Did you know that 40% of what we do, on a daily basis, is not based on us deciding to do it. We do most things because they are a habit. This is as true at home as it is at work. We brush our teeth every day, we eat lunch or attend a weekly team meeting because, well, that’s what we do.
Most of us assume we are in control of what we do each day, yet according to Wendy Wood and Professor of psychology and neuroscience, James Duke, much of our everyday behaviours are cued by our environment:
Once you form a habit, it takes willpower to inhibit the triggered response. If you don’t have the energy to override the response, you tend to repeat what you’ve done in the past.
Unless we create the conditions around us to easily work on our new habits, we will revert to our old patterns that are ingrained in us.
That’s exactly what happens when it comes to how we communicate. If you have a track record of avoiding the tough conversations, and nothing in place to push you to have them, you are likely to keep avoiding them. If your habit is to get defensive, and you have no reminders or new systems to help you self-regulate, you are likely to keep doing the same old thing, over and over.
When we operate in habit mode we reduce the amount of time and energy it takes to get things done. It’s just ‘business as usual’. When we have to go against our habits it can be labour intensive and requires more energy.
Let’s assume there’s a change at work. You might need to include someone else in a decision, or add another level of testing for a potential product or service. How do we make this action a habit without thinking about it? Our efficient brain wants to habitualise things as much as possible. So it can create space to think of new and better ways of doing things, to innovate and be creative. So it makes sense that how we form new habits should have a science about it.
Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit helps explains what we should consider when we want to create new habits. Duhigg says there are three basic elements of the ‘the habit loop’.
- Cue – a trigger that helps the brain go into automatic pilot mode and implement the habit it knows.
- Routine – how we respond, whether it be physical, emotional or mental.
- Reward – what we gain when we implement the routine, what we tell our brain to repeat for the future.
Unless we break the cycle, the same loop continues over and over again.
This is why attending training doesn’t change people, teams or organisations. You attend. It’s fabulous and you walk out feeling super motivated to implement the changes you committed to. If you are lucky, you do something different, for the first couple of weeks anyway. Then another project lands on your desk, with a looming deadline and the work piles up. A week slips by, then three, and then… you know you need to make those changes. Then you’re 6 months down the track and back to what you always did.
See! There are no new routines, no new sustained change. What a waste. The company had the best intent in sending you to the training, but the intent does not translate into new habits.
Unless you deliberately practise a new habit or find a new routine, you will fall back into your current patterns of thinking and doing. The more automatic things become the more we free our mind to work on other things and be more productive.
Make it easy for your people to embed new habits by creating new routines and making rewards obvious.
If you want to know how to embed new habits read all about it in my latest book, ‘Feedback Flow’.