Friday, April 29, 2016

Habits











“Men’s natures are alike; it is their habits that separate them.” – Confucius

Habits can make or break you.  
As Lucas Remmerswaal said, “First you make your habits, then your habits make you!”
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Habits are our reflexive thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Our behaviors are where the rubber meets the road.  And, according to B.F. Skinner, “Thoughts are behaviors we haven’t learned to observe yet.”

Who’s better off?   The person who knows more, or the person who has better habits?

Think about it.  No matter how much you know, or how smart you are, it comes down to what you actually do.  For example, you can know all the nutrition science in the world.   But, what do you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?   You can know all the positive psychology in the world, but do you think the thoughts that serve you?   Do you cultivate the emotions that lift you?

Our habits and practices turn insight into action.  Most importantly, our habits move us up the stack.  We don’t have to waste our time thinking through trivial things.  And, they help us automate or simplify complex things.  After all, would you rather have a brain surgeon finding his way through, or the seasoned brain surgeon whose habits help him glide through the job?




Habits Govern What We Do and How Effectively We Do It

Our habits guide us.  Meshorer writes: “Simply put, habits are the supervisors of the actions we take and the actions we avoid.  They help govern what we do and how effectively we do it.  Bad habits can guide us off course and keep us from unearthing our deepest layers.”

Good Habits Make Our Lives Easier

Habits make our lives easier by automating our behaviors.   Meshorer writes: “Habits are thoughts, emotions, or actions that we’ve repeated frequently enough that they’ve become reflexive behaviors, performed without conscious thought.  They can be good bad, or neutral.  They are efficient bureaucrats of our body, mind, and spirit: they don’t enact the internal laws that govern us, they administer our choices as effectively as possible.  Habits eliminate the need to consciously think about and direct energy toward critical tasks.  Good habits make our lives easier.  Bad habits hold our minds and behaviors in a vice grip of negativity, acting as obstacles to our happiness.”

Habits are Learned Behaviors

Learning a new habit is a thoughtful process.  Repetition bakes our habits in. Meshorer writes: “Habits are learned behaviors.  They aren’t inherited genetically.  By watching people inside MRI scanners, scientists can actually see new habits being formed in the brain.  They’ve observed that while we are first learning a new behavior, the prefrontal cortex area of the brain lights up.  This is the most advanced part of our brain, where processes such as reasoning, decision making, setting goals, and other cognitive functions are carried out.  As we become familiar with the task through repetition, activity in the prefrontal cortex declines, but it increases in another part of the brain, the basal ganglia.  This is where our motor skills and other processes that don’t require conscious thought reside.”

The next time you find yourself doing something that starts to be repetitive, whether it’s a thought, a feeling, or an action, ask yourself whether you really want to make it a habit.


How to change a habit

"A habit cannot be tossed out the window; it must be coaxed down the stairs a step at a time." – Mark Twain

If you want to change a habit and make it stick, it can be done definitely. It is like saying, “where there’s a will there’s a way.”  There are so many  techniques that work, or at least improve your chances for success by changing your habits.

When it comes to change, stack the deck in your favor. 

Steps to Change a Habit

Here are the key steps for making your change happen:

  • Step 1. Start with a Compelling Why
  • Step 2. Catch Yourself in the Habit
  • Step 3. Choose Your New Response

Step 1. Start with a Compelling "Why"

Why do you need to change to this new behavior?  If you don’t feel you need to, you aren’t going to do it.  Meaningful change happens out of purpose or pain, not convenience.
To bottom line it, if it’s not compelling, you won’t change.  You need a strong, emotionally compelling reason to make the change.  Are you doing it for yourself?  Are you doing it for any other outside reason?  Find the reason that gives you the most inner strength.  You’re going to need this during your trying times and your moments of choice.

Change doesn’t have to take forever.  It is  tough to just move away from a pattern.  Instead, have a replacement pattern that you want to implement.

Step 2. Catch Yourself in the Habit

There are events in your day that trigger your habit.  For example, may be it’s every time you feel stressed, you reach for your habit to comfort you.  It might just be part of your routine.  For example, maybe you’ve baked it into your morning routine or when you come home at night.  Make sure you identify these triggers and events up front, so you recognize them when they happen.

What’s important is to know when it happens, so you can catch yourself.  Catch yourself in the moment, and pause.  It’s these moments that you’re going to introduce your chance to choose your new response. 

Step 3. Choose Your New Response

As Nike says, "Just do it."  Implement your replacement pattern.  This is where it counts.  The key thing here is that you’re choosing your new response.  This is where your compelling "Why" kicks in.  If it doesn’t invoke enough emotion for you, then it’s not compelling enough.

The key here is to make your new habit, feel good.  You can do that by linking it to good feelings, such as playing your favorite song.  You can also think the thoughts that serve you, such as "why" you’re making the change.  You can also focus on "how" you’re making the change.  Either way, you engage your mind and emotions to support you.  It’s a tag team.

Create Glide Paths to Make It Stick 

Another thing you can do here is create a glide-path for yourself.  Make it easy to fall into your new success pattern.  Structure your success, whether it’s visual cues or just making it easy to choose your new pattern.  Do this planning up front; don’t try to figure this out on the fly while you’re in the thick of things.


Flex Your Attitude of Gratitude

One other key here is to reward your behavior along the way.  Flex your attitude of gratitude and thank yourself for choosing your new pattern in your moment of choice.  Rewarding your behavior along the way versus promising yourself some reward after the fact is the key to results.  This will also reinforce linking it to good feelings.

Don’t try to "will" your way through it or suffer through it.  The real key is knowing that you move from intellectual to emotional to physical.  Once physical the new habit is firmly in place and the old one is gone for good.



How To Change a Habit with  Agile Results

 “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” – Jim Ryun

What if you could change any habit or add a new one, what would you change?

The most common questions for this are : “How can I change a habit?”  Whether you are trying to change a habit or add a new habit, it can be a real challenge and a chore.

Change is truly a challenge, especially when we’re talking about changing habits.

Overview

To change  a habit, you have to want to change, know how to change, and practice the change until it sinks in.  To effectively change a habit, it helps to first know what can work against you. 

Another thing that can work against you is if you don’t give it enough time.  Think of building your new habit like carving out a new groove.  It takes a while to carve out a new path.  It might take several days before your change starts to stick and becomes more automatic.  It also might take time to figure out how to deal with your setbacks.   You also have to give yourself time go get over the humps along the way.

As Tony Robbins says, “repetition is the mother of skill.”  If you can make your habit a daily routine that you can practice, you can get better faster.  The other key is to remind yourself that change feels awkward and it’s a phase you’ll pass through before things start to feel natural.  Allow for your setbacks, and try again.  Most importantly, acknowledge and appreciate when you perform your habit, even if it does just feel like you’re going through the motions.  Going through the motions is often part of the process that leads to deeper change.

Summary of Steps

  • Step 1.  Create a Compelling “Why”
  • Step 2. Pick something specific to practice.
  • Step 2.  Make it a theme for the month.
  • Step 3.  Use a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.
  • Step 5.  Do it daily.
  • Step 6.  Make it one of your Three Wins.
  • Step 7.  Use Friday Reflection to review.

Step 1. Create a Compelling “Why”

One of the supporting practices in Agile Results is Compelling “Why”.  If you start with “Why”, you give yourself something to fall back on, when you need inspiration or motivation to get back on track.

Why do you need to change to this new behavior?  If you don’  feel you need to, you aren’t going to do it.  Meaningful change happens out of purpose or pain, not convenience.
To bottom line it, if it’s not compelling, you won’t change.  You need a strong, emotionally compelling reason to make the change.  Are you doing it for yourself?  Are you doing it for any other external reasons?  Find the reason that gives you the most inner strength.  You’re going to need this during your trying times and your moments of choice.


Step 2. Pick Something Specific to Practice.

Change doesn’t have to take forever.  It is  tough to just move away from a pattern.  Instead, have a replacement pattern that you want to implement.

By picking something specific, you can practice and get better.  Start small.   Pick something that’s easy for you to get started.   This will help you just start.  The daily practice will help you improve.


Step 3.  Make it a Theme for the Month.

Create a meaningful mantra that will inspire you throughout the month.  Think of the change that you want to achieve, and make it your theme for the month.   This theme will be a backdrop that helps remind you and get you back on track when you lose focus.  It will also help your month be more meaningful.

Play around and test what works for you, that makes sense for the change you want to achieve.  You can use your little mantra in those moments when you need it most, in addition to your compelling “Why.”


Step 4.  Use a 30 Day Improvement Sprint.

Do a little every day for thirty days.   One of the practices in Agile Results is 30 Day Improvement Sprints.  Use a 30 Day Improvement Sprint to try something small each day to help you build your habit.

This is all about stacking up the days of the month to get them on your side.  You might have a hard time each day achieving the change you want.  Instead, get the whole month on your side.

The small changes will add up quickly.  If something you try, doesn’t work, that’s information that you can use to adjust your approach.  By doing these small experiments, and testing what works (and finding out what doesn’t), you’ll continuously make progress towards your goal (even if sometimes it feels like a step back.)


Step 5.  Do it Daily.

The most powerful thing you can do is setup a recurring calendar appointment and stick to it.  It’s actually easier to do something daily then it is to do something every other day or every few days or periodically or when the moment strikes.  Doing it daily builds momentum, and it helps built the habit by making it a routine, slowly at first, and then it gets easier as you go.

There are two main ways to practice your habit:

  1. Recurring time each day.   Pick a specific time of day to practice.   Actually put it on your calendar, as a reminder and set a block of time so you make time for it.  In general, the earlier in the day, the better because you have more control first thing in the morning.  If you’re trying to build a new habit, a powerful way is to pick a specific time of day to actually practice it.  If you can do it at the same time each day, that’s the ideal, because you will help make it automatic.
  2. Response to a trigger.  If the habit you want to change is more event based, meaning it happens in response to an event that triggers it, then identify the trigger or event.  Identify how you want to respond to the trigger.  For example, what specifically do you want your new behavior to be?  Keep it simple.  Keep it actionable.   Anchor it to the trigger: “When X happens, I want to respond by doing Y.”  For example, “When I feel I’m reacting out of anger, I want to respond with compassion and care, and choose my words more carefully.”

In both cases, the idea is to have a specific behavior that you want to do.

On one of my previous teams, the mantra was, “If it hurts, do it more.”   The idea was that it hurt because it was too hard to do, because of a lack of practice or too much friction.  By doing it daily, you would gradually find ways to reduce the friction.   So if we were learning a new way to do things, we would do it daily so that the daily practice would get easier.  This way we could bite off a little each day, learn, and then try again.


Step 6.  Make it One of Your Three Wins.

With Agile Results, you focus on Three Wins:  Three Wins for the day, Three Wins for the week, Three Wins for the Month.   Changing a habit is worth calling out as one of your Three Wins:

  • Three Wins for the Day.   What is a win for the day that would reflect that you achieved something regarding your habit?  For example, maybe one of your wins for the day is to have a great work out.
  • Three Wins for the Week.  What is a win for the week that would reflect that you achieved something regarding your habit?  For example, maybe one of your wins for the week is to make every work out count.
  • Three Wins for the Month.   What is a win for the month that would reflect that you achieved something regarding your habit?  For example, maybe one of your wins for the month is to adopt a new exercise habit.

Having wins at the day, week, and month gives you different zoom levels and focus.  It’s also a way to chunk up your progress, as well as divide and conquer the problem.  Your challenge for the day, might just be to show up for your workout, while your challenge for the week might be to show progress in a specific area.

Use your “wins” as a way to add extra focus and attention.  Make it meaningful.  If you’ve struggled in the past to actually start your exercise routine, then it really is a win and acknowledge it as such.


Step 7.  Use Friday Reflection to Review.

In Agile Results, Friday Reflection is a chance to review the week.  During the review, you identify what’s going well and what to improve.   You can use Friday Reflection to take a step back and look at how your change is working.   You can then identify very specific and actionable ways to improve.   This is for you, and it’s your information, so the more honest you are with yourself here, the better off you are.   By being honest with yourself about what’s working and what’s not, you can change your approach.   Changing your approach if it’s not working is the key to success.

While it can be tough to change a habit, you have a much better chance with the system on your side.  To keep trending in the right direction, rather than focus on “success” or “failure”, focus on what you try, what you learn, and how you improve.

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