How Habits Work and How to Change Them | Life Coach Training


In a life coach training using NLP, many tools are taught that can facilitate changing (or quitting) a habit. Some habits can be changed with one technique or intervention, and others need more, and more frequent, reinforcement.

Now some answers are evident as to how to use NLP or life coaching techniques in quitting a habit:

  1. You could set a goal in doing so.
  2. You can use the meta model to discover the strategy behind the habit, and meta-model the strategy behind the habit you would like to have instead. Practice and rehearse the new strategy.
  3. Changing the negative emotions that come with changing habits.
  4. SWISH patterns
  5. Etc.

I wanted to come up with some unique exercises that you may not readily think of. So I decided to sit behind my design table, which today is aisle seat 18B on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to the USA.

Did you know that habits follow a specific set of steps? much research has been done on this particular topic. In fact, a habit “loop” is what occurs.

Step 1: The Cue

A cue occurs in our internal (thoughts, feelings, images) or external world. That starts the habit off.


  1. Seeing cheese in the mind’s eye or a thought about cheese.
  2. A nicotine craving.
  3. A thought about needing to exercise.
Step 2: The Routine

The routine is automatically triggered because it is mastered.


  1. Thinking about cheese so much that you can taste it, and therefore you eat the cheese.
  2. You get anxiety, you light a cigarette and smoke it.
  3. you sit there thinking, telling yourself that you will go tomorrow, and have no time right now.

In NLP and life coach immersion training, we teach the levels of learning, which very much applies here:

Unconscious Incompetence

We aren’t even aware of the cue, and we are incompetent at the habit.

Conscious Incompetence

We are aware of the cue, and we start to partake in the habit. It is not a habit yet.

Conscious Competence

We are aware of the cue, and we are starting to get more habitual.

Unconscious Competence

We aren’t aware of the cue, and we are on complete auto-pilot of the habit. We are good at it, and we do not consider other options.

Step 3: The Reward

We get the reward, and we get some pay-off for doing the habit. This relates to NLP with what we call the positive intent. As we learned on the first day of NLP and life coach training: “There is a positive intent motivating every behavior.” We otherwise simple wouldn’t be doing it.


  1. Because we ate cheese, we get a dopamine release, we feel good. The pleasure centers of the brain are activated.
  2. Because we smoked a cigarette, the anxiety stops, and we get a dopamine release.
  3. By not going to the gym, you have a lot of extra time on your hands to do something else you would rather do. It feels good.
What’s After Step 3?

Because of the reward, you get conditioned (dare a person who took an NLP training to say “anchored”) to want to execute the routine each time the cue occurs. In essence, a rinse and repeat of steps 1-3.

Circle through this enough and you will gain the unconscious competence, and be less competent at any other response. In essence, you have mastery of the habit.

How, Specifically, Do You Change a Habit?


  1. Cue
  2. New routine
  3. Reward

Cheese example:

  1. You see cheese in the mind’s eye.
  2. You exercise instead.
  3. You also feel good.

Smoking example:

  1. You get a craving and anxiety.
  2. You meditate for 20 minutes. Not only does meditation reduce anxiety, a cigarette craving usually lasts less than 5 minutes, and is generally not over 20 minutes in length.
  3. You feel calm again; the craving is over.

Lack of exercise example:

  1. You get a thought about working out.
  2. You associate into what you will see, hear, and feel the moment you are done working out. In NLP training, we learned that this is called future pacing.
  3. We feel good.

Next time, a specific step by step process to life coach or NLP yourself or someone else into changing a habit.