Changing Your Habits

Habits, we all have them! On any given day our habits account for about 40 percent of our behaviours, according to researchers at Duke University. They are those small decisions we make and actions we perform without even thinking about them. They shape the type of person we are and how effective or successful we are in the workplace.

When we adopt good habits we are effective. Unfortunately, many of us over time slowly develop bad habits, which if not addressed hold us back and make us less successful than we could be. These bad habits are sneaky: often we are not even aware that we have developed them.

So how can you ensure your habits are good ones, and what can you do to recognise and change any bad habits you have developed?

The starting point to adopting effective (good) habits is to understand what these are in relation to the job we are doing. For this we need to have a model of what “good” looks like. This understanding can come from studying the behaviours of who are already considered “excellent” and this is where attending a training course (such as the top ten habits of successful sales people) can be of particular help. Once we understand what “good” looks like, then this will serve as a benchmark against which we can assess ourselves.

Of course, this assessment requires us to be brutally honest with ourselves, and this is something we can find hard to do – especially if we consider ourselves to be good at our jobs already. This is where external input (from your manager, a close friend, mentor, trainer or coach) can be useful. They will see things which (because they are habits) we are often unaware of. If we can be open to this developmental feedback then we can start to identify what we need to change to improve our performance from good to superior. We go from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence.

Now we need to cement these new behaviours, so that we become unconsciously competent (in other words they become our new habits).

One problem with habits is that new ones take a long time to develop. Old habits are hard to break and new habits are hard to form because the behavioural patterns which humans repeat become imprinted in neural pathways. But it is possible to form new habits through conscious repetition.

For very simple behavioural changes (such as drinking a glass of water at every meal) it probably takes about 21 days of continuous action to move from having to consciously pour and drink a glass of water to doing this without having to think about it. For anything harder, it is likely to take longer for the new action to become a really strong habit.

Being persistent in consciously practicing our new habits until they truly are habitual takes a degree of self-discipline and determination. The more support we have during this important embedding stage  the easier we will find it to keep going until the old habit is replaced by the new habit. Getting positive feedback and encouragement from ourselves and those around us as we try and try again is vital.

It is important that we do not "beat ourselves up" when trying to embed a new good habit. It will be difficult at first and may sometimes go wrong. So until it is a habit, consider each conscious attempt you make to use the new behaviour as practice. As the old saying says "practice makes perfect"!