There are two ways to slide easily through life: to believe everything or to doubt everything; both ways save us from thinking.

Alfred Korzybski

Behavior change is easiest when you think about change from what’s called the Neurological Levels in NLP.

I like to think of Neurological Levels simply as your attitude. Your attitude about what life looks like – well, it defines what your life looks like.

Here are the five levels of Attitude (Neurological Levels):

  1. Identity
  2. Belief
  3. Capability
  4. Behavior
  5. Environment

The higher you go up (that is, from 5 to 1), the more difficult it is to change a behavior. Take John for example. John came to see me because he wanted to quit smoking:

By every standard, John should have had no problem quitting smoking. He and his wife Bev had just had another baby girl. Bev not only hated the smell of smoke, but she didn’t want John anywhere near the new baby when he smelled like smoke.

His first daughter, Jean, began learning about smoking at school. She came home and told her daddy about the scary facts she was learning in school. Whenever she found him in the home-office, she cried. The one instance that tore him apart was when she began tearing up and said, “Daddy, I don’t want you to die.”

John had also just come back from the doctor because of chronic bouts of bronchitis, and learned that he was at a higher risk for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

He also had a thriving business he had built from the ground-up when he and his wife immigrated to the States with nothing but clothes on their backs. The stresses of a new business began diminishing, and he found that what was once a stress-reliever was now just a habit.

He had every reason to quit. But no matter how hard he tried, he found it difficult to. He would go for periods of 1-2 days before he gave in and smoked again. He couldn’t stay away.

When prompted to tell me about his smoking, the first words were, I’m a smoker.

I’m a smoker is a label of identity, whereas if someone said, “I smoke when I’m at work,” it would’ve been a statement of environment. It’s much easier to stop smoking if you label it a product of your environment (I smoke at work) vs. a product of your identity (I’m a smoker).

Let’s break down each level so you can get a good sense for yourself what they look like.

  1. Identity: I’m a smoker.
  2. Belief: It’s not possible for a smoker to go cold turkey.
  3. Capability: I can’t not smoke for more than a day.
  4. Behavior: I smoke more than 10x per day.
  5. Environment: I smoke only at work.

Now think about what you want to change in your life. Do you want to exercise more? Do you want to be a better parent? Do you want to wake up earlier to get more in your day? Do you want to live a happier life?

Consider the 5 different levels, and identify where you are. For example, if you want to wake up earlier but keep failing to change your wake-up time, what is it that you’re telling yourself?

I’m not a morning person.

That’s at the level of identity. Change it to a belief: It’s hard to wake up at 5AM with only four hours of sleep. Then change it to a capability: I can wake up at 5AM when I’ve gotten at least 7 hours of sleep. Behavior change: I’ve woken up at 5AM before. Finally, identify the environment that helps fuel change: I can get up at 5AM if I go to bed by 10PM, remove my TV and laptop from my room, close the curtains, and set an alarm.

What needs changing in your life now, so that you can be happier?

Live with intention. Lead with inspiration.