How to develop a new habit that lasts a lifetime

Have you ever wanted to develop a new habit? You know, go to the gym, eat healthier foods, become and early riser, start a daily meditation practice, or whatever else. The good news is you can, and its not as hard as you may think.  Let’s be clear. I am not promising that you will suddenly lose 30 pounds, or anything equally stupid. I am simply saying that you can develop new habits that may help you lose 30 pounds, or achieve whatever other goals you may have.

I know, because I have used it, and still use it to this day. The technique I use to create new habits is a neurolinguistic programming (NLP) technique called the New Behavior Generator. The process is fairly simple, and only takes 10-15 minutes, if that.

The New Behavior Generator works by accessing a variety of representational systems, or way which you perceive the world. The main representational systems are auditory (hearing), kinaesthetic (touching), olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste) and visual. I won’t bore you with the details (at least not in this post), but there is a neurological basis for this process, and it is very powerful.

Let’s walk through this technique using an example. Steve Aitchison recently posted a blog on the “5 Benefits of Being an Early Riser.”

I actually used the New Behavior Generator a few years back when I was living in the UK to wake up at 6AM on weekdays, without an alarm clock, so this seems like a good example.

Here’s how it works

The first thing you will need to do is find a quite, comfortable place where you can mentally rehearse getting out of bed at the time you feel is most appropriate. Once you are in that place, sit in a comfortable chair or sofa. For this exercise you will keep your eyes open, and will not enter into a deep trance.

Now that you are comfortable, reaffirm to yourself that you want to become an early riser. Be specific. What time would you like to rise, and why. What do you expect to gain from rising early. What are the opportunity costs? How would you like to feel when you rise early? What would you like rising early to be like for you?

It helps to develop a well-formed outcome to clarify all of these details, which are very important for developing your new habit of rising early each morning.

After you have thought about, and clarified your goals and outcomes for rising early, you will begin mentally rehearsing rising early – again, with your eyes open. It is important to keep your eyes open because you will use them to activate specific representational systems as you rehearse.

The steps

First, look down and to your left, and talk to yourself (out loud). Ask yourself “What do I want to do differently in the mornings? How early would I like to rise?” Then, say to yourself, “If I could rise early in the morning, at , what would it look like?” As you are saying this final sentence, begin moving your eyes to look up and to the right.

As you are looking up and to the right, see yourself as if you are watching from outside your body rising early, at the time you would like. Watch yourself sleeping, then sitting up immediately at the appropriate time. If you use an alarm clock, see yourself turn it off as you swing your legs over the side of the bed and stand up. Watch yourself stretch, and smile, as you are totally awake and looking forward to the day. See yourself walk into the kitchen and get a cup of coffee, then walk out onto the patio and watch the sun rising… etc. etc. until you have watched yourself perform your entire morning routine in great detail.

(Your scenario may be different, but the point is to really visualize all of the details – the more detailed the better… and don’t forget to look up and to the right as you do so!)

After you have watched yourself, as if you are outside your body, move your eyes so you are looking down and to the right. Once you are looking down and to the right, step into the experience as you rehearse it again and notice how it feels. Remember, you are noticing how you “want” it to feel, not how you fear it will feel. Notice how refreshed and awake you feel when you open your eyes, how energized you are as you sit up and get out of bed, how excited you are as you look forward to the day.

(Again, your feelings may be different, but the important part is that you really “feel” them as you rehearse getting up in the morning. You are literally programming your mind at this point).

Now repeat this cycle at least three times. As you do, make any adjustments to the routine you feel are necessary. You may change the routine, or the feelings associated with it to make it better as you continue through the cycle.

My recommendation is that once your routine is perfected, run through the perfected routine at least three times to really embed it in your mind.

Now future pace

Once you are happy that you have mentally rehearsed the routine enough times you must check to see how well it is programmed into your mind. In NLP speak we call this future pacing.

To future pace you should think of a time when you will want to wake up early. Now mentally rehearse this event, without the eye movement. Notice the cues you receive that tells you its time to wake up. Watch yourself running through your routine, noticing you feelings and how the routine occurs.

Again, you are not going through the eye movements or introducing any artificial actions or feelings. You are imagining how the event will actually be.

If you find that the event is not unfolding the way you want it to, or that you have unwelcome feelings about the event, you have three options:

You may choose to change your environment and try to run through the process again. It may be that where you are is too noisy, uncomfortable, hot, cold, etc. and is limiting your ability to actually mentally rehearse your routine. Once you have found a more suitable place or time, go back and repeat the entire process until you get a positive future pace.

One option is to revise your morning routine so that it is more suitable to your needs. You may add activities, alter them, or discard them. You may revisit your feelings and choose different feelings that are more appropriate. Once you revise your routine, go back and repeat the process several times again until you get a positive future pace.

Another option is to revisit your well-formed outcome and make certain that your routine is congruent, or aligned, with who you are – your values, needs, and wants. While dramatic change is possible with this and other NLP techniques, one thing we cannot do is make changes that simply do not fit with who we are. (In order to make those changes, we must work on our values, and that is the topic of another post…).

Remember, the New Behavior Generator can be used to develop just about any behavior you want. The keys to making this work are: 1. Make sure the new behavior matches your values, and who you are; 2. Make sure you are in a place that is suitable for the exercise; 3. As you mentally rehearse, do so in the greatest possible detail; 4. The eye movements are key; 5. Be sure and check with future pacing.

About the author

Chris Akins

Hi! And welcome to my website! I started ChrisAkinsdotCom in 2006 as a part of my own personal growth journey, and over the years it has certainly helped me evolve as a person, and ultimately change careers from a business executive to a mindset coach, and human behavior professional. This blog reflects many of the thoughts, insights, and strategies that have helped me make life altering changes. I hope reading ChrisAkinsdotCom will help you in some way as well!