This post is one in a series of blogs for Cued Forward’s Back to School, Back to Learning Something New focus on learning something new for personal and professional development. This post is a 10-minute read.
Get more sleep. Eat healthier. Grow your career. We all have positive goals we strive for in our personal and professional worlds, but unfortunately miss our success target. To help improve our chance at sustained positive change, we need to work on consciously developing a habit. We often think of habits in terms of only the negative aspects of our lives, but in actuality, creating positive habits can eliminate life negativity and push us towards the development we seek. Focused work on our habits can be a game changer that helps us achieve our goals.
WHAT IS A HABIT?
A habit is a something done regularly as a result of frequent repetition. According to a Duke University study, up to 45% of what we do every day isn’t a decision, but unconscious habits that we have formed. Ever fill your cup of coffee first thing in the morning to walk away, come back, and try to fill it a second time? That’s an unconscious habit.
Since many habits are unconscious, we have to direct our attention at creating a new habit to see results. And even then, creating or changing habits is challenging. Make a New Year’s Resolution you didn’t keep? You’re not alone. Ninety-two percent of New Year’s resolutions are unsuccessful. But wait, don’t stop reading now. Here are some tactics you can use to improve your chances at positive change using an acronym to help you remember: Stay SHARP about creating your positive habits.
SHARPen YOUR POSITIVE HABITS
Simplicity: Start small, really small. Whether you want to change an existing habit or create a new one, take that habit and break it down further. You need to see visible small wins and tackle one habit or a part of one habit at a time. Could you imagine cutting back or giving up on caffeine when you are trying to start your MBA and get more sleep? According to the Fogg Behavior Model, if a behavior is really easy, you will not need as much motivation and be more likely to do it, increasing your chances of forming the positive habit.
Some smaller habits that you may want to tackle to improve your health are moving hourly, eating healthy snacks, or creating a personal mantra to reduce stress. Starting points to help your professional side include a 5-minute end of the day review (accomplishments and opportunities), allowing yourself a time-out during the day, and a dedicated time each week to work on career development (reading blogs, watching business-related web content, listen to podcasts, network with others).
Some research shows that a habit takes about twenty-one days to form. According to Grace Lichtenstein, coach and psychotherapist, who works with individuals wanting to make habit-changes in their lives, says that the number of days to habit formation is much higher. Her experience and additional research has shown that habit formation takes a minimum of sixty-six days. Whatever the exact number, as Ms. Lichtenstein discusses with her clients, give yourself the time you need to create the positive habit. You can’t force it and it is not a quick fix.
Harness: Creating a positive habit takes a lot of energy. Harness your energy into finding steps that will support what you are trying to do before you start doing it. If you are trying to stop smoking, identify substitutes that you might use so you do not pick up a cigarette ahead of time. If you are trying to improve your networking skills, identify events to attend ahead of time and get them on your calendar. If you harness your energy with up-front work, you will save energy and stress when you need to try to come up with options on the fly. Preparation for working on your habit, including choosing a start date are key to conserving your energy and focus in the long run.
Accountability: Hold yourself accountable by writing down the positive habit you want it want to develop. Research has shown that you are more likely to accomplish your goals if you write them down and include actionable items like when will you work on the goal and what specific actions are you going to take. For example, if your goal is to eat healthier lunches, your action items could include making your lunch every morning at 7:00 a.m. and include a grain, protein, and fruit/vegetable in the lunch.
If know you are someone who finds an excuse not to do something, seek out a friend or family member to help you with accountability. This person should be willing to actively participate in helping you achieve your positive habit. (Remember, the key word here is “helping.” This person is not the excuse if you cannot make the habit happen.) Use what your already know well for accountability check-in’s. Text your accountability partner each day with your progress or share your momentum (or roadblocks) with your friends on Facebook. According to Gretchen Ruben, best-selling author on mastering habits in everyday lives, external accountability is crucial to many people’s success
However you hold yourself accountable, know that there are going to be bumps in the road and setbacks. It’s all about the old adage “two steps forward, one step back.” Forgive yourself if your new habit doesn’t stick the first time. You are in control – try again.
Routines and Rewards: By doing something every day, you are more likely to stick with it. A three-pronged approach gives you a better shot at habit formation: cue + routine + reward = habit. The cue is something you do that acts as a reminder or a trigger for you to stick to your routine. Going back to the healthy lunch example, the cue may be that you make lunch immediately after you turn on your coffee pot. Your reward is the cup of hot coffee waiting for you when your lunch is made. The easiest way to form a habit is to tie it to an existing routine.
As mentioned, rewards are also important in making the behavior change stick. Rewards could be something tangible or the positive feeling you get when you do the new behavior. Knowing that you don’t have to go out for lunch on a rainy day at work is a positive feeling resulting from making a healthy lunch.
Progress and Purpose: The one thing that is certain about developing a new habits is that the path to successfully creating the habit is not straight. Plan for tough days when your stress level is higher. Do more on days when you feel like you can do more, but don’t make it a requirement.
We focus a lot on corporate culture, but what about our own personal culture. Setting up an environment that nurtures the positive changes is important. Know who you are making the change for. If it is anyone other than yourself, you might as well not even start. Understand the benefits of the change you want to make. Saving time and money as well as a healthier and happier you are great drivers of purpose for a positive habit change. Also, connect with role models who have made similar changes.
Making a positive habit change is empowering. It can also be discouraging. By understanding the highs and lows in the process of developing a positive habit, you will hopefully have higher positive momentum and less negative momentum. Your one change will allow you to look at other positive changes you want to make in your life as attainable. You got this.
What tips can you share about the positive habit changes you have made in your life? We learn from experts, but we also learn a lot from each other.