Changing Habits For Good: 5 Simple Steps


In this practical article Leadership Coach Stephen Light explains why changing habits can be difficult, and gives you five simple steps to change your unhelpful habits for good, freeing up your precious time and energy! 

changing habitsAs coaches our role is to help our clients move towards achieving their goals. The process is two-fold:

1. It involves them discovering something about themselves that is a potential barrier (a limiting belief / a habit) and getting them to commit to doing some internal work on changing habits, and

2. Taking action steps towards achieving their goal(s).

The process requires inner and outer work on their part.

The trap we coaches can fall into is in only working towards actions to achieve the goal, while neglecting the inner work. It's the easy route and the path of least resistance. This may be because we ourselves have certain limiting beliefs and habits, and working in this space with clients can be difficult. Change is difficult and clients often resist it.

So why is changing habits so hard?

Think about your own journey and you get a sense of what is involved. Our clients have faced years of social conditioning and have developed ways of being that are comfortable, and yet not always helpful or meaningful. After all, this is why they have come to coaching. They want change. This doesn't mean it is easy.


We need to educate ourselves, so that we can then educate our clients about how habits are formed. This allows us to impart strategies that work and will help our clients in changing habits.

Five Simple Steps for Changing Habits

Effectively changing habits for good, can be done with five simple but important steps:

Step 1  - Identify the limiting habit

Step 2 - Identify a new habit

Step 3 - Educate

Step 4 - Do the work

Step 5 - Check in and correct course if needed

Example "Craig"

The following example illustrates the 5 steps in action.  Craig has a goal of wanting to listen more and not give answers. His people constantly come to him for answers and he has a habit of giving them solutions. They end up being dependent on him, and he has little free time to get on with what he needs to do. He wants to change this.

Step 1 - Identify the Limiting Habits

As coaches we use our skills and tools to help clients identify what it is that they are saying and doing in their lives that stops them from achieving their goals. We help them to fully understand it and honour it. Then they are able to make a conscious decision to let it go.

Craig clearly knows what he is doing and it shows in the faith people around him have in his expertise. He does like the attention and it validates him. He has a habit of giving answers to save time and also feel good. He has a belief that his value is attached to people liking him and this shows up in his willingness to please others by giving them answers (his habitual response). Craig names the habit as "I jump to giving answers."

Step 2 - Identify a new habit

Next we support our clients in identifying the new habit that they want. What does it look like and how does it feel? What exactly are the behaviours associated with it? Coaches ask questions to help the client understand what the new habits is. We can also teach a skill if necessary. It is important for the client to have a clear understanding and feeling of how they will be when using this new habit.

Craig identifies that he wants to listen more and it entails keeping his mouth closed! Through questioning he identifies that he needs to manage his inner impulses to give answers, he needs to focus his attention on the individual, and he needs to be more curious in asking questions.

Step 3 - Educate

Clients are more committed and dedicated to the process when they know where you are taking them. Education helps (This is where we coaches need to educate ourselves so we can be better coaches for our clients). Neuroscience has revealed that habits are neural superhighways in our brain, and that through the process of self-directed neuroplasticity we can rewire our brains. This means we can change habits and it requires focused attention. Hebbs rule suggests, "Neurons that fire together, wire together." This means that the more we practice a new habit the more it becomes our new way of being.

The coach gives Craig the background to how his brain is wired. He tells Craig how his focused attention will re-wire his brain. The coach explains to Craig that he may experience setbacks and that they are normal. Craig is now aware that he needs to give focussed attention to his new habit if he wants it to stick.

Step 4 - Do the work

Clients need to embed the initial experience of using the new habit before they step out into their lives. We can practice this new habit with our clients (role-play) in a coaching session, so they get a feeling of what it is like to try it out in practice. The hidden benefit is that they are already rewiring their brains in the coaching session!

Craig has identified that he wants to listen more, and that this entails keeping his mouth closed! In the coaching session we work through some listening & questioning skills and Craig is keen to practice. As we start the role-play Craig naturally slips into his old habit of giving answers. I give him some feedback and we do some work on recognising the impulses that arise immediately before he feels compelled to give an answer. He starts noticing this and practices just sitting with the feeling, and not acting on it. Craig is challenged to work on this before his next session and to keep a diary of what he has tried and the impact it had on others and himself.

Step 5 - Check in and correct course if needed

Depending on your relationship agreement, a coach must check accountability and help the client to seek learning. Giving feedback will help to correct any behaviours that are not in line with the new habit. Validate the client for successes and celebrate these wins. Let the client know that they are changing and look for opportunities in the coaching to see the new habit playing itself out.

Craig gives feedback that he has managed to ask questions at the office when people come to him versus giving answers. He names two specific individuals that are growing in confidence as a result of finding their own solutions, and this causes him to feel good about his leadership. He mentions how he is more comfortable just noticing his inner impulses to give answers and that he is managing it well.

Craig raised the issue of one very difficult person who was not happy to accept the questions and wanted answers. This sparked a whole new conversation and became the topic for the next coaching session.

Changing habits is easier when we follow these 5 simple steps. This simple approach has a huge impact for clients in terms of achieving their goals and makes us very effective as coaches. 

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Stephen Light

Stephen Light

I am a Leadership and Executive Coach. I work with leaders helping them develop skills that make them more effective in their Leadership roles. I use Neuroscience as a platform for identifying and working with inner limiting beliefs and habits that prevent leaders from being great.

I challenge people. I go beyond the obvious showing them what they don't see, helping them change.

Stephen Light

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One thought on “Changing Habits For Good: 5 Simple Steps

  1. Ruth HadikinRuth Hadikin

    Great first post Stephen! Thank you for your contribution to LCM – I enjoyed learning the ‘five steps’ and look forward to reading more of your posts! 🙂

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