By Dick Stark
As is my habit, I frequently browse the business bestseller list on Amazon, on the lookout for the latest fad or idea. What’s been near the top for the past several months is The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. It’s a quick and fascinating read and I learned why I’m addicted to my morning run (good habit), and why it is so difficult for me to cut out my nightly dessert (bad habit).
The Power of Habit, can be a life-changer for individuals and transformational for companies. For example, Duhigg describes how Alcoa implemented new habits of worker safety and as a result, transformed itself into one of the most successful companies in America. Likewise Duhigg shares stories about individuals like Lisa Allen, who changed from an overweight chain smoker into a marathon runner with a successful career. But the biggest takeaway is that change is doable no matter your age or status. How is this possible?
Breaking habits requires establishing a new behavioral pattern. As you might expect, the book does not contain “a miracle cure” or prescription like you might find on the Weather Channel website. Instead the book provides a framework for how habits work and a guide to experimenting with how they might change. Let me run through a bad habit of mine that I’m working to fix: reacting instead of pro-acting, as it applies to Duhigg’s framework.
1. Identify the routine. It’s easy to get sucked into a daily routine of answering the mail and telephone. The cue is the telephone ring or the email ding with the reward being the satisfaction of clearing out my inbox every day (and pleasing other employees and customers). The price to pay is what little actually gets accomplished.
2. Experiment with rewards. Recently I’ve changed my behavior to write down on paper, my daily to-do list and as I go through the day, I cross off those items until the list is much smaller. The reward of completing my to-do list (pleasing myself first) is much more satisfying than a day of email.
3. Isolate the cue. Our addiction to email is readily apparent and hard to break. We’ve all been to meetings when everyone is repeatedly checking email (probably non business related) instead of concentrating on the tasks at hand. By ignoring the email ding, I’ve been able to focus more on what’s really important.
4. Have a plan. As I mentioned, I’ve starting putting together a daily to-do list again and do this the night before (If I wait until the next day, it’s too late). Now, when the email dings or the phone rings, it reminds me to start attacking my list, not email. My strong desire to please others by answering the mail has now been replaced by my desire to finish the list. The resulting personal satisfaction from completing the list is much greater (and more productive) than answering the mail.
Duhigg concludes, “Once we choose who we want to be, people grow to the way in which they have been exercised . . . If you believe you can change, if you make it a habit, the change becomes real. This is the real power of habit. The insight that your habits are what you choose them to be. Once that choice occurs, and becomes automatic, habitual, it’s not only real, it starts to seem inevitable.”