We all have habits. Some of those habits are good for us, and some of them are not so good for us.
What’s common is that it is hard to change a habit. So when you think about habits in the context of organisational change, it is not surprising that it is hard to get organisations (and the individuals that work there) to change.
This is because change isn’t a linear process. It requires ongoing reflection, attention and action.
And it involves building new habits.
Academic researchers, Bas Verplanken (University of Bath) and Wendy Wood (Duke University), found that more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t decisions, but habits.
This means there is an incredible amount of behaviour that is automatic, and carried out almost unconsciously.
To thrive through change, individuals and organisations need to understand their habits and know how to change them.
So where do habits come from?
They are basically built up over time, and they operate to save the brain effort. Our brain is very clever and finds lots of ways to save energy. Creating habits is one such device.
The interesting thing is that they can be created unconsciously or consciously.
To change a habit and replace it with a better or new habit this needs to occur consciously.
Why should you care?
Our habits shape what we do, and therefore impacts what we will or won’t achieve each day.
English novelist, Charles Reade, once said: “Sow a thought, and you reap an action; sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny”.
It’s a great way to think about the massive impact that an unconscious habit can have on outcomes in our life.
What do you need to do?
Habits of course, can be changed, but it takes effort.
Verplanken and Wood also found that “Successful habit change interventions involve disrupting the environmental factors that automatically cue habit performance”.
The process used to change a habit isn’t determined by whether that habit arises in a personal or work context.
So when you want to change a habit, think about these 10 steps
- Identify the habit you want to change
- Acknowledge that the status quo can’t remain, and recognise and accept your part in changing it
- Uncover what is motivating the current behaviour
- Identify ways of changing, including what you may need to disrupt in your environment to make the change successful
- Start making changes in small steps, as it’s often easier to break a habit when it is broken down into a series of smaller, more achievable activities
- Commit to your changes publicly, because it’s much harder to renege when you’ve told other people you are going to do it
- Find a buddy who you can undertake this journey with, so you can support each other through the process
- Monitor how you are progressing and keep the results visible
- Celebrate your momentum by rewarding yourself as you’ve made progress
- Keep moving forward despite set-backs. Inevitably the progress of habit change won’t be perfect and you may find that you slip back into old habits. Don’t beat yourself up when you do. Acknowledge the slip, be kind to yourself and then get back to it!
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