4 Reflections for Positively Changing Habits
Think for a moment about changing habits in how you sign your name on a check-try using your other hand. Why not go ahead and actually try it…right now. Experiment for a minute. What happened? For most of us the penmanship will be awful. Now, what do you think you will do the next time you write your name? We tend not to stick with changes. You will use the correct hand, right? What if you couldn’t use your other hand anymore? Now what? You would change…? You would not have a choice anymore. Instantly your thinking would begin to change about what is possible and what you want. At first it your writing would be bad, but in time it would get better.
You have a few habits you wish you could change, don’t you? You believe if you did life or your work would be better? Whether the list that comes to mind is personal or professional, most of us have dozens that fall into both categories. Most of the time when we attempt to change the habits the years have formed we can become frustrated, discouraged, and hopeless. The journey toward change is never easy, but it’s always possible.
4 Reflections for Changing Habits
Habit. You know, the word that otherwise means ‘acquired pattern of behavior,’ or ‘an addictive practice.’ Some of our habits, we’re proud of. Other habits, we’d rather not claim as our own vices. So, how do we even go about changing a habit when the power of the pattern seems to override every effort made?
Ovid, a Roman poet, brilliantly noted that “habits change into character.” Now, a statement like that simply adds to the already-present pressure that bad habits need to abandoned (ASAP!). But, how do we do it? How is it that everything else seems to trump our efforts to change when that’s our primary focus and goal?
As I’ve reflected on the powerful patterns we come to loathe in our lives, I came to four conclusions:
- Oftentimes, we label a habit “good” or “bad” without looking at the outcomes.
- The label we give it depends on the outcome it gives us, not the experience it offers.
- Although we might enjoy the experience to some extent, we decide it’s a habit we want to rid, once the consequences of the outcome override the benefits of the experience.
- All habits are interconnected. When deciding to make changes weigh the costs and benefits with other areas that may be affected.
Alright, a lot of that may be confusing. So, I’m going to illustrate these points by way of two examples: one professional and one personal; because as we all know, habits infiltrate each area of our lives.
Changing Habits: A Professional Example
Let’s say Julie, the manager of Team A, habitually cancels meetings. She schedules one team meeting a week for her 8 reports to attend. This time is set aside to allow her team to converse about that week’s priorities, so that as a unit, they could come together and tackle things strategically and effectively. Yet, every week, Julie seems to notice that her team members are swamped with work. So every week, she cancels the meeting, hoping that the extra hour of time added back onto their calendars, is helpful. Over time, her team seems frustrated. She notices that they are rude to one another and seem overworked. So, she continues to cancel meetings, hoping that their “overworked” selves will benefit from the time and hoping that they’ll be happy to avoid the unnecessary tension that a team meeting would entail. Julie starts to wonder if her habit of canceling is actually to blame.
The purpose behind Julie’s actions seemed well-intentioned: “I want to give my team more work time because they seem really busy.” But, it was the outcome that eventually caught her attention and made her question the value of her habit: “By removing this team time from their schedule, am I somehow contributing to the team tension that’s present?” If Julie were to change her habit, she’d more than likely make changes based on “the outcome” she’s observing.
Changing Habits: A Personal Example
Jeff has four kids, a loving wife, an incredible executive job, and Jeff serves on the board of three major community organizations in town. He loves to run, but due to his busy schedule, he’s put it on the back-burner. His purpose is to make more time for his family, but his outcome is that it’s adding to his waistline. Again, it’s not Jeff’s “experience” that’s causing him to label this a “bad” habit (because it allows him more free time). It is the “outcome” that’s caught his attention (because the added pounds aren’t adding value).
Pulling It All Together
Research shows that it takes a good two months to make a habit stick. By reviewing the consequences of a changed habit, we gain the feedback we need to continue or discontinue our efforts. Ask yourself these questions regularly:
- What’s working?
- What isn’t working?
- What can I learn?
- How do the results relate to the experience I want?
- What do I need to do or am willing to do differently or better?
Done consistently, this kind of mental review leads to new thinking, the behavior your want and the experience you hope for.
The good news in all of this is that once we really crystallize the “experience” we’re after, we can hopefully find better avenues to pursue that experience without having to maintain our unhelpful habits that give us outcomes we don’t want. Too many of us keep trying to change through different methods (new diets for example). Most people don’t take the time to think through and clarify their real goal or honestly review the results obtained. Einstein declared, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
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