“The beginning of a habit is like an invisible thread, but every time we repeat the act we strengthen the strand, add to it another filament, until it becomes a great cable and binds us irrevocably, thought and act.” —ORISON SWETT MARDEN

If you and I want to change our behaviour, there is only one effective way to do it: we must link unbearable and immediate sensations of pain to our old behaviour, and incredible and immediate sensations of pleasure to a new one. Think about it this way: all of us, through the experience of life, have learned certain patterns of thinking and behaving to get ourselves out of pain and into pleasure. We all experience emotions like boredom or frustration or anger or feeling overwhelmed, and develop strategies for ending these feelings. Some people use shopping; some use food; some use sex; some use drugs; some use alcohol; some use yelling at their kids. They know, consciously or unconsciously, that this neural pathway will relieve their pain and take them to some level of pleasure in the moment. Whatever the strategy, if you and I are going to change it, we have to go through six simple steps, the outcome of which is to find a more direct and empowering way to get out of pain and into pleasure, ways that will be more effective and elegant. These six steps of NAC will show you how to create a direct highway out of pain and into pleasure with no disempowering detours. They are:

NAC MASTER STEP 1: Decide What You Really Want and What’s Preventing You From Having It Now.

You’d be surprised how many people came to me for private therapeutic work, and when I asked them what they wanted, they’d spend twenty minutes telling me what they didn’t want, or what they no longer wanted to experience. We’ve got to remember that we get whatever we focus on in life. If we keep focusing on what we don’t want, we’ll have more of it. The first step to creating any change is deciding what you do want so that you have something to move toward. The more specific you can be about what you want, the more clarity you will have, and the more power you will command to achieve what you want more rapidly.

We also must learn what’s preventing us from having what we want. Invariably, what’s preventing us from making the change is that we link more pain to making a change than to staying where we are. We either have a belief like, “If I change, I will have pain,” or we fear the unknown that change might bring.

NAC MASTER STEP 2: Get Leverage: Associate Massive Pain to Not Changing Now and Massive Pleasure to the Experience of Changing Now!

Most people know that they really want to change, yet they just can’t get themselves to do it! But change is usually not a question of capability; it’s almost always a question of motivation. If someone put a gun to our heads and said, “You’d better get out of that depressed state and start feeling happy now,” I bet any one of us could find a way to change our emotional state for the moment under these circumstances.

But the problem, as I’ve said, is that change is often a should and not a must. Or it’s a must, but it’s a must for “someday.” The only way we’re going to make a change now is if we create a sense of urgency that’s so intense that we’re compelled to follow through. If we want to create change, then, we have to realize that it’s not a question of whether we can do it, but rather whether we will do it. Whether we will or not comes down to our level of motivation, which in turn comes down to those twin powers that shape our lives, pain and pleasure.

Every change you’ve accomplished in your life is the result of changing your neuroassociations about what means pain and what means pleasure. So often, though, we have a hard time getting ourselves to change because we have mixed emotions about changing.

On the one hand, we want to change. We don’t want to get cancer from smoking. We don’t want to lose our personal relationships because our temper is out of control. We don’t want our kids to feel unloved because we’re harsh with them. We don’t want to feel depressed for the rest of our lives because of something that happened in our past. We don’t want to feel like victims anymore.

On the other hand, we fear change. We wonder, “What if I stop smoking cigarettes, but I die of cancer anyway and I’ve given up the pleasure that cigarettes used to give me?” Or “What if I let go of this negative feeling about the rape, and it happens to me again?” We have mixed emotions where we link both pain and pleasure to changing, which causes our brain to be uncertain as to what to do, and keeps us from utilizing our full resources to make the kinds of changes that can happen literally in a moment if every ounce of our being were committed to them.

How do we turn this around? One of the things that turns virtually anyone around is reaching a pain threshold. This means experiencing pain at such an intense level that you know you must change now—a point at which your brain says, “I’ve had it; I can’t spend another day, not another moment, living or feeling this way.” Have you ever experienced this in a personal relationship, for example? You hung in there, it was painful and you really weren’t happy, but you stayed in it anyway. Why? You rationalized that it would get better, without doing anything to make it better. If you were in so much pain, why didn’t you leave? Even though you were unhappy, your fear of the unknown was a more powerful motivating force. “Yeah, I’m unhappy now,” you may have thought, “but what if I leave this person and then I never find anyone? At least I know how to deal with the pain I have now.”

This kind of thinking is what keeps people from making changes. Finally, though, one day the pain of being in that negative relationship became greater than your fear of the unknown, so you hit a threshold and made the change. Maybe you’ve done the same thing with your body, when you finally decided you couldn’t spend another day without doing something about your excess weight. Maybe the experience that finally pushed you over the edge was your failure to be able to squeeze into your favourite pair of jeans, or the sensations of your “thunder thighs” rubbing against each other as you waddled up a set of stairs! Or just the sight of the bulbous folds of excess flesh hanging from the side of your body!

A lever is a device that we utilize in order to lift or move a tremendous burden we could not otherwise manage. Leverage is absolutely crucial in creating any change, in freeing yourself from behavioural burdens like smoking, drinking, overeating, cursing, or emotional patterns like feeling depressed, worried, fearful, or inadequate—you name it. Change requires more than just establishing the knowledge that you should change. It’s knowing at the deepest emotional and most basic sensory level that you must change. If you’ve tried many times to make a change and you’ve failed to do so, this simply means that the level of pain for failing to change is not intense enough. You have not reached threshold, the ultimate leverage.

When I was doing private therapy, it was imperative that I find the point of greatest leverage in order to help people make changes in one session that years of therapy had failed to accomplish. I started every session by saying that I couldn’t work with anyone who wasn’t committed to changing now. One of the reasons was that I charged $3,000 for a session, and I didn’t want them to invest their money unless they were absolutely going to get the result they were committed to today, in this one session. Many times these people had flown in from some other part of the country. The thought of my sending them home without handling their problem motivated my clients to spend at least half an hour convincing me that they were indeed committed and would do anything to change now. With this kind of leverage, creating change became a matter of course. To paraphrase the philosopher Nietzsche, he who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how. I’ve found that 20 percent of any change is knowing how; but 80 percent is knowing why. If we gather a set of strong enough reasons to change, we can change in a minute something we’ve failed to change for years.

“Give me a lever long enough. And a prop strong enough. I can single-handedly move the world.” — ARCHIMEDES

The greatest leverage you can create for yourself is the pain that comes from inside, not outside. Knowing that you have failed to live up to your own standards for your life is the ultimate pain. If we fail to act in accordance with our own view of ourselves, if our behaviours are inconsistent with our standards—with the identity we hold for ourselves—then the chasm between our actions and who we are drives us to make a change.

The leverage created by pointing out an inconsistency between someone’s standards and their behaviour can be incredibly effective in causing them to change. It’s not just pressure placed on them by the outside world, but pressure built up by themselves from within. One of the strongest forces in the human personality is the drive to preserve the integrity of our own identity.

The reason so many of us seem to be walking contradictions is simply that we never recognize inconsistencies for what they are. If you want to help somebody, you won’t access this kind of leverage by making them wrong or pointing out that they’re inconsistent, but rather by asking them questions that cause them to realize for themselves their inconsistencies. This is a much more powerful lever than attacking someone. If you try to exert only external pressure, they’ll push against it, but internal pressure is next to impossible to resist.

This kind of pressure is a valuable tool to use on yourself. Complacency breeds stagnation; unless you’re extremely dissatisfied with your current pattern of behavior, you won’t be motivated to make the changes that are necessary. Let’s face it; the human animal responds to pressure. So why would someone not change when they feel and know that they should? They associate more pain to making the change than to not changing. To change someone, including ourselves, we must simply reverse this so that not changing is incredibly painful (painful beyond our threshold of tolerance), and the idea of changing is attractive and pleasurable!

To get true leverage, ask yourself pain-inducing questions: “What will this cost me if I don’t change?” Most of us are too busy estimating the price of change. But what’s the price of not changing? “Ultimately what will I miss out on in my life if I don’t make the shift? What is it already costing me mentally, emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually?” Make the pain of not changing feel so real to you, so intense, so immediate that you can’t put off taking that action any longer. If that doesn’t create enough leverage, then focus on how it affects your loved ones, your children, and other people you care about. Many of us will do more for others than we’ll do for ourselves. So picture in graphic detail how much your failure to change will negatively impact the people who are most important to you.

The second step is to use pleasure-associating questions to help you link those positive sensations to the idea of changing. “If I do change, how will that make me feel about myself? What kind of momentum could I create if I change this in my life? What other things could I accomplish if I really made this change today? How will my family and friends feel? How much happier will I be now?” The key is to get lots of reasons, or better yet, strong enough reasons, why the change should take place immediately, not someday in the future. If you are not driven to make the change now, then you don’t really have leverage.

Now that you’ve linked pain in your nervous system to not changing, and pleasure to making the change, you’re driven to create a change, you can proceed to the third master step of NAC. . . .

NAC MASTER STEP 3 : Interrupt the Limiting Pattern.

In order for us to consistently feel a certain way, we develop characteristic patterns of thinking, focusing on the same images and ideas, asking ourselves the same questions. The challenge is that most people want a new result, but continue to act in the same way. I once heard it said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same things over and over again and expecting a different result.” Please don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing wrong with you; you don’t need to be “fixed.” (And I suggest you avoid anyone who uses these metaphors to describe you!) The resources you need to change anything in your life are within you right now. It’s just that you have a set of neuroassociations that habitually cause you to not fully utilize your capability. What you must do is reorganize your neural pathways so that they consistently guide you in the direction of your desires rather than your frustrations and fears.

To get new results in our lives, we can’t just know what we want and get leverage on ourselves. We can be highly motivated to change, but if we keep doing the same things, running the same inappropriate patterns, our lives are not going to change, and all we’ll experience is more and more pain and frustration.

Have you ever seen a fly that’s trapped in a room? It immediately searches for the light, so it heads for the window, smacking itself against the glass again and again, sometimes for hours. Have you ever noticed people do this? They’re highly motivated to change: they have intense leverage. But all the motivation in the world won’t help if you try to get outside through a closed window. You’ve got to change your approach. The fly stands a chance only if it backs off and looks around for another exit. If you and I run the same old pattern, we’re going to get the same old results. Record albums create the same sounds consistently because of their pattern, the continuous groove in which the sound is encoded. But what would happen if one day I picked up your record, took a needle, and scratched across it back and forth dozens of times? If I do this enough, there’s a point when the pattern is so deeply interrupted that the record will never play the same way again. Likewise, just interrupting someone’s limiting pattern of behavior or emotion can completely change their life because sometimes it also creates leverage, and with these two steps alone, you can change virtually anything. The additional steps of NAC are just a way to make sure the changes last and that you develop new choices that are enjoyable and empowering.

I created a fun pattern interrupt recently at one of my three-day Unlimited Power™ seminars in Chicago. One man claimed that he really wanted to kick his chocolate habit, yet it was clear to me that he received a great deal of pleasure from his identity as a “chocolate addict.” In fact, he was even wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed “I want the world, but I’ll settle for chocolate.” This provided strong evidence that this man, although he may have desired to stop eating chocolate, also had a great deal of “secondary gain” to maintain this habit. Sometimes people want to create a change because a behavior or emotional pattern creates pain for them. But they may also derive benefit from the very thing they’re trying to change. If a person becomes injured, for example, and then suddenly everyone waits on them hand and foot, giving them a great deal of attention, they may find that their injuries don’t heal quite as quickly. While they want to be over the pain, unconsciously they want more of the pleasure of knowing that people care. You can do everything right, but if secondary gain is too strong, you will find yourself going back to the old ways. Someone with secondary gain has mixed emotions about changing. They say they want to change, but often they subconsciously believe that maintaining the old behavior or emotional pattern gives them something they couldn’t get any other way. Thus they’re not willing to give up feeling depressed, even though it’s painful. Why? Because being depressed gets them attention, for example. They don’t want to feel depressed, but they desperately want attention. In the end, the need for attention wins out, and they stay depressed. The need for attention is only one form of secondary gain. In order to resolve this, we have to give the person enough leverage that they must change, but also we must show them a new way to get their needs met.

While on some level, I’m sure this man knew he needed to kick chocolate, I’m also fairly certain that he knew he could use this opportunity to get some serious attention. Any time there is secondary gain involved, you have to step up the leverage, so I decided that a massive pattern interrupt would create the necessary leverage. “Sir!” I exclaimed. “You’re telling me that you’re ready to give up chocolate. That’s great. There’s just one thing L want you to do before we eliminate that old pattern forever.” He asked, “What’s that?” I said, “To get your body in the right condition, for the next nine days you must eat nothing but chocolate. Only chocolate can pass your lips.” People in the audience started giggling45, and the man looked at me uncertainly. “Can I drink anything?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, “you can drink water. Four glasses a day—but that’s all. Everything else must be chocolate.” He shrugged his shoulders and grinned. “Okay, Tony, if that’s what you want. I can do this without changing. I hate to make a fool out of you!” I smiled and continued with the seminar. You should have seen what happened next! As if by magic, dozens of chocolate bars and candies materialized out of people’s pockets, purses and briefcases and were passed down to him. By the lunch break, he had been inundated with every last morsel of chocolate in that auditorium: Baby Ruths, Butterfingers, Snickers, Milky Ways, M & M’s, Almond Joys, Fanny Farmer fudge. He caught my eye in the lobby outside. “Thanks, Tony; this is great!” he exclaimed as he unwrapped and popped Hershey’s Kisses into his mouth, determined to show that he could “beat me.” But he failed to realize that he wasn’t competing with me—he was competing with himself! I was merely enlisting his body as an ally in getting leverage and breaking his pattern.

Do you know how thirsty sugar makes you? By the end of the day this guy’s throat was absolutely raw—and he had definitely lost his passion for chocolate as people continued to shovel Krackel bars into his pockets and press his palms with Thin Mints. By the second day he’d definitely lost his sense of humor, but he wasn’t yet ready to cry uncle. “Have some more chocolate!” I insisted. He unwrapped a Three Musketeers bar and glared at me.

By the third morning, as he trailed into the auditorium, he looked like a man who had spent all night praying to the porcelain goddess. “How was breakfast?” I asked as people laughed. “Not so good,” he admitted weakly. “Have some more!” I said. Feebly he accepted another piece of chocolate from someone sitting behind him, but he failed to open it or even look at it. “What’s the matter?” I asked him. “Fed up?” He nodded. “Come on, you’re the chocolate champion!” I goaded. “Have some more! Isn’t chocolate the greatest? How about some Mounds bars? And some Peanut M & M’s? And a whole box of Rocky Road fudge? Can’t you just taste it? Doesn’t it make your mouth water?” The longer I talked, the greener he got. “Have some more!” I said, and finally he exploded: “YOU CANT MAKE ME!” The audience laughed uproariously as the man realized what he’d said. “All right, then. Throw the candy away and sit down.”

Later, I came back to him, and assisted him in selecting empowering alternatives to the chocolate, laying down some new pathways to pleasure that were more empowering and didn’t require him to consume something he knew wasn’t good for him. Then I really got to work with him, conditioning the new associations and helping him replace his old addiction with a smorgasbord of healthful behaviors: power breathing, exercise, water-rich foods, proper food combining, and so on. Had I created leverage on this guy? You bet! If you can give someone pain in their body, that’s undeniable leverage. They’ll do anything to get out of pain and into pleasure. Simultaneously, I broke his pattern. Everybody else was trying to get him to stop eating chocolate. I demanded that he eat it! That was something he never expected, and it massively interrupted his pattern. He rapidly linked such painful sensations to the idea of eating chocolate that a new neural pathway was laid down overnight, and his old “Hershey Highway” was bombed beyond recognition. When I used to conduct private therapies, people would come to see me, sit down in my office and begin to tell me what their problem was. They’d say, “My problem is …” and then they’d burst into tears, out of control. As soon as this happened, I would stand up and shout, “EXCUSE ME!” This would jolt them, and then I’d follow up with, “We haven’t started yet!” Usually they responded, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” And they’d immediately change their emotional states and regain control. It was hysterical to watch! These people who felt they had no control over their lives would immediately prove that they already knew exactly how to change how they felt!

One of the best ways to interrupt someone’s pattern is to do things they don’t expect, things that are radically different from what they’ve experienced before. Think of some of the ways you can interrupt your own patterns. Take a moment to think up some of the most enjoyable and disruptive ways you can interrupt a pattern of being frustrated, worried, or overwhelmed.

Next time you start to feel depressed, jump up, look at the sky, and yell in your most idiotic tone of voice, “H-A-L-L-E-L-U-J-A-H! My feet don’t stink today!” A stupid, silly move like that will definitely shift your attention, change your state, and it will definitely change the states of everyone around you as they begin to realize that you’re no longer depressed—just crazy!

If you overeat on a regular basis and want to stop, I’ll give you a technique that will definitely work, if you’re willing to commit to it. The next time you find yourself in a restaurant overeating, jump up in the middle of the room, point at your own chair and scream at the top of your lungs, “PIG!” I guarantee that if you do this three or four times in a public place, you won’t overeat anymore! You’ll link too much pain to this behavior! Just remember: the more outrageous your approach to breaking a pattern, the more effective it will be. One of the key distinctions to interrupting a pattern is that you must do it in the moment the pattern is recurring. Pattern interrupts happen to us every day. When you say, “I just lost my train of thought,” you’re indicating that something or someone interrupted your pattern of concentration. Have you ever been deeply involved in a conversation with a friend, had someone interrupt you for a moment, then come back wondering, “Where were we?” Of course you have, and it’s a classic example of a pattern interrupt.

Just remember, if we want to create change and we’ve learned in the past to get pleasure by taking a circuitous route that includes a series of negative consequences, we need to break that old pattern. We need to scramble it beyond recognition, find a new pattern (that’s the next step), and condition it again and again until it becomes our consistent approach.


Again, often it’s true that interrupting a pattern enough times can change almost anyone. A simple way of breaking a pattern is by scrambling the sensations we link to our memories. The only reason we’re upset is that we’re representing things in a certain way in our minds. For example, if your boss yells at you, and you mentally rerun that experience the rest of the day, picturing him or her yelling at you over and over again, then you’ll feel progressively worse. Why let the experience continue to affect you? Why not just take this record in your mind and scratch it so many times that you can’t experience those feelings anymore? Maybe you can even make it funny!

Try this right now by doing the following: Think of a situation that makes you feel sad, frustrated, or angry. Now do the first two steps of NAC, which we’ve already covered. If you feel bad now about the situation, how do you want to be able to feel? Why do you want to feel that way? What’s been preventing you from feeling that way is the sensations you’ve linked to this situation. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could feel good about it? Now get some leverage on yourself. If you don’t change how you feel about this situation, how will you continue to feel? Pretty lousy, I’ll bet! Do you want to pay that price and continually carry around these negative sensations or upsets you have toward this person or situation? If you were to change now, wouldn’t you feel better?


You’ve got enough leverage; now scramble the disempowering feelings until they no longer come up. After reading this, take the following steps.

1) See the situation in your mind that was bothering you so much. Picture it as a movie. Don’t feel upset about it; just watch it one time, seeing everything that happened.

2) Take that same experience and turn it into a cartoon. Sit up in your chair with a big, silly grin on your face, breathing fully, and run the image backward as fast as you can so that you can see everything happening in reverse. If somebody said something, watch them swallow their words! Let the movie run backward in very fast motion, then run it forward again in even faster motion. Now change the colors of the images so that everybody’s faces are rainbow-colored. If there’s someone in particular who upsets you, cause their ears to grow very large like Mickey Mouse’s, and their nose to grow like Pinocchio’s. Do this at least a dozen times, back and forth, sideways, scratching the record of your imagery with tremendous speed and humor. Create some music in your mind as you do this. Maybe it’s your favorite song, or maybe some type of cartoon music. Link these weird sounds to the old image that used to upset you. This will definitely change the sensations. Key to this whole process is the speed at which you play back the imagery and the level of humor and exaggeration you can link to it.

3) Now think about the situation that was bothering you, and notice how you feel now. If done effectively, you’ll easily have broken the pattern so many times you’ll find it difficult or impossible to get back into those negative feelings. This can be done with things that have been bothering you for years. It’s often a much more effective approach than trying to analyze the why’s and wherefore’s of a situation, which doesn’t change the sensations you link to the situation. As simplistic as it seems, effectively scrambling a situation will work in most cases, even where trauma has been involved. Why does it work? Because all of our feelings are based on the images we focus on in our minds and the sounds and sensations we link to those specific images. As we change the images and sounds, we change how we feel. Conditioning this again and again makes it difficult to get back into the old pattern.

One way of breaking the pattern is to Just stop doing something, go “cold turkey.” If you stop running a pattern again and again, the neural pathway will gradually dissipate. Once a neural connection is made, the brain will always have a pathway, but unless the path is used, it becomes overgrown. Like anything else, if you don’t use it, you begin to lose it. Now that you’ve broken the pattern that has been holding you back, you now have the open space to …

NAC MASTER STEP 4 : Create a New, Empowering Alternative.

This fourth step is absolutely critical to establishing long-term change. In fact, the failure by most people to find an alternative way of getting out of pain and into the feelings of pleasure is the major reason most people’s attempts at change are only temporary. Many people get to the point where they have to change, where change is a must, because they link so much pain to their old pattern and they link pleasure to the idea of changing. They even interrupt their patterns. But after that, they have nothing to replace the old pattern!

Remember, all of your neurological patterns are designed to help you get out of pain and into pleasure. These patterns are well established, and while they may have negative side effects, if you’ve learned that a habit can get you out of pain, you’ll go back to it again and again since you’ve found no better way to get the feelings you desire.

If you’ve been following each one of these steps, you’ve gotten clear about what you wanted and what was preventing you from getting it, you’ve gotten leverage on yourself, you’ve interrupted the pattern, and now you need to fill the gap with a new set of choices that will give you the same pleasurable feelings without the negative side effects. Once you quit smoking, you must come up with a new way, or a lot of new ways, to replace whatever benefits you used to get from the old behavior; the benefits of the old feelings or behaviors must be preserved by the new behaviors or feelings while eliminating the side effects. What can you replace worry with? How about massive action on a plan you have for meeting your goals? Depression can be replaced with a focus on how to help others who are in need. If you’re not sure how to get yourself out of pain and to feel pleasure as a replacement to your smoking, drinking, worrying, or other undesirable emotion or behavior, you can simply find the answers by modeling people who have turned things around for themselves. Find people who have made the lasting changes; I guarantee you’ll find that they had an alternative to replace the old behavior. A good example of this is my friend Fran Tarkenton. When Fran and I first started doing my Personal Power television shows together, he had a habit that truly surprised me. He was addicted to chewing tobacco. I’d be in a meeting with Fran, and suddenly he would turn his head and spit. This did not match my picture of this powerful and elegant man. But he’d been doing it for over twenty years. As Fran would tell me later, chewing tobacco was one of his greatest pleasures in life. It was like his best friend. If he was on the road and felt alone, he could chew tobacco, and he wouldn’t feel alone anymore. In fact, he told a group of his friends one time that if he had to choose between sex and chewing tobacco, he’d chew tobacco! How’s that for a false neuro-association? He’d wired a pathway out of pain and into pleasure via the highway of chewing tobacco. After years of continual use and reinforcement, he had created a neural trunk line from tobacco to pleasure; thus, this was his favorite route of change.

What got him to change his behavior? Finally, he got enough leverage on himself. One day, with a little help from “a friend,” he began to see that chewing tobacco was massively incongruent with the quality of man he’d become. It represented a lack of control over his life, and since being in charge of his life is one of Fran’s highest values, that was a standard he could not break. It was too painful to be in that position. He started to direct his mind’s focus to the possibility of mouth cancer. He pictured it vividly until pretty soon he was driven away from the idea of using tobacco. The taste of it started to disgust him. These images helped him to get leverage on himself and interrupt the pattern he’d previously linked to using tobacco for pleasure.

The next most important key was that Fran found new ways to get pleasure that were even more effective than tobacco. He poured himself into his business like never before, and started producing results that have made his company, KnowledgeWare, one of the most successful computer software companies on Wall Street. Even more powerfully, now that he needed a new companion, he decided to attract a real one, and found the woman of his dreams and learned to get the kinds of emotions and feelings from his relationship with her that he could never get from any other source.

Often, if we just break our old patterns enough, our brains will automatically search for a replacement pattern to give us the feelings we desire. This is why people who finally break the pattern of smoking sometimes gain weight: their brains look for a new way to create the same kinds of pleasurable feelings, and now they eat mass quantities of food to get them. The key, then, is for us to consciously choose the new behaviors or feelings with which we’re going to replace the old ones.


A statistical study was conducted by researcher Nancy Mann to evaluate the level of rehabilitation in reformed drug abusers, and the adoption of a replacement behavior appears to play a major role even in this complex field of change. The first group in the study was forced to give up their addiction through some external pressure, often applied by the legal system. As we talked about in the section on leverage, external pressure rarely has a lasting impact. Sure enough, these men and women returned to their old habits as soon as the pressure was lifted, i.e., as soon as they were released from jail. A second group truly wanted to quit, and tried to do so on their own. Their leverage was primarily internal. As a result, their behavioral changes lasted a great deal longer, often as much as two years after the initial commitment. What eventually caused a relapse was suffering a significant amount of stress. When this occurred, they often reverted back to their drug habit as a way of getting out of pain and into pleasure. Why? Because they had not found a replacement for the old neural pathway. The third group replaced their addiction with a new alternative, something that gave them the feelings they had sought originally—or perhaps something that made them feel even better. Many found fulfilling relationships, spiritual enlightenment, a career that they could be completely passionate about. As a result, many never returned to the old drug habits, and the majority lasted an average of over eight years before any backsliding occurred. The people who succeeded in kicking their drug habits followed the first four steps of NAC, and that’s why they were so successful. Some of them lasted only eight years, however. Why? Because they didn’t utilize the fifth and critical step of NAC.

NAC MASTER STEP 5 : Condition the New Pattern Until It’s Consistent.

Conditioning is the way to make sure that a change you create is consistent and lasts long-term. The simplest way to condition something is simply to rehearse48 it again and again until a neurological way is created. If you find an empowering alternative, imagine doing it until you see that it can get you out of pain and into pleasure quickly. Your brain will begin to associate this as a new way of producing this result on a consistent basis. If you don’t do this, you’ll go back to the old pattern. If you rehearse the new, empowering alternative again and again with tremendous emotional intensity, you’ll carve out a pathway, and with even more repetition and emotion, it will become a highway to this new way of achieving results, and it will become a part of your habitual behavior. Remember, your brain can’t tell the difference between something you vividly imagine and something you actually experience. Conditioning ensures that you automatically travel along the new route, that if you spot one of the “off ramps” you used to take all the time, now you just speed past them—in fact, they’ll actually become difficult to take.

The power of conditioning can’t be overestimated. I read recently that Boston Celtics great Larry Bird was doing a soft-drink commercial in which he was supposed to miss a jump shot. He made nine baskets in a row before he could get himself to miss! That’s how strongly he’s conditioned himself over the years. When that ball hits his hands, he automatically goes through a pattern that is aimed at putting the ball through the hoop. I’m sure that if you examined the portion of Larry Bird’s brain that is linked to that motion, you would discover a substantial neural pathway. Realize that you and I can condition any behavior within ourselves if we do it with enough repetition and emotional intensity. The next step is to set up a schedule to reinforce your new behavior. How can you reward yourself for succeeding? Don’t wait until you’ve gone a year without smoking. When you’ve gone a day, give yourself a reward! Don’t wait until you’ve lost eighty pounds. Don’t even wait until you’ve lost a pound. The minute you can push the plate away with food still on it, give yourself a pat on the back. Set up a series of short-term goals, or milestones, and as you reach each one, immediately reward yourself. If you’ve been depressed or worried, now each time you take action instead of worrying, or each time you smile when somebody asks how you’re doing and you say, “Great,” give yourself a reward for already beginning to make the changes necessary to ensure your long-term success.

In this way, your nervous system learns to link great pleasure to change. People who want to lose weight don’t always see immediate results—usually losing a couple of pounds doesn’t miraculously transform you into an Elle McPherson or a Mel Gibson. So it’s important to reward yourself as soon as you take some specific actions or make any positive emotional progress, like choosing to run around the block instead of running to the nearest McDonald’s. If you don’t, you may find yourself saying, “Okay, I’ve lost a pound so far, but I’m still fat. This will take forever. I have such a long way to go …” Then you might use these short-term assessments as excuses to binge. Understanding the power of reinforcement will speed up the process of conditioning a new pattern. Recently I had the pleasure of reading an excellent book that I highly recommend to those who really want to make a thorough study of conditioning. It’s entitled Don’t Shoot the Dog! by Karen Pryor. This book sets forth some simple distinctions about modifying animal behavior that parallel my own distinctions gained in years of shaping human behavior.

What’s fascinating is how similar animals and humans are in terms of the forces that drive our actions. Knowing the fundamentals of conditioning enables us to take control of those forces and create the destiny of our choice. We can live like animals, manipulated by circumstances and those around us—or we can learn from these laws, using them to maximize our fullest potential. Pryor discusses in her book how she learned to utilize pain to train animals for years: whips and a chair for lions, the bridle for horses, the leash for dogs. But she ran into difficulty when she began to work with dolphins, because when she tried to give them pain, they just swam away! This caused her to develop a more thorough understanding of the dynamics of positive reinforcement training.

“There is nothing training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach. It can turn bad morals to good; it can destroy bad principles and recreate good ones; it can lift men to angelship.” MARK TWAIN

The first organizing principle of any type of “Success Conditioning” is the power of reinforcement. You and I must know that in order to get ourselves to consistently produce any behavior or emotion, we must create a conditioned pattern. All patterns are the result of reinforcement; specifically, the key to creating consistency in our emotions and behaviors is conditioning.


Any pattern of emotion or behavior that is continually reinforced will become an automatic and conditioned response. Anything we fail to reinforce will eventually dissipate. We can reinforce our own behavior or someone else’s through positive reinforcement, that is, every time we produce the behavior we want, we give a reward. That reward can be praise, a gift, a new freedom, etc. Or we can use negative reinforcement. This might be a frown, a loud noise, or even physical punishment. It’s crucial for us to understand that reinforcement is not the same as punishment and reward. Reinforcement is responding to a behavior immediately after it occurs, while punishment and reward may occur long afterward.

Appropriate timing is absolutely critical to effective conditioning. If a coach yells, “Great!” when the basketball team executes a perfect pick-and-roll, it has a lot more impact than if he waited until they debriefed later in the locker room. Why? Because we always want to link the sensations of reinforcement in the pattern that is occurring. One of the problems with our judicial system is that when people commit criminal acts, they are sometimes not punished until years later. Intellectually they may know the reason for their punishment, but the pattern of behavior that generated this problem in the first place is still intact—it has not been interrupted, nor does it have any pain linked to it.

This is the only way to truly change our behaviors and emotions long term. We must train our brains to do the things that are effective, not intellectually but neurologically. The challenge, of course, is that most of us don’t realize that we’re all conditioning each other and shaping each other’s behaviors constantly. Often, we’re conditioning people negatively instead of positively.

A simple example of this occurred with my daughter Jolie’s ex-boyfriend. Jolie was very busy with school, dance, and a play she was in. He wanted her to call him every single day, and when she missed a few days and then called him, he gave her tremendous amounts of pain. He clearly wanted her to call more frequently, yet his strategy for reinforcement was to badger and berate her when she did call.

Have you ever been guilty of this? If you want your boyfriend, girl- friend, spouse, or significant other to call you more often, how effective do you think it would be to nag them to call? When they finally do call, do you greet them with statements like, “Oh, so you finally picked up the phone! Will wonders never cease? Why do I always have to be the one who makes the call?” What you’re doing is training him or her not to call you! You’re giving pain right after they do the very thing you want. What will happen as a result of this? Pain will be linked to calling you; he or she will avoid it even more in the future. In Jolie’s case, this pattern was continuous, going on for months until Jolie felt that she couldn’t win. If she didn’t call, she’d get pain. If she did call, she’d get pain. As you might guess, this pattern of negative reinforcement permeated many aspects of their relationship and, eventually, the relationship ended.

If you truly want someone to call you, then when they do call, you need to respond with delight. If you tell them how much you miss them, how much you love them, how grateful you are to talk with them, do you think that they’ll be more inclined to call again? Remember, link pleasure to any behavior you want someone to repeat. In my consulting with companies across the United States, I’ve noted that most companies try to motivate their employees by using negative reinforcement as their primary strategy, trying to use fear of punishment as its prime motivator. This will work in the short term, but not in the long term. Sooner or later, companies run into the same problems that eastern Europe has: people will live in fear only for so long before they revolt.

The second major strategy companies use is financial incentives. While this is an excellent idea and is usually appreciated, there is a limit to its effectiveness. There is a point of diminishing return at which all the additional incentives don’t really induce a greater quality of work from people. In fact, most companies find that there’s a limit to what they cando in this area. If one constantly reinforces with money, people begin to expect that when they do something of great value, they must have an immediate economic return. They begin to work strictly for financial reward and won’t do anything unless they get it, surpassing and stripping the capacity of the business to keep up with the economic demands of its employees.

The third and most powerful way to motivate people is through personal development. By helping your employees to grow and expand personally, they begin to feel passionate about life, people, and their jobs. This makes them want to contribute more. They do it out of a sense of personal pride rather than pressure from the outside. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an incentive program; just make sure you have the most powerful incentive of all, which is to help people expand and grow.

“Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided.” JOHN LOCKE


When you’re beginning to establish a new behavior or a new emotional pattern, it’s very important that you reinforce yourself or anyone else you’re trying to establish these new patterns for. In the beginning, every time you perform the desired behavior (for example, pushing a plate away with food still on it), you need to give yourself acknowledgement— pleasurable reinforcement of a type that you truly will appreciate and enjoy. However, if you reinforce the behavior every time thereafter, eventually your rewards will no longer be effective or appreciated. What at one time was a unique and enjoyable surprise will become an expected norm.

Because of my commitment to help those in need, whenever I go through airports, I invariably give to those who request money. I’ll never forget one particular gentleman who had staked his claim in a particular spot in front of a terminal I frequented. Every time I came by, I gave him some money. On one morning, I was very rushed and had no money in my pocket. As I walked quickly by, I smiled and said, “Hello! I’m sorry, but I don’t have any money today.” He became angry because I was no longer giving him something that he once was thrilled to receive from me.

You and I need to remember that the element of pleasant surprise is one of the most enjoyable experiences that a human being can have. It’s so much more important than most of us realize. This is the very reason why, if you want a behavior to last long-term, it’s invaluable that you understand and utilize what’s known as a variable schedule of reinforcement.

Let me give you a simple example from dolphin training. In the beginning, to train a dolphin to jump, trainers wait for the dolphin to jump on its own. They catch the animals doing something right and then reward it with a fish. By doing this each time the dolphin jumps on its own, the dolphin eventually makes the neuro-association that if he jumps, he’ll get a fish. This pairing of pleasure to a behavior that the trainer desires allows the trainer to condition the dolphin to jump again and again.

Eventually, though, the trainer will give the fish only when the dolphin jumps higher. By slowly raising the standards, the trainer can shape the dolphin’s behavior. Here’s the key: if the dolphin is always rewarded, he may become habituated and will no longer give 100 percent. So, in the future, the dolphin is rewarded sometimes after the first jump or perhaps after the fifth, or after the second. A dolphin is never sure which jump will be rewarded. This sense of anticipation that a reward may be given, coupled with the uncertainty as to which try will be rewarded, causes the dolphin to consistently give its full effort. The reward is never taken for granted.

This is the identical force that drives people to gamble. Once they’ve gambled and been rewarded— and linked intense pleasure to the reward—that excitement and anticipation pushes them to go forward.

When they haven’t been rewarded in a while, often they have an even stronger sense that this time they’ll be rewarded. What drives the gambler is the possibility of winning again. If a person were to gamble without ever receiving a reward, they would give up. However, receiving just a few small rewards, winning just a few hands, “earning” back just some of their money, keeps them in a state of anticipation that they could hit the jackpot.

This is why people who discontinue a bad habit (like smoking or gambling) for a period of months, and then decide to have “just one more hit,” are actually reinforcing the very pattern that they’re trying to break and making it much more difficult to be free of the habit for a lifetime. If you smoke one more cigarette, you’re stimulating your nervous system to expect that in the future you’ll reward yourself this way again. You’re keeping that neuro-association highly active and, in fact, strengthening the very habit you’re trying to break!

If you want to reinforce a person’s behavior long term, you may want to utilize what’s known as a fixed schedule of reinforcement. In her book, Karen Pryor describes training a dolphin to make ten jumps. In order to make sure that the dolphin consistently jumps ten times, you’ll want to reward them on the tenth jump each and every time. You can’t demand too many behaviors before reinforcement occurs, but if the dolphin is rewarded only on the tenth jump, the dolphin soon learns that it does not need to make as great an effort on the previous nine jumps, and quality declines. This is the same reaction we might see in people who receive a paycheck every two weeks. Employees know there are certain things expected of them, for which they receive regular compensation. The challenge is that many people learn to do only the minimum necessary to receive the reward because there is no surprise. In the workplace, pay is expected, of course. But if it is the only reward, then workers will do only what is expected and the minimum they can do for the pay. However, if there are occasional surprises—like recognition, bonuses, promotions, and other perks—then they will put forth the extra effort, in hopes and anticipation that they’ll be rewarded and acknowledged. Remember, these surprises must not be predictable, or they become ineffective and taken for granted—this expectation will drive the behavior.

Vary your rewards, and you’ll see greater results in making change within yourself or anyone you’re managing. There is a third tool for reinforcement that can also be used: it’s known as the jackpot. A jackpot can help you to compound the reinforcement. If, for example, once in a rare while you give a dolphin not only one fish, but three or four, for its behavior, it makes the dolphin anticipate even more that if it just puts out that extra effort, there might be a huge reward. This compels the dolphin to consistently give more of itself.

Human beings respond similarly. Often in companies, when people are given a reward that’s much greater than anticipated, it can create great motivation to continue to give great service in the future with the anticipation that they may receive an even greater reward. This same principle can work like magic with your children!


The jackpot principle can also be used with someone who’s not motivated to produce any results whatsoever. Again, if dolphin trainers have an animal which they seem to be unable to motivate at all, they will sometimes give it a dozen fish, even though it has done nothing to earn it. The pleasure that this creates is sometimes enough to break the dolphin’s old pattern and put it into a state of such pleasure that it then becomes willing to be trained. Again, human beings are similar. If someone who seems not to have done anything right is suddenly given a reward, just out of compassion and caring, this can stimulate them to take on new levels and types of behavior and performance.

The most important thing to remember about conditioning, however, is to reinforce the desired behavior immediately. The minute you find yourself responding playfully to what used to frustrate you, reinforce yourself. Do it again and create even more pleasure. Laugh a bit. Remember, each time you create a strong emotional feeling, either positive or negative, you’re creating a connection in your nervous system. If you repeat that pattern again and again, visualizing the same imagery that makes you feel strong or makes you laugh, you’ll find it easier to be strong or to laugh in the future. The pattern will be well established.

The minute you, or anyone you want to reinforce, does something right, create an immediate reward. Reinforce it consistently with the kind of reward that you, or that individual, personally want or desire most.

Give yourself the emotional reward of turning on your favorite music or smiling or seeing yourself accomplishing your goals. Conditioning is critical. This is how we produce consistent results. Once again, remember that any pattern of emotional behavior that is reinforced or rewarded on a consistent basis will become conditioned and automatic. Any pattern that we fail to reinforce will eventually dissipate. Now that you’ve accomplished the first five steps, let’s go to the final step.. . .


Let’s review what you’ve accomplished: you’ve decided upon the new pattern of emotion or behavior that you desire; you’ve gotten leverage on yourself to change it; you’ve interrupted the old pattern; you’ve found a new alternative; and you’ve conditioned it until it’s consistent. The only step left is to test it to make sure that it’s going to work in the future. One of the ways of doing this that’s taught in Neuro-Linguistic Programming is “future pacing.” This means that you imagine the situation that used to frustrate you, for example, and notice if in fact it still makes you feel frustrated or if your new pattern of feeling “fascinated” has replaced it. If normally you still have this urge to smoke every time you feel overwhelmed, imagine yourself in an overwhelming situation and notice if instead you have an urge to read or run or whatever new alternative you’ve conditioned. By imagining the same stimuli that used to trigger your old emotion or behavior and noting that you do feel certain that your new empowering alternative is automatic, you will know that this new pattern will work for you in the future. In addition, you must test the ecology of the change you’ve just made. The word “ecology” implies the study of consequences. What will the impact of these changes you’ve made in yourself have on those around you? Will they support your business and personal relationships? Make certain that this new pattern will be appropriate, based on your current lifestyle, beliefs, and values.

On the next page is a simple checklist that you can use to help yourself be certain that your new success pattern will last and that it’s appropriate.

If your attempt at creating this pattern didn’t last, you need to recycle back to Step 1. Are you really clear about what you want and why you want it?

Review Step 2; most people who’ve tried unsuccessfully to make a change usually don’t have enough leverage. You may need to make a public commitment in order to get more leverage on yourself. Make it to those people who will not let you off the hook!

If you feel that there’s enough leverage, check Step 3: if you know what you want and you’ve got enough leverage, it’s very possible that you’re like the fly beating itself repeatedly against the window pane. You’ve done the same things over and over again, with more and more intensity, but you haven’t changed your approach. You must interrupt your pattern. If you feel that all these steps are in place, go to Step 4. If your efforts still have not produced a change, you’re dearly demonstrating that you’ve left out this step. Find a new, empowering alternative for getting yourself out of pain and into pleasure that is as powerful and convenient as your old approach was. All this means is that you now have an opportunity to explore being a little more creative. Find a role model-somebody else who’s been able to eliminate this habit or negative set of emotions that you want to change.

If you’ve started to make a change, but then not followed through, you obviously haven’t reinforced your pattern with enough pleasure. Use Step 5, conditioning. Utilize both variable and fixed schedules of reinforcement to make sure that your new, empowering pattern lasts. The six steps of NAC can be used for anything: challenges with relationships, problems in business, being stuck in a pattern of yelling at your children. Let’s say you worry too much about things over which you have no control. How can you use the six steps to change this disempowering pattern?

1) Ask yourself, “What do I want to do instead of worry?”

2) Get leverage on yourself and realize what worry does to destroy your life. Bring it to a threshold; see what it would cost you ultimately in your life so that you’re not willing to pay that price anymore. Imagine the joy of getting this monkey off your back and being truly free once and for all!

3) Interrupt the pattern! Every time you worry, break the pattern by being totally outrageous. Stick your finger up your nose, or belt out “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” at the top of your lungs.

4) Create an empowering alternative. What will you do instead of worry? Pull out your journal and write down a plan of what you can do immediately instead. Maybe you can go for a run, and while you’re running, you can think of new solutions.

5) Condition the new pattern; vividly imagine and rehearse this new pattern with tremendous emotional intensity and repetition until this new thought, behavior or emotional pattern is automatic. Reinforce yourself by taking the first step: see yourself succeeding again and again. Seeing the results in advance can give you the pleasure you desire. Again, use repetition and emotional intensity to condition the new pattern until it’s consistent.

6) Test it and see if it works. Think about the situation that used to worry you, and see that you no longer worry in this situation. You can even use these same six master steps of NAC to negotiate a contract.

1) The first step is to lay the groundwork. Get clear about what you want and what has prevented you from getting it. What does the other person want? What’s in it for both of you? How will you know you have a successful contract?

2) Get leverage by getting that person to link pain to not making the deal, and pleasure to making it.

3) Interrupt the pattern of any belief or idea that’s keeping the deal from moving ahead.

4) Create an alternative that neither of you thought of before that will meet both your needs.

5) Reinforce that alternative by constantly reinforcing the pleasure and the positive impact of this alternative.

6) See if it’s going to work out for everybody, a win-win situation. If so, negotiate to a successful conclusion.

The same principles can be used to get the kids to clean their rooms, improve the quality of your marriage, boost your company’s level of quality, get more enjoyment out of your job, and make your country a better place to live.

By the way, sometimes our kids use these same six steps on us in abbreviated form. Remember what I said: if you get enough leverage and interrupt somebody’s pattern strongly enough, they’ll find a new pattern and condition it. A friend of mine tried almost everything he knew to stop smoking. Finally his pattern was broken. How? His six-year-old daughter walked in one day while he was lighting up. She knew what she wanted, she had massive leverage, and she interrupted his pattern by crying, “Daddy, please stop killing yourself!”

“Honey,” he said, “what are you talking about? What’s wrong?” She repeated herself. He said, “Honey, I’m not killing myself.” She nodded her head, pointed to the cigarette and sobbed, “Daddy, please stop killing yourself! I want you to be there .. . when I get m-a-r-r-i-e-d…”

This was a man who’d tried to quit dozens of times, and nothing had worked—until then. The cigarettes were out the door that day, and he hasn’t smoked since. With his heartstrings firmly grasped in her tiny hands, she instantly got what she wanted. Since then he’s found many alternatives to smoking that give him the same pleasurable sensations.

If all you do is the first three steps of NAC, that may be enough to create tremendous change. Once you’ve decided what you want, gained leverage, and interrupted the pattern, life often provides you with new ways of looking at things. And if the leverage is strong enough, you’ll be compelled to find a new pattern and condition it—and you can pretty much count on the world to give you the test. Now you have the NAC of change! The key is to use it. But you won’t unless you know what you’re using it for. You’ve got to know what you truly desire; you must find …

-Tony Robbins

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