, it feels real.
Following the science of phantom limbs, we can theorize that we can also experience phantom cravings or urges long after a habit is changed.
Our brain loves patterns. When triggered, our brain responds by activating the same neural connections that it has been used to activating, even long after a habit has been changed. For example, a person who is used to comfort or stress eat can still experience cravings even after several years of changing the habit. An ex-smoker can experience a feint ‘whisper’ of an urge long after quitting. A person, who was once overweight, may experience a sensation that he or she is still carrying the extra weight. To the person, it feels real. It is as if they are still wearing the weight as a suit. In extreme circumstances, someone may even still see the overweight version of their body.
I call this ‘Phantom Wiring’. When someone sees, thinks and experiences something that is no longer there or they have the urges or cravings of a habit that has already changed.
Neural connections firing in the same pattern long after the habit has stopped. We can treat phantom wiring by using C, P and R Brain Training techniques (ways to interrupt old connections and switch them off). The C, P and R brain training techniques help you recognise that the habit craving or thought is no longer real and is simply a whisper of energy flowing through the pattern of neural connections that used to happen in responds to specific triggers. Our amazing brain relies on patterns.
When we’ve decided to start a new healthy habit, it takes time for the brain to recognise it as the new default pattern.
If a phantom urge or craving occurs or a ‘phantom fat suit’ feeling is experienced, one of the first steps I suggest to clients is to become a curious detective.
By recognizing that the urge or experience is no longer real it may provide the breathing space to make a different choice. By changing a habit, it does not mean you will never get triggered to desire that food, alcohol or cigarette again. It simply means you are not controlled by the urge or craving. Your curious detective can be amused that the wiring is still firing and in that new headspace, choose to tell yourself a healthier story. You get to acknowledge the urge or craving is simply phantom wiring firing. An imaginary ‘hunger ghost’ that will fade every time you focus on the new habit and choice.