Why Doesn’t Change Last?

Why Doesn’t Change Last?

Why is it that you can want to make lasting change, but no matter what you do, the old habits come back again within a matter of days? How do you stop it?

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Picture the scene – you want to create lasting change. There’s a change you have wanted to make. You’ve wanted to make it for age. You’ve really wanted to make the change.

Finally you take the plunge – either you gather up the courage and the knowledge and the willpower to do it yourself, or you engage someone to help guide you though it.

This is it! You do the Thing, and make The Change!

And it feels wonderful!

And the a few days late, you find you are back to being exactly as you were before you “changed”, and that you haven’t really changed at all – it lasted for a few days and then everything was back to how it was before…

What happened?

You have fallen foul of what we call “Secondary Gain”! And it can be a massive problem if not spotted and addressed, although it is absolutely surmountable.

So what IS Secondary Gain?

In a nutshell, Secondary Gain (sometimes known as Hidden Benefit) with where you get some benefit from still having the old problem, and so your unconscious mind rejects any attempts to overcome the problem.

Of course, the actual problem may well be very significant, and could be causing you a lot of pain or discomfort or deep unhappiness, and you absolutely want to get rid of it.

However, at some level your unconscious also knows that having this problem gets you some positive benefit, And worse, your unconscious doesn’t know of any other way to get that benefit. Which means that it will fight to keep or bring back the problem, completely sabotaging any attempts to overcome the original issue, purely too keep that hidden benefit.

And it will keep doing this, until some alternative way of getting that secondary gain is presented.

Secondary Gain is something all good coaches know about in depth, and identifying if there is any Secondary Gain (as well as then working out how to remove it) is an extremely important part of the process.

Unfortunately, this is something I’ve noticed an increasing number of today’s coaching, hypnosis, and NLP courses never teach, so there’s a lot of people who don’t know about this, and get stumped when their clients don’t make progress 🙁 Hopefully this will change!

Examples Of Secondary Gain

Here are a couple of quick examples of how secondary gain can stop you getting results.

Both of these are from clients with whom I have worked, although all information which could identify them has been completely removed to preserve their complete anonymity, of course.

Chronic Back Pain

Someone had chronic back-pain.

Their doctor confirmed that there was no medical reason for it staying, but the pain would not go away.

So in desperation they came to me to see if I could help (they wanted hypnosis to numb the pain).

We sat down, discussed their situation, and after a bit of suitable subtle digging, we discovered that all the while they had the back pain, they were not being asked to do heavy lifting at work – crucially, before they injured their back, they were often asked to lift heavy stuff in the office even though it was nothing to do with their actual job.

They resented being the only one always asked, but when they hurt their back, they stopped being asking to do any heavy lifting.


Despite the massive problems of the back pain, their unconscious realised something positive. It realised that if the pain goes, the heavy lifting comes back!

And so their unconscious did the only thing it could thing of doing to avoid heavy lifting. It kept hold of the pain!

We discussed them approaching their manager and discussing getting permanent alternative arrangements for the heavy lifting to be carried out by a professional. So they saw their manager about it the next day, the manager understood their concerns and agreed.

And guess what?

Within 3 days their back was completely pain-free…

Smoking cessation

I no longer work with people to help them quit smoking. I focus on helping people conquer fears and phobias. In fact, if you are looking to quite smoking, let me know and I’ll refer you to an excellent hypnotherapist!

However, in the past I have helped people to quit smoking. One such client came to me saying they had tried everything. Each time they managed to stop for maybe a week at a time, but always started smoking again.

As part of my coaching process, I always check for secondary gain, and sure enough we found it.

It turned out that their unconscious associated smoking with getting regular breaks at work. Breaks such as with hanging out with other smokers and chilling for 5-10 minutes. Which meant no longer smoking missed out an important  social aspect too. Both of these disappeared when they stopped smoking. Worst of all, they were completely unaware (consciously) of any of this!

So even though there were massive dangers to smoking, their unconscious also saw benefit. Which stopped them from being able to stop smoking for long.

So we discussed how they could find alternative, healthier ways to fill those needs. Once we’d figured those out, we moved on to do the smoking cessation. As a result, they have not smoked since. That was around 6 years ago…

Other Examples

I work mostly with people on fears and phobias, and yes, secondary gain can crop up even there. And unless it is addressed, then they can not expect to make lasting change.

You might wonder what benefits someone might get having a fear or a phobia. The reality is than for a surprising number of people, there are often benefits.

For example, a fear of speaking to strangers might have the hidden benefit of never having to face rejection.

A fear of driving might mean you never have to be the designated driver.

I’m sure you can imagine all manner of possibilities…

What Does That Mean For You?

If you are making changes, but you seem to just keep going back to square one, it may not be anything you are doing wrong. It may simply be that there is a hidden benefit to you having the problem.

Until you identify what that benefit is, and figure out another more positive way to get it, your unconscious is going to be fighting you every step of the way. And that my friend is a fight you can not win…

You will be far more powerful when you figure out what the hidden benefit is, and work WITH your unconscious to find a better way to get it. Do this and your unconscious will be working WITH you to conquer that other old habit / behaviour / belief / problem. Which is a sure-fire winning strategy every time 🙂

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Keith Blakemore-Noble

Keith Blakemore-Noble

Award-winning coach, international speaker, multi-time best-selling author, hypnotist, occasional magician, and writer of this post, Keith spent his first 40 years suffering from several phobias including being terrified of speaking with strangers. After one incident too many, he started studying and training in NLP & hypnosis to conquer his own issues, found he was rather good at it, and changed careers (aided by redundancy at just the right moment after 20 years in IT). He helps people transform their deepest fears into their greatest strengths, and having helped over 5,000 people across 5 continents, he is the UK's #1 Fear Strategist.