Do you ever find yourself coming out of a training course buzzing with all the new things you are going to do and implement, only to find yourself 3 months later doing the exact same things you did before?
I do. Want to know why?
It’s because changing our routines, our habits, is hard. Our brains are wired to constantly save energy and have evolved over time to create mini routines, or habits, that require very little energy and enable us to get through our day with our mental faculties intact. These energy saving routines are everywhere in our day-to-day lives, from how we get ready to leave our house in the morning to how we start the car and drive to work. We don’t need to exhaust mental power debating how to do these things every morning, we just do them. Foot on clutch, power on, into gear, pedal down and off you go.
These routines also dictate much of how we behave at work – how we interact with people, how we prioritise our workload, how we give feedback and coach our teams etc.
The challenge is that on any training or leadership programmes we are taught new ways to coach and lead our people, influence or sell, and these new routines unfortunately require energy to be embedded as habits. Although we all know that we won’t develop as great leaders without being agile and implementing new ideas and learning, it can be really difficult to change our behaviours and maintain this change, rather than simply putting the course notes in the drawer never to be seen again. With this in mind, next time you are in this situation try to…
Act immediately. Start to implement your 1-3 key takeaways the first day back at work. The longer you wait, the less likely you will embed the new habit. Focus on the learnings which resonate with you! It doesn’t need to be everything the course taught you or what your colleague is doing.
Tell someone about it. Get a buddy, or even better a bigger group (maybe your whole team or department), and tell them what you are trying to do differently. Maybe even all do it together. You don’t need to all be changing the same habit, but you do need to be supportive and hold each other to account!
Figure out your cues. Research has shown that our habits are triggered and rewarded in a loop of sorts. Cue – Routine – Reward. The cue is the trigger that stimulates you to do a habitual behaviour, the routine is the habit and the reward is the positive feeling or outcome that makes you want to do it again. Research has also found that it’s easier to replace an old habit than create an entirely new one. So, figure out the cue, then use this same cue to trigger the new desired habit.
I’ll share a personal example with you… in the change to my new role I have had to re-evaluate my approach to coaching. I’ve always used psychometrics and behavioural interviews as a starting point, and therefore approached conversations from an “I am the expert sharing what I have observed about you” stance – fundamentally assessment with coaching added on the end. In my new role I am expected to flip this on its head and simply coach – start with questions, and follow with questions, thereby getting the individual to come up with the insight and actions themselves.
I’m still in the process of changing this deeply embedded habit, and it is hard! I have figured out my cue – it is when someone says something which triggers me to believe I have the solution. I know what I want my new routine to be (as explained above), and have made a plan to help me do this. Every time I get that feeling of ‘knowing the answer’, I write it down on my notepad and ask a further probing question, and if the urge to ‘tell’ is still there I dig my fingernail into my thumb. Most importantly I’ve found that I get the same reward as before (the feeling of helping someone), but it is even stronger because I feel more impact.
Figuring out the cue is the hardest part. If you are reading this and thinking of what your bad habit cues may be, it helps to think of these categories (research has shown almost all cues fit into them):
· Emotional state
· Other people
· Immediately preceding action (this was mine!!)
Over to you, good luck!
P.S. If you want further reading, try The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.