You strive for excellence.  You’ve looked deep inside and set goals for yourself.  Now it’s a simple matter of moving forward and taking some steps to get there, right?  Well, goals are a conscious choice.  What about your habits?

“We become what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

– Aristotle

This quote goes back over 2 thousand years and highlights a powerful truth.  Habits are automatic processes. Habits operate the background functions that power our lives.  Control your habits and you control your life.  Nothing will change your path of your life like habits.

We can all agree that habits are an important part of the results we see at this very moment – both good and bad.  But the habit chains in our life are not always easy to break or to develop in new directions.  How do you change or build new habits?

You’ve heard the notion that if you spend 21 days doing something, then it becomes a habit?

Well, it’s not actually true… Someone basically made that up.


That’s right.  There is no empirical research or reliable evidence supporting the claim.  And yet today it stalks the Internet like some relentless, self-help-zombie seeking the brain of yet another hapless victim.

In fairness, the idea started with one of my own favourite, early authors Maxwell Maltz taken from his work, Psycho-Cybernetics: A New Way to Get More Living out of Life, during the 1960’s.

Dr. Maltz was a plastic surgeon who noticed his patients often took around 21 days to shake the feeling of phantom limbs or to become accustomed to their new appearance resulting from his surgeries.  But he understood people were complex.  And he said, “at least,” 21 days…

Maxwell Maltz deserves tremendous credit as the father of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) for helping unlock the power of the human mind and the importance of self-image, pioneering concepts to change mindset and propel the success of millions.

But self-help gurus over the past 60 years came to borrow and assume his casual observation, as an empirical fact.  Meanwhile, studies and a deepened understanding of habits have shown us that our habits are far more complex than this.

Habits can take longer to establish and are beyond the simple act of willing them to be.

In her 2009 study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, Phillippa Lally found the time it took to establish habits ranged widely from 18 days to as many as 254 days.

So we know habits are not a simple matter of time.  What about will power?

Will power is a fun ride.  Will power is important.  Without determination, resilience and perseverance, we are left drifting like dust in the wind.   An iron will and mental strength are assets.  But at the end of the day, nobody (and I mean nobody) can run on willpower alone.

Your brain is amazing.  While your brain occupies barely 2% of your body weight, it demands nearly 20% of your body’s total energy consumption.  Your brain is busy.  The more your mind is occupied to actively think, the more likely it is to become fatigued, ineffective and distracted.

Consider the difference in effort and attention between driving a new route in your car vs driving home every day.  When you have a familiar routine built by habit, your brain is free to deal with other important tasks and decisions – like what wine to choose with dinner that evening.   This is where habits come in as a powerful strategy your brain has developed turning routes into routines to serve you.

Habits are your brain’s natural leverage mechanism.  Habits shift your decisions and behaviours into autopilot.    Habits free up that powerful brain to attend to other decisions throughout each day.  Habits are a force in our lives.  And we can choose our habits.

Habits are more than a simple 21-day cycle.  Habit building is more than a simple matter of willpower.

Because habits are complex.  After all, what is a habit?


Let’s say you want to build a habit of productivity.  But there are dozens or even hundreds of mini-habits within this larger habit.  You have scheduling, decluttering, task management, prioritization, maintaining calendar integrity, getting enough sleep, morning routine and so much more.  And then these mini-habits are formed out of a multitude of dozens or even hundreds of micro-habits.

And guess what else?  Within each major behavior there are powerful keystone habits.  These keystone habits are so fundamentally strong that they affect your entire network of habits up-and-down-the-line.  They are called, “keystone habits,” because they have the power to start chain reactions and transform a whole network of habits – and your life.

Now let’s go a little deeper.  Because hidden among all these factors are powerful cues, triggers and trip-lines.  The cues can either promote or sabotage your network of conscious and subconscious mental hooks.  As triggers, they are built into the habits we carry and are vital to changing or building the habits we want to support our goals.

Do We Carry Habits Or Do Habits Carry Us?

Our mind is not our own.  Or at least not all the time.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg points out a 2006 Duke University Study finding that more than 40% of the actions people perform each day were not due to active decision making.

Nearly HALF of our actions throughout any given day are based on habits.

“The greatest force of nature is force of habit.” – Mr. Miagi , The Karate Kid

Habits are hypnotic.

But that doesn’t mean we are helpless victims.  It doesn’t mean we lack choice.  Once we find understanding, then we find power.  You can be in control.  You can choose and harness your habits.

Habits can be a powerful force propelling our success.

Because regardless of the setting, we have the power to change habits.  But first, we have to understand the way habits work.


The key to changing or creating habits is understanding a very simple formula.


This is called, “The Habit Loop.”  When you understand how the Habit Loop functions, this gives you a leg up on building and transforming habits.

  • The CUE is a trigger for your mind to engage in the habit and slip into auto-mode.
  • The ROUTINE is the behavior leading to and associated with the habit
  • The REWARD is a physical or cognitive benefit to crave derived from the routine

Let’s say you have a goal.  You want to create the habit to exercise daily.  How do you create and support that habit?

The foundation of this is to create a habit loop supporting the habit you have chosen.

  • CUE: Put on gym clothes as soon as you wake up.
  • ROUTINE: Leave your house and go straight to the gym.
  • REWARD: Smoothie, endorphin rush or the fitness we crave from completed workouts.

Simple, Right?  Well…. It’s a good start.  But it is still just a foundation. This is 7 Steps, not 3 steps.


Sure, Chris.  You told me to put on my gym clothes as soon as I wake up.  I did.  Then why am I still sitting here in front of my computer at 10am without exercising at all this morning?!?!?

Well, it’s not my fault.  And it’s not your fault, either.  You are being held at the mercy of an 800lb gorilla known as your subconscious.  You were lured and sat down at your computer, “for just a few minutes,” to check email and fell victim to a cue that triggered a different habit.

You WANTED to exercise…. But you did something else.

Well, here’s the deal.  None of us are carrying a blank slate.  We each carry a wide assortment of other habits as baggage in our daily life.  These habits compete in our active decisions and subconscious throughout the day as we strive to achieve the goals we desire.

Every Habit Loop starts with one of 5 Cue Triggers.  You got hijacked by the Gang of Five.

These are the 5 Triggers that cue your actions and make your habits stick:

  1. Time
  2. Location
  3. Preceding Event or Action
  4. Emotional State
  5. Other People

This Gang of Five can work for you or against you.

They can propel and reinforce habits you wish to build with iron consistency.

Or they can distract, disconnect and draw you away from your good habits pulling you down the rabbit hole of existing bad habits.

You choose whether you allow them to support bad habits or support good habits.

In order to build new habits, we often need to hack and break old habits.  This is how we do it.


That’s right.  This is where your understanding of the powerful Habit Loop gives you your tool to transform your habits and transform your life.

Cue and triggers are the doorway to building new habits and avoiding the trip-wires that cause you to fall into old habits that were in the way.

This Gang of Five can work for you or against you.  You choose whether you allow them to support bad habits or support good habits.  But now you know this is the gateway to transforming your habits and your life.

You want something, don’t you?  We all do.  You want to lose weight.  You want more customers.    You want more money.  You want your youthful energy back to enjoy life in a healthy, vibrant physique.  You want balance with more quality time for loved ones.  You want, “better,” somewhere in your life.  You’ve known what to do.  You had the best of intentions.  But things always seem to fall off track.  You tripped on a trigger cue and fell back into your old patterns.  Well, now you know exactly what is standing in your way.

Bad habits are dream stealers.  And now you know how to knock them out of the way to have anything you desire.


If you are honest with yourself, then you can see an old, existing habit that hijacked you from the new healthy habit you want to build.  So, what do you do?

That bad habit is a dream stealer.  The cue is a trigger that takes you away from your good habit and the goal you truly desire.  Pull the rug right out from under that bastard!

You short circuit the cues leading to bad habits before they get started.  You remove or avoid the triggers tied to the old habit.  You ensure these bad triggers do not interfere with the new healthy/wealthy habit you want to develop.

As you walk toward the door ready to hit the gym, when you see that computer sitting and blinking at you in apparent innocence YOU JUST KEEP WALKING!  Every inner voice you have needs acknowledge: “It’s a trap!  Keep moving!”  That leather chair and soft glow of your computer is a black hole of broken dreams!  Shift your thinking to the rewards of your new habit’s accomplishment.  Keep your feet moving forward.

Fill your mind with the reward of a slim, toned physique, great music pumping through your headphones, the fit feeling of accomplishment and that delicious smoothie after your workout.

Bad habits are not eliminated.  They are replaced.  And in order to replace them with good new habits, you identify the triggers that feed the old habit.


Now, we can bring it all together by adding the first and steps.

  • Have a good reason for changing or building your habit
  • Create support structures and maintain your plan

It’s Father’s Day and a man has been trying to quit smoking for years.  He knows cigarettes are bad for him. Cigarettes kill you and take your money.  It’s that simple.  But in spite of all his efforts over the years, he has been unable to stop.

Until he looks in to the beautiful eyes of his young child and knows he wants to be there for her.  He knows he doesn’t want her to fall into the terrible life-stealing habit that ensnares him.  Now he finally has a, “good reason,” to quit smoking.

Often people have a good enough reason for themselves.  But sometimes a reason that involves a loved one or a broader circle of those you care about or a bigger cause can be an even more powerful reason.  Finding a good reason is an important foundation to build on.

7 Steps to Successfully Changing A Habit:

  1. Have a good reason
  2. Define your new routine
  3. Identify and create triggers to cue your new routine
  4. Isolate and avoid triggers that interfere with your new routine
  5. Experiment with and focus on rewards that make you crave the new habit
  6. Develop support structures for your new habit
  7. Maintain your plan

And with a good reason in mind, along with a clear understanding of The Habit Loop, the final piece of the solution is to develop support structures and a plan to maintain your new habit.


Support structures are the pillars and walls that sustain everything and uphold you and your world.  They keep things standing and keep everything steady and in place.  This is one of the most powerful areas of your life where conscious choice comes into play.

Support structures come in many forms.  They can take the form of routines with Positive Triggers that keep you on track – following a trail of Positive Cue breadcrumbs to lead you through your new habit until it becomes an iron-bound routine.

Support structures can be created and put in place to help you avoid Negative Triggers – things like not having ice cream in the freezer so you don’t binge and blow your meal plan.  Recovering alcoholics don’t keep bourbon in the house.  There is a reason for this.

We touched on the importance of having a good reason.  This is another important support structure.  As Leo Babauta points out in his powerful book, Zen Habits, you want to have a, “deeper why.”  When things get tough, you’ll ask yourself:  “Why am I putting myself through this?” And you should have a good answer.  Be ready for all your Gremlin’s weasel ways.  The stronger the reason the stronger the force for change.

Support structures also involve people.  They can involve avoiding certain people or groups.  As Leo Babauta also points out in Zen Habits, get some accountability and support.  Surrounding yourself with a supportive network – a community, a personal trainer, group activities, a coach.


The process of changing, replacing and building the habits you want to support your goals and your success rests with an honest, self-inventory.  Identifying your objectives is often simple and easy.  But understanding the landscape of your subconscious habits can be hard to navigate.

We don’t need alcohol or gambling or drugs.  We don’t need a sedentary lifestyle.  We don’t need access food to live.  We choose it because we’ve formed a habit loop around that behavior.  So why do we make these choices>?

Your honest, self-inventory exercise identifies and isolates the triggers to avoid the cues that pose obstacles and supporting the cues and triggers that will move you forward for sustainable progress.  But sometimes honesty is hard to come by, isn’t it?

Because there is a voice in all of our heads.  In coaching I like to call it, “the Gremlin.”  Yes, I admit it.  I have a Gremlin.  You have a Gremlin.  We all have a Gremlin rolling around in our heads playing the role of saboteur.  And our Gremlin tells us amazing stories.  After all, your Gremlin knows you better than anyone, right?  It knows all your baggage.  It loves to pile it on.  Your Gremlin knows all the hot buttons to push – all your weaknesses.  Everything…

The stories our Gremlin tells us are intended to drown out our honesty.  That inner voice whispers incessantly.  Sometimes it shouts.  Sometimes it screams.  Sometimes it sobs and cries.  There is no trick too low.  The Gremlin’s saboteur voice works constantly, trying to get us to buy our own horse-crap story.  The Gremlin whispers sweet lullabies of excuses, deceptions and rationalizations justifying our choice to preserve the status quo and keep us stuck in the same place.

But I have good news for you!  When you hear the voice of your Gremlin chirping away, then celebrate.  Welcome it.  Because it means you are close.  The Gremlin is resistance but resistance isn’t bad if you know how to handle it.  Whenever you hear and feel resistance, you know you are making enough progress to stir it up.  You are close to hitting the motherlode of progress.

Face your Gremlin.  Acknowledge the Gremlin.  Face it.  Address it.  I even recommend clients give the Gremlin a name.  Sometimes it’s funny.  I can tell you my Gremlin does not like the name I give it.  Call your Gremlin out in the open.  Then, dismiss it and move forward!

Of course, with all the moving parts involved, sometimes an objective point of view to give us the clarity needed for a healthy dose of honesty.  😉


Proven methods and techniques for changing habits have developed with increasing effectiveness for decades.  But the question comes down to this:  What generates the greatest force for success?

Hacking a habit first requires a decision to want to make the change.  Then it requires the self-awareness and insights to identify the triggers and rewards driving a given habit.  Then it requires the discipline and resolve to replace the old cues and rewards with the new.

But all the good intentions in the world standing against the saboteur voice of the Gremlin are nothing until you believe you can change.  The Gremlin loves to pick on perceived failure.  But remember:  There is no pass or fail – there is only succeed or learn.  The Gremlin loves to tell you what you can’t do.  But that’s not you.  Dismiss that Gremlin and move forward – even a small step.  You are powerful.  Believe in yourself and know you can make the change.

I’ve seen what people are capable of.  I don’t just believe you can.  I know you can.

How do we nurture belief?  The best advice is to start simple.  Start small.  When you make a small change successfully it builds hope.  Success builds belief in yourself.  Success builds on success.  Go for the small win.  Take the small step.  Recognize the importance of that step.  Then take the next step – then another.

Because when you really believe you can change your habits, then your mind – the most powerful instrument for change, becomes harnessed to the task.

It isn’t easy but it is possible.

With practice, you will even discover your mood and state of mind are habits that you can direct and control.  Because your state of mind is a subconscious choice and result of chosen habits.

With the right strategies and support plan, any habit can be changed and built in your chosen image.  You can develop a complete program propelling you to your goals and dreams – laid out as a clear path to all you want for yourself and the people you care for in your life.

Contact me today and let’s talk about how CCI Evolution Coaching can help you maximize and accelerate your progress to create the masterpiece you want for your business and your life.

How to hack hypnotic habits.  Just follow these 7 simple steps.  And call me.  I love it when you succeed!