How to Become a Successful Creature of Habit

Charles Duhigg of the New York Times recently wrote on the science of habit in humans. He writes:

“Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we eat, how we spend our evenings, and how often we exercise have enormous impacts.”

While some may take this to mean there is a dubious lack of free will involved in our day-to-day lives, this is not the case. It is that habit is easier than “well-considered decision making.” While the fact that habits are easy can be a double-edged sword a conscious, mindful individual can use this to their advantage.

Duhigg explains that all habits are created in the same way, that we must “establish the right cues and rewards.” Duhigg sites a New Mexico State University study that looked at individuals who exercised at least three times a week.

What the study finds is very interesting. For many of the study’s participants their exercise routine began as a caprice, orr was generated from a sudden surplus of free time or a reaction to unexpected stress. What was it that reinforced their whim into habit? Cue and reward.
Duhigg writes:

“If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or always going for a run at the same time of day) and a clear reward (like a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). But countless studies have shown that, at first, the rewards inherent in exercise aren’t enough.
So to teach your brain to associate exercise with a reward, you need to give yourself something you really enjoy — like a small piece of chocolate — after your workout.

Eventually, your brain will start expecting the reward inherent in exercise (“It’s 5 o’clock. Three miles down! Endorphin rush!”), and you won’t need the chocolate anymore. In fact, you won’t even want it. But until your neurology learns to enjoy those endorphins and the other rewards inherent in exercise, you need to jump-start the process.”

Cues and rewards can be anything and applied to any activity you wish to become a positive habit. If one is trying to learn to play the piano, learn a new language or be more vigilant about reading the news you must create a cue and reward. Listening to your favorite piano piece every evening after dinner, then allowing yourself to watch your favorite mindless sit com after practicing the piano could be one way to reinforce the positive habit of practicing the piano.

What habits will you change or create with this information?

Why is Maintaining Motivation So Difficult?

In a recent article by the Quiet Leadership Institute, they take a look at the concept of “deliberate practice” from the book Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson, PhD, a leading psychologist in the area of expertise and Robert Pool, PhD, well known science and living writer.

The QLI defines deliberate practice as the “breakdown of expertise into a series of smaller, attainable practices.” And states that a deliberate practitioner creates and follows through on structured activities that focus on a small area to improve on within their expertise. This concept is somewhat like the mindfulness training that practitioners of Eastern philosophies use.

The QLI article quotes a section of Peak that focuses primarily on motivation. The excerpt tells readers a hard truth we can all recognize – that when we decide to learn something new, like playing the guitar or learning a new language the initial energy, motivation and interest we feel can lessen over time, sometimes very quickly, and we stop practicing as often.

Ericsson and Pool tell us that there are two primary mental road blocks. First, that when we think about expert practitioners in our fields we often assume they have “some rare gift of willpower or ‘grit’ or ‘stick-to-itiveness’ that the rest of us just lack.”

Ericsson and Pool assert this is a mistake for two reasons. First, there is very little evidence to support the idea that we have a quantifiable pool of willpower from which to draw.

However, Ericsson and Pool write that the bigger problem of will power is:
“the myth of natural talent … once you assume that something is innate, it automatically becomes something you can’t do anything about. This sort of circular thinking – “The fact that I couldn’t keep practicing indicates that I don’t have enough willpower, which explains why I couldn’t keep practicing” – is worse than useless; it is damaging in that it can convince people that they might as well not even try.”

The authors analogize improving performance to weight loss saying that those who are successful in losing weight over the long term are people who have “successfully redesigned their lives, building new habits that allow them to maintain the behaviors that keep them losing weight in spite of all of the temptations that threaten their success.”

Catwoman as a leader?

Came across a provocative title the other day. How dressing like Catwoman earned me new business in the Globe and Mail. In the article, Michelle Ray tells of how she was tasked by her manager with selling advertising to a large cinema complex. She went to the first one and struck out as she was cold-calling. She saw a costume shop as she was driving to her next destination and found a Catwoman costume. She continued on to her destination dressed as Catwoman. Bye the end of the day, she landed 6 new contracts.

She told her manager what she had done to land the contracts. Silence. Then uncontrollable laughter. He had her repeat it to make sure he heard her correctly. He then commended her for her innovation, imagination and being a bold manager.

She goes on to commend her manager for his support of her initiatives, no matter how far-fetched. She gives some reasons why employing someone like her manager is in the best interest of their employees:

  1. Supportive leaders build employee loyalty
  2. Supportive leaders build trust and initiative
  3. Supportive leaders boost creativity and productivity

~ Jody Victor