Habits are the foundation of success. They help us manage our time, workflow, relationships, and even our health. But they can also create barriers that make the work of a leader unnecessarily difficult. Our habits of thinking, doing, and interacting can either help or hinder productivity, workplace culture, and profitability.
The 3Rs of Habit Formation
How does a habit form? Habits can start with intention, “I will leave for work every morning at 7 a.m.;” or unintentionally, such as setting a file aside on your desk instead of filing it. Soon every file is set aside and not filed. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, describes three steps to the creation of a habit. Let’s see how they look in practice.
1. Your email notification beeps (Reminder). This is the trigger or cue that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and prompts the behavior to begin.
2. You check your email (Routine). This is the actual behavior. When your notification beeps, you look at the email.
3. You answer the email, and then look at others (Reward). Your brain recognizes this as something it likes (in this case, new information or the opportunity to stop working on something that is taking more energy to think about) and gives you a dopamine surge – a chemical “feel good” reward. That helps your brain remember the habit loop in the future.
Taking Control of Habits
How can you use this structure to create new habits and actually stick to them? Duhigg says the key to changing a habit is to keep the Reminder and Reward and change the Routine behavior. Whether changing or creating a habit, consider these steps for success.
1. Recognize the habit and commit to stopping the behavior. Notice what interactions or situations end in less than satisfactory ways, or create emotions that don’t feel good to you, such as anger, frustration, or fear.
2. Create a plan to do something different. Make it so easy that you can’t say no. Be sure to write it down. Think about the results you want, then be specific with the actions you will take. What will you avoid, what will you decrease or increase, how much, by when?
3. Establish self-discipline and self-awareness. Work at recognizing the reminder/trigger and changing the routine. Linking a new habit with a current behavior makes it much easier to change. Some people practice specific responses in the mirror to get new language or attitudes in place in preparation for the trigger. Others put up reminder notes, schedule times for specific tasks, or do things like turning off notifications. Engage in positive behaviors: stop criticizing team members and replace that routine behavior with recognizing their positive contributions. Instead of checking emails in meetings, take detailed notes to help you focus.
4. Reward yourself for engaging in positive behavior. To help jumpstart that dopamine surge, find ways to instantly reward yourself for a few weeks while the behavior is becoming established. Want to get to work earlier? Reward yourself with a gourmet coffee when you arrive at work on or before the new time.
5. Involve others to help hold you accountable. Even just announcing your intentions to others can cause enough peer pressure to stay accountable to your goals. Choose the right approach.
Small habit changes can add up to big results. In the beginning, performance doesn’t matter. You can build up to the level of performance that you want once the behavior becomes consistent. Patience and persistence will help you stick to your new habit.
Need help overcoming the habits that are creating negativity and conflict in your workplace? Contact Joy at Joy@MaximizeYourLeadership.com today.
About Joy Humbarger
Joy, CEO and founder of Maximize Your Leadership, is considered to be a leading trainer and coach on turning negativity into profitability in the Greater Kansas City area. With more than 30 years of experience in the education and leadership fields, Joy is an expert in transforming mindsets to better business. She is the author of “Coaching the F___!! Out of Change”, a chapter in The Change11, a national collection of tips and stories to empower others to take their leadership to the next level. She provides individual and group leadership coaching. To schedule a training, workshop or consultation with Joy, email Joy@MaximizeYourLeadership.com.