How do people come to do the things they do? How are habits formed and maintained? How do we create behavioral change on demand? These are important questions if one is in the business of selling change, as I am.

I give a lot of thought to helping people change. I’m always looking for what works, and works best, and fastest. I use a three-tier model of change, which informs my NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, work. I use it, extensively. What is it? It’s the interconnectedness of action, emotion, and belief.

When I meet with private clients, I ask a lot of questions as to the nature of the now, and the desired changes. I ask questions such as: What are you doing? What are you not doing? When, where, and with whom are you doing (or not doing)? How are you feeling in that moment (the behavioral decision point)? How are you feeling right before then? How are you feeling after? What are you thinking in that moment? What are you saying to yourself? What images are in your mind? What stops you from change? What are your beliefs about yourself and the world? There are no right or wrong answers, and there’s no judgment involved–this is a fact-finding expedition!

I’m looking for three things. Current states of action (or inaction), emotion, and belief. They are interconnected. If we feel a certain way, we act a certain way. Behavior–it’s what we DO. Say, for example, someone wants to quit smoking, or lose weight, or control alcohol. When they feel stressed, they smoke a cigarette. Or, they eat a cookie. Or reach for a beer. The mind has created an unconscious strategy, shortcut from negative emotion to behavior to positive emotion. I’m stressed, I eat a cookie, now I’m feeling calm. I’m bored. I smoke a cigarette, and I feel more focused. I think about the dirty dishes, I’m overwhelmed, I play on the internet. I’m entertained, and no longer overwhelmed.

I’ve come to the conclusion that emotion is the #1 driver of behavior. Conscious thought does not directly drive behaviorial changes, and certainly not for the long term. If it did, we’d have no phobias, no fears, no unwanted habits like smoking, etc. We would simply think our way out of any behavioral box. That doesn’t happen!

The true driver of behavior is how we FEEL. The right feeling in the right moment (a behavioral decision point) leads to our desired outcomes!

There’s an ideal state of mind/body (mood) to be successful in any endeavor. A golfer might need focus, strength, and confidence in the moment of a swing. A public speaker might need creative flow, relaxation and a sense of fun while presenting. A moment of intimacy might need a sense of playfulness, and loving connection. The right feeling accelerates success, defining success as engaging in desired behaviors. So, with NLP we create new feelings, and automate them where useful.

However, there is a higher level of change available to us. What controls how we feel? It’s what we BELIEVE about ourselves and the world. People have what I call “limiting beliefs” which create negative feelings which in turn create the unwanted habits or behaviors. This is the highest and most significant level of change. What creates anxiety, a huge driver of behavior and non-behavior? It’s a limiting belief about self, such as: “I can’t” or “I don’t deserve” or “I’m not enough.” Those are all false and ridiculous! They only become a reality and limit us when we believe in them. So, with NLP, we create new beliefs that power people up to feel good and make the good choices.

So, the three levels of change are this: 1. What we do–a habit, a pattern, a response in the world. 2. How we feel which drives us into differing behaviors–emotion, state of mind/body, such as confidence, joy, motivation. 3. What we believe to be true in the world. When we believe in our own power, we become powerful. Henry Ford, the automaker, said it best: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right!”

Positive belief drives positive emotion, which drives desired action.

I know as a fact, having done this work with thousands of clients over the years, that this third level is the most impactful work. Removing negative thinking about self doesn’t only change one negative feeling or unwanted behavior, it changes everything. Like dominoes falling. A person might desire to change a habit around food, like turning off sugar. However, removing a limiting belief about self will impact everything in addition to food in a positive way, performance at work, relationships, learning, self-care, health and so on.

When you change how you think about yourself, you feel better, and habits change throughout all areas of your life. To myself I call this idea of working on level 3: “go big or go home!”

That’s my three-tier model of change. NLP creates desired change on all three levels faster than any other methodology, when performed by skilled and creative artists. NLP is an art. This work cannot be put in a can or made generic, it’s an art form. The work is most effective based on an individual mind and its lifelong accumulation of personal strategies and thinking, and the NLP strategist finding the right “tweak” points in action, emotion, and belief to improve life.

Author's Bio: 

Connie Brannan is a Licensed Trainer of NLP® through the co-originator of NLP, Dr. Richard Bandler. She owns and operate a private career school in Washington State, Mindworks NLP. If you'd like to learn more about the control panel in your mind and how to optimize your life, check out Mindworks NLP. We offer certifications in NLP through the Society of NLP®.

Connie is also a clinical Neuro Linguistic Hypnotherapist and offers private change work sessions blending hypnosis & NLP in Bellevue, WA.