ACTivity/ Breaking Bad Habits

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Manila, 13 March 2019 — Are bad habits holding you back, or worse? Time to check what the experts advise you to do.

People don’t decide their future. They decide their habits and their habits decide their future.
— F.M. Alexander

As a growing leader, you probably spend a lot of attention on expanding your vision, awareness, and communication skills. And rightly so.

Today’s post takes another perspective, on what you repeat every day and every week. In other words, on your habits. 

Do you show up on time for meetings, early, or late? When you have conversations, do you listen actively? Habits like these can make or break leaders. You get the point?

How about what time do you get up and go to sleep? And what kind of foods do you choose to eat. Good habits are often compared to building a strong house, brick by brick.

Bad habits have the opposite result. At best, they hold you back. At worst… well, you get the idea. Do you have any bad habits? I do—it comes with being human. So can you change them?

Let’s hear what the experts have to say about that.

Charles Duhigg, an award-winning journalist with The New York Times, wrote a classic on the topic: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. “Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy,” argues Duhigg, “but with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped. … Habits are  malleable throughout your entire life.” That is good news indeed, even if making the changes is not easy.

It helps to know how habits work. How can you change them and build strong habits?

According to Duhigg, habits follow a 3-stage cycle. The Cue is how you are triggered. The Routine is what you do when you act out your habit. And the Reward is what you get for doing it. Duhigg explains that we can change bad or unhelpful habits by replacing the routine (the action) while keeping the cue and the reward.

Marshall Goldsmith, a well-known leadership coach, adds awareness, a deep breath, and choice to the mix. After being triggered by the cue, he recommends to think, pause, and make a considered choice to change the behavior. Goldsmith’s book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts--Becoming the Person You Want to Be contains a treasure trove of tips for leaders to build strong habits.

Goldsmith’s approach sounds a lot like the millennia-old method practiced by Buddhists. During my time as a monk, I was taught how to focus on the moment of choice in what Buddhists refer to as the cycle of dependent origination (Paticca-samuppada in Pali). This method explains the causes of suffering and how to interrupt that cycle.

In his 2018 book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear builds on the work of earlier experts when he describes how to work on building positive habits. “You get what you repeat,” says Clear. That is consistent with Duhigg’s view that “the more you focus, the more that focus becomes a habit."

Clear offers some helpful additional perspectives, recommending to focus not on what you want to achieve, but on who you wish to become (like Goldsmith). For example, when you want to run a marathon, start thinking like a marathon runner. As an emerging leader, think what your leader role model would do the situation you are in.

Continuing his exploration, Clear offers what he calls four laws of behavior change to build better habits: to make the change 1) obvious, 2) attractive, 3) easy, and 4) satisfying. I have no argument with that. He adds that changing habits is easier when your environment is conducive. You can do this when you surround yourself by like-minded leaders with a growth mindset. Sound advice too, from my experience.

Are you ready to take a close look at your current habits and to (re)build your leadership from the ground up by focusing on strong habits?

The books I quoted offer plenty of food for thought to start applying it in developing effective leadership routines for every day and week. And to start working on replacing habits that no longer serve you.

A habit that I highly recommend is to focus on Three Daily Wins. Read about it here.

You get what you repeat.
— James Clear

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