Skip to main content

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”
~ Charles C. Noble

In earlier articles, we talked about how to change behavior one step at a time and some easy ways to boost your willpower.

But when push comes to shove, change can be seriously intimidating.

Today we’re going to share a way to make any change you want in your life less frightening by breaking it into 7 manageable steps.

This Habit Changing process was created by Tony Robbins, the master of self-improvement.

Simultaneously inspirational and infinitely practical, I’ve used them in my own life countless times.

Here are the seven steps.

Step One: Be Aware of Your TRUE Needs

Before you can make meaningful change in your life, you have to understand your own needs. Not just the things in life you want and the things that make you feel good, but the things you really need.

For example, when you’re eating with family and friends, you might want to eat the same food they’re eating, even though you’ve decided not to eat those dishes.


Surprise: it’s very likely not the food that’s driving your desire in that moment. It’s what the food represents. It’s a connection between you and your loved ones that you crave.

Connection is a true need, while that particular food is not – it’s only a vehicle to the connection.

Once you’re aware that your TRUE need is the connection, you can find new vehicles to meet the need.

Re-center the connection on new, health-promoting activities like walking or hiking, watching movies or playing games, or just hanging out together.

The food becomes secondary to the connection.

Step Two: You Need a Base and Leverage

This is one of the most critical steps: your base is your compelling why you want to make the change. Your leverage is making that why an IMMEDIATE need.

For example, if you’re choosing this path to lose weight or reverse chronic disease, those are good reasons, but they’re weak in terms of leverage.

That’s because every time you have a tempting food in front of you, your subconscious mind will evaluate the pros and cons, the pleasure and pain, the risk and reward of succumbing to the temptation.

Leverage is created when your decision is no longer a question; it’s an IMMEDIATE MUST.

Leverage creates immediate pain for NOT changing and immediate pleasure for changing NOW.

For example, maybe type 2 diabetes runs in your family and you’re starting to see your kids or grandkids on the path so many have already traveled. Your leverage could be setting a good example for them so they don’t end up with chronic disease later. Every time you choose to stay on your plant-based journey, you get an immediate reward (pleasure of setting an example) and you avoid immediate pain (because you’re not failing your family).

That’s lasting leverage that will work every single time. Find yours.

Step Three: Interrupt Destructive Patterns

Our habits are built around our patterns. So to change our habits, we have to change our patterns.

For example, if your pattern is capping off dinner by sitting in front of the TV with a pint of ice cream, you must interrupt that pattern of watching television after dinner.

That memory of ice cream with TV is so strongly ingrained as a pattern that you have to completely change direction in order to avoid that pint of ice cream.

This is crucial because it’s the same with any habit – smoking or drinking, for example – there’s always a pattern (almost a ritual) to our habits.

Robbins says, “to create a new pattern of thinking, feeling or behaving, you must first annihilate the old pattern.”

Not just change, but annihilate.

So choose an activity that’s directly opposite of what you would normally do and make that your new pattern while you’re in the throes of the change.

Step Four: BELIEVE the Problem Is Solvable

Your beliefs can fool you.

They can trigger the certainty that achieving your goal is impossible.

Which defines your challenge in unresolvable terms.

To escape this trap, look for what is really stopping you as opposed to what you think is stopping you.

For example, look back at step two.

If you’re suffering because you feel you can’t “enjoy life” or “enjoy going to restaurants with family or friends”, ask yourself: are you truly losing your connection with the people you love?


That only happens if you allow it to happen.

Simply choosing not to eat certain food items on a shared table can’t possibly change your deep, meaningful connections with the people you love.

Step Five: Find Empowering Alternatives

If you’re building something and you lose a nail (break a pattern) in one spot, you have to put in another nail at that spot (choose an empowering alternative).

In order to eliminate certain behaviors and beliefs, we have to replace them with something that meets or exceeds the needs met by the previous negative belief or behavior.

So, if you’re trying to give up dairy, you need to replace dairy with something that satisfies the same need.

When you pull out the dairy nail, you need to replace it with a new, stronger, empowering nail.

And it doesn’t have to be another food.

Think about some empowering habits, actions, thoughts and beliefs you might embody. Remember times when you felt empowered before. Figure out how to recreate that feeling.

Empowering alternatives are very personal and will differ from person to person. Maybe it’s taking long walks or jogging, yoga or CrossFit, writing in a journal or talking with family.

It could be as simple as drinking a tall glass of water.

Find the nail and plug the hole with something that’s more empowering.

Step Six: Self-Conditioning

Constantly reinforced thoughts, feelings, emotions, behaviors and beliefs become conditioned.

This is the process of making your new pattern your new habit.

In the present, condition your thoughts, feelings and beliefs around your new pattern with constant positive reinforcement.

Reward yourself physically and/or mentally each time you choose to stick to your new habit. Like empowering actions, rewards will be personal and specific to each individual. Find what works and use it.

This sets you up for success because you’ll look forward to triggering this pattern in a bright and compelling new future.

As time goes on, you’ll realize that the old pattern and habit have been completely replaced by the new ones.

And it will be totally second nature.

Step Seven: Find Your Higher Purpose and Create Your Empowering Environment

Relate your goal to a higher purpose outside yourself.

Maybe you’re making the transition to a whole food, plant-based diet to set a healthy example for your kids, which goes beyond what you want for yourself. It touches others – people you really love – in your life in a meaningful way.

For example, vegans often cite their higher purpose as protecting the planet’s animals. Every time they choose not to eat an animal-based food, they feel good about themselves, but it goes beyond them: they’re protecting the creatures they love.  Those who are concerned about the environment adopt a plant-based diet to protect our planet.  Knowing that their eating habits are not depleting our natural resources is what keeps them going.

It’s very hard to make changes for personal health alone. It’s essential that you understand—and embrace—the bigger picture.

And once you have understood what the ‘bigger why’ is for you, make sure that you create an environment that supports that.

If you want to eliminate dairy, don’t buy it.

If you don’t want to eat sweets, don’t keep them in the house.

If you live with people who aren’t willing to leave the bad stuff at the supermarket, ask them not to keep it in places where you’ll see it all the time. Ask them to keep cookies in a desk drawer instead of the front of the pantry that you open three or more times every day while you cook meals for the family. Store ice cream on the bottom shelf of the freezer and put your veggies on top.

Changing your habits is really about a deeper journey.

It’s about wanting to be the best possible you that you can be.

Realizing your full potential.

It’s rarely easy, but you can change your life.

All you have to do is step into the right state of mind and commit yourself fully to serving your goals.

Rosane Oliveira, DVM, PhD

President & CEO, Plant-Based Life Foundation | Dr. Rosane Oliveira combines a lifelong passion for nutrition with 25 years of genetics research to create programs that help people develop healthy habits on their journey towards a more plant-based lifestyle. She is a Visiting Clinical Professor in Public Health Sciences and was the founding director of the first Integrative Medicine program at the UC Davis School of Medicine. She completed her postgraduate studies in Brazil and did her postdoctoral training in immunogenetics and functional genomics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.