Building Timeproof Habits

Problem Statement: Barely had the sounds of the New Year chimes and fireworks subsided, my phone rang. It was an old friend calling in to wish me a Happy New Year. I casually inquired what his New Year resolutions were. “None” he said dejectedly. “what’s the point of setting resolutions? I barely manage to follow them for a month. Somewhere down the line, the steam is lost and the resolution is gone for a toss”. Hmmm…isn’t that a very commonly observed phenomenon?
At some point in our life, all of us have, and also know people around us who have embarked on new habits or rituals aimed at ringing-in a positive change in our/ their lives. Going to the Gym, a jog every evening, adopting a radical diet, quitting smoking/ alcohol, meditation every night, rock climbing, expanding our social network, spending more time with the family, etc. etc. etc. We’ve all been there and tried that, right?
Most habits start with loads of enthusiasm, energy and motivation. However with passage of time, somehow the fizz dissipates and the new habit suffocates under numerous other priorities. For some people, this eventually becomes so discouraging a pattern, that they stop setting resolutions. So how can one ‘time-proof’ a new habit and make it a long lasting activity?
NLP offers an interesting insight into how people fail to ‘time-proof’ new habits. In order to understand this better, we must first revisit the modest, unassuming and often under-emphasized concept of ‘Logical Levels of Thinking’. This incredible model sadly occupies very little space, time and relevance even in formal NLP training programs.


NLP Logical Levels of Thinking: The NLP Logical Levels is an invaluable tool for organizing our thinking, information gathering, communication and behavior.

Developed by Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein, based on the original work of Gregory Bateson, the Logical Levels is one of the most useful of all NLP models.
Using the model enables us to understand in a clear and structured manner what makes a person ‘tick’.
Human behavior (which in turn is a function of their internal beliefs and personality) in a given context, can be driven by one or more of the following six factors: Environment, Behavior, Capabilities, Beliefs & Values, Identity and finally Purpose.
Let’s say, you want to inculcate a habit of regularly going to the Gym. As per the model, for this activity to start, it would need to satisfy certain conditions:
• Do you have the environment at home/ work or Gym offering you the opportunity to exercise? This would include the physical set up – equipment, air-conditioning, music, etc. that sets the ‘right’ mood.
• Next, is that environment sufficient enough to generate the desired behavior in you? Have you noticed what happens to your behavior when the air-conditioning suddenly stops working or the music goes silent in the gym?
• Next, do you have the physical capabilities/ skills to perform exercises? Illness or permanent physical limitations, lack of knowledge of workouts that prevent a person from performing all or certain exercises.
• Next, what are your beliefs about exercising and its benefits/ risks? Do you believe in the pains and gains it would bring? What about exercising is important to you?
• Next, what does all of this (the act of exercising) tell you about who you are? Who you are not? Who you see yourself as, in life?


Environment: This level is all about the external landscape presented to the individual at any given point in time.

Behavior: This level is concerned with what people do (or how they react) to an environment. For any given environment situation, there are a choice of behaviors a person can pick from. Such as thinking, speaking, silence, listening, reacting, running away, etc.
Capabilities: This level relates to the skills, strategies, talents and resources that a person possesses to pick the most appropriate amongst available behavior choices. It also includes any specific physical capability/ limitations the person possesses. Capabilities align the behavior you choose as response with your beliefs and values.

Beliefs and Values: In the context of a (desired) behavior X, if you ask the question “What’s important to you about this new behavior X?” and for the answer you get, repeat the same question couple of times, you will come face to face with the core Values at play behind the scene. What you hold dear in your life and the beliefs you create, influence the way you act in a given situation. If you want to run good meetings, you must first notice what’s most important to you about holding good meetings (such as self-respect, recognition, self-worth, etc.), then instill a strong belief that you can, learning the required skills and setting the right environment to achieve that goal.
Identity: In the context of adopting the new behavior X, who would you like to be known as? This is all about getting a sense about who you are (in the context of certain behavior) and also who you are not. What does that identity mean to you? Depending on the behavior, you could assume any of hundreds of identities such as Mr.Good-Coordinator, teacher, Ms. Braveheart, honest Abe, working-mother, full-time parent, CEO, Sex-God, a Go-Getter, patient person, etc.

Purpose: This level is about your higher purpose in life and what you have to offer to the society and world at large.
Habits and Logical Levels: You might now wonder what has the Logical Levels model got to do with ‘time-proofing’ habits? Precisely how do we utilize the wisdom of this model in creating long-lasting behavior?
The secret recipe of the sauce lies in recognizing the logical level you are operating from when it comes to any behavior. Got it? No? Let me explain more…
All behaviors are a result of the identity that plays in a person’s mind. Your current behavior is simply a reflection of your current identity – which YOU have chosen to hold in YOUR mind. For example, if you see yourself as a teacher (and a person of high respect), your behavior automatically reflects this identity drawing you to talk about the subject, refer to books and other material that further enhance your knowledge, act and behave with people as a teacher. Over time, the response you receive from people, could possibly further reinforce this identity making you take even further steps to act in line with this identity. You won’t even realize at what point, the act of learning and teaching became a habit!
Go inside your mind now and check for the most prominent of such identities you currently hold, notice how they unconsciously shape your beliefs and make you act in the external world – including deliberately seeking out the right environments to suit the identities.

Therefore, to create a lasting habit, we must begin with creating an identity of ourself that aligns closely with that habit.
By contrast, go back to a time when you decided to adopt a new behavior/ habit and failed to continue with it for long. As you recall that futile effort, go once again inside your mind and think of the motivators that prompted you to take up that behavior in the first place.
• Habits motivated by external appearances and their influence on how you will look in the eyes of the external world, typically reside at an environmental level. Its focused around the way the world perceives you.
• Habits motivated by what you can possibly do in terms of skills, typically reside at a behavior and capability level. Its mainly focused around what you can do based on your previous experiences or perhaps advice from others.
• Habits that are motivated from what think you can do and what is the right thing to do typically reside at a Belief and Value level. At this stage, the focus is primarily ‘inward’ on you, instead of ‘outward’ on what the world wants.
• Finally, habits motivated from the person you believe you are, stem from an identity level. At this point, you are already seeing yourself as a XYZ person, living that identity.
Long lasting habits are fuelled by a burning desire to fit into an identity. So if you change your identity (the type of person you believe you are), its lot easier to change your actions.

The reason why we find it so hard to stick to new habits/ behaviors is because they are usually motivated to achieve an appearance or performance.

For e.g: If your goal for exercising is to lose 10 Kgs, look slimmer and get the appreciation of friends – your goal is plugged at an Environment level.
On the other hand, if your goal is to run 2Kms every day and then increase that to 4Kms in 3 months’ time – your goal is plugged at a Capability level. It is very likely that soon after you have achieved that milestone; it may cease to motivate you. Can you recall setting goals which, when accomplished, no longer excite you to maintain continuously?

Instead, if you assume the identity of a ‘Patient and Tough’ person who believes that good health is great for the body and mind, chances are you will start small…but the identity will hold you and keep pushing you on target each day. The best part here is, the more you stick to this identity, the more you go on as there are no specific milestones to cross…but simply reinforcing your identity of being ‘patient and tough’. Makes sense?

Chronic Habits: In my experience as a therapist dealing with smokers keen to kick the habit…it is not uncommon to hear stories such as;
(i) The person tried to gradually reduce her intake each week with the ultimate goal of completely going off the habit. But ‘somehow’ that didn’t work! This is a classic case of setting your habit at a Performance (i.e Capability) level.
(ii) The person simply stopped smoking one fine morning, trashing the pack of cigarettes. Underneath this drastic action, often lies a belief such as “Enough. This is taking a toll on my health and its time I did something about it. Smoking is damaging my health”. No marks for guessing this ‘Belief’ level connection to a new habit. Chances are, this model will lead to long term stickiness to the new habit.
(iii) Probably even unknown to them, somewhere deep inside, the person has created a new identity of being a ‘Fighter’ in the context of this situation, complete with linkages to incidents in her past where such an identity has helped her overcome stubborn habits/ serious challenges that life posed then. Quite by magic, this new identity, brings forth all past experiences that reinforce it further and lead to a belief that “I did it in the past (in some other context equally stubborn), I can do it now!!”. Some people choose to label this new identity as ‘will power’, but I personally don’t prefer that term. I feel will power is like an elastic rubber band that is stretched when you use it…sooner or later is has to give in.
Word of Caution: It is important to point out that, the Logical Model has cascading effect in both directions.
For example, an environment can trigger a behavior, which in turn, aligns to the comfort of the individual’s capabilities. Capabilities are developed through time over a platform of beliefs created by what the person thinks he/ she IS (i.e Identity).

Interestingly, the model works in the opposite direction just as well. So, if you see yourself as a fit, patient and resilient person (identity), it would automatically sprout corresponding beliefs that propel you with increased motivation and will power (beliefs) to take up some activity however trivial (capability) that you can do within available constraints of time, location, etc. (environment).
Conclusion: When you want to become better at something or start a new behavior, proving your identity to yourself is far more important than going after awesome results. The results will flow in automatically. Motivation originating from appearances and performances are quite short lived. Those driven by a new identity coupled with new beliefs, go on and on…until they become a new YOU !!

NOTE: All examples as well as scenarios in this article, are one of many possible responses in real life situations and simply meant for illustrating the concept.

About the author;
amit-pathakAmit Pathak is a NLP Master Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, professional therapist and international trainer who regularly conducts workshops on NLP and related therapy in India and abroad. Having worked with world renowned authorities in this field, for over a decade, he thoroughly enjoys learning and evolving new techniques and concepts aimed at assisting people in improving their lives.

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