The only proper way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good ones. – Jerome Hines
The good news is, we can change those habits. With a bit of practice and the right tools.
The Power to Change
Once we understand the loops that trigger and reward our habits in thinking and doing – we have the power to change. To review what we chatted about yesterday – here’s the behavioral loop for a habit.
Each of the three action of this loop offer a chance to interrupt our habit and create a new, conscious behavior or thought process.
The Trigger: Every human has millions of triggers that are programmed in our brains. Some are instinctual (fight or flight), some are learned (stop for that red light). For myself, the most important step is to first pay attention to and recognize my triggers. Before they illicit the habit I want to change. Once we get in front of the trigger – we can change our response – consciously.
For example, for years I had a trigger associated with negative feedback. It was programmed into me as a child, when being anything but perfect meant that I was in grave danger of being badly hurt by those who abused me. For decades I searched for a way to have a positive response to negative feedback – but I struggled. Sure, I shut up and listened but internally I had the same response, which was to fight for myself and my life. But then I learned the power of change through shifting our brains …and I was able to change the program. Every time I felt the trigger flick – I stopped. And breathed. That simple interruption between the trigger and the response helped me get in front of the routine before I repeated the cycle.
We can do the same in our personal, professional and business worlds. Pay attention to the triggers that results in an emotionally driven (and usually programmed) response – for example a competitive threat, a complaining customer, a lost big deal, a new product launch, a declining best seller. When the trigger happens – simply stop your forward action. Don’t respond with the way you’ve always done it. STOP. That simple shift opens the door to a new action and a change!
The Routine: We create routines from the moment we’re born. We feel pain, hunger or fear so we cry for our parents. We’re told we aren’t athletic so we avoid sports. We do our homework in the same way every night. You see, we humans love patterns and routine is the pattern that makes life safe and comfortable. We do the same in every aspect of our lives – at home, at work and in our various relationships.
Routine ways of thinking and behaving occur in business too. It’s called the status quo. We’re taught specific practices and thought processes in B School. We then apply those lessons as we move forward. Within each organizational culture, we create our own business legends that act as routines to drive our forward progress – based on what’s worked in the past. The problem is – what worked in the past most likely won’t work in today’s dynamic market.
We can interrupt our routines to change our thinking and behaviors. How? Simply by asking questions. How can I change last year’s plan to match today and tomorrow’s reality? What’s a better way to do this? How does another industry do this successfully and what can I learn from them?
By recognizing our Triggers and stopping, we open ourselves to the potential for change. By shifting our Routines, we actually change the behavior or thought process. When we do this repetitively and consistently, we will change the habit.
The Reinforcement: Every mouse wants their cheese at the end of the maze. We humans are no different. That’s why as leaders (and as our own human selves) it’s critical we change the reinforcement for our habits and instinctual human programming.
First, pay attention to the triggers and routines they bring forth. Identify the key triggers that are driving status quo behaviors and thinking. Then shift the way you reward teams and yourself when you’re making the shift in triggers and routines.
For example – one habit loop that’s present in ALL of us is called the herd instinct. We’re literally wired to follow the herd by brain responses. Whenever a group decision is required (the trigger) – we will naturally agree with the group (the response). This is a big reason the status quo is so predominant in our business cultures – we’re following herd rules from forever after!
As a leader, we can change the reward structure and further intercept this habit pattern. By rewarding those who don’t side with programmed team responses to triggers we can change the reinforcement. Visibly reward the out-of-the-box thinkers – even if you don’t use their ideas. It’s the new thinking you want to promote! Try this for a month and watch your teams evolve in their routine actions and thinking!
The Limitless Opportunities in Change
So many triggers in our world today send us into survival mode – the place were we hunker down and refuse to let go of what’s known and comfortable. From the daily media to the constant news of another company gone down – we live in a constant trigger for limiting habits.
But we can change. All it takes is a bit of time, the commitment to pay attention to our habit loops and the determination to change our brains to fuel our success.