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How to use your habits to make change
December 4, 2020

How to use your habits to make change

Habits can help you make changes.    Wait, what?  When people say a habit, they’re usually talking about a behavior that they can’t change.  

But, consider this:  habits help us live and work more effectively and efficiently.   Personal hygiene habits are critical to staying healthy.   For example, hand washing is a good habit to have especially during these pandemic days. 

Work habits are also important, not just for an individual but also for a whole business.   Business habits may be seen in safety or documentation procedures or they may be part of an unwritten corporate culture. 

Have you ever driven a car or bicycle on a familiar route and then realize you’ve arrived at your destination without remembering how you got there?   The activity has been done so often it requires less attention and concentration.  You were literally on auto-pilot.  This is how habits help you to be more efficient.  During your habitual drive you can concentrate on something else – say a phone call or a radio program – instead of where to turn.

Sometimes, this pattern creates problems.  sdA manager who routinely approves and signs documents may not examine each one carefully.  They may accidentally approve something that should not have been approved.   Maybe that manager was also operating on auto-pilot and didn’t notice each document.  ( Maybe the manager’s clever assistant, knowing the manager’s habit for approving documents, snuck a questionable document in for signature, hoping it would be approved “routinely.” )

In his book, The power of habit:  Why we do what we do in life and business, Charles Duhigg notes that habits include three parts:  A cue, an action and a reward.    Marketers take advantage of this pattern by connecting cues to purchasing and eventually wanting a product. 

For example, teeth are not naturally bright white.  And maybe you never noticed it before.   But, by connecting bright whiteness in teeth with physical beauty, marketers create a cue and then a need for teeth whitening products.  By stating it must be used every day to be effective, the marketer then creates a new habit, and new purchases. 

Psychologists know that people will do an activity more often when they are rewarded for it.   If the rewards are intermittent, rather than each time, the behavior will last longer.   You know this.  If you are praised by your supervisor each time you do something, after a while you come to expect the praise.  You might even wonder how sincere your supervisor is.  But, if your supervisor praises you less often and does so at unexpected times it has a more positive impact on you.

These rules can be applied when making personal and workplace change.   Change is hard enough, even more when it is done from scratch.  Change will happen more easily when it is linked to a cue or something that people are already doing.   The frequent activity serves as a cue and a reinforcer for the new activity. 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I do most often or most regularly?
  • What cues do I use to remind me to do that regular activity?
  • How can I link or add a new activity to this well-established routine? 

Share your examples and questions below in the comment section.


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