Habits and how to change them

What are habits?

Habits are behaviours we perform almost automatically. They are not  usually something we have to spend any time thinking about, we just do them, for example cleaning our teeth regularly.  Bad habits can become destructive, and these kinds of habits require our attention if we are to live healthy and fulfilling lives. An example of a bad habit could be the way we automatically open the fridge when we return home, looking for comfort food or drink to ease the stress of the day.

This applies equally in our working lives as much as our personal lives. I have written before about the habit of responding ‘yes, but’ to new suggestions and this is an example of an habitual response we can get into.

It is important to reflect upon the habits we have developed, the consequences of these  and review those we want to change.

Changing habits

Before we consider how to change habits it is useful to consider how they have developed in the first place.

Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit, talks about the cycle of cue, routine and reward as being the process by which habits are developed. I prefer to talk about triggers, action and reward which mean the same thing.

In the example above, a trigger would be returning home from work, the action would be opening the fridge door and the reward would be taking out that bottle of chardonnay and drinking a glass. This becomes self-reinforcing when the reward is a valued reward that brings some satisfaction. The habit then builds in strength.

If we are to change a habit, we need to break this process.

Ways in which to change habits

Taking the three aspects of the process:

We can change the trigger – OK, so returning home from work is not something we can change, however maybe there is a routine here which can be changed. The timing perhaps, or the mood we are in when we return. Changing our journey home for example may be enough to break out of the routine nature of our return. Dealing with the stress we are suffering at work and not bringing it home would be the ultimate solution here.

We can change the action – that is the way in which we respond to the trigger. We need to set up a new routine. For example, when we enter our home rather than go to the fridge, we do something different. This may be putting on music or listening to a podcast, or sitting and meditating.

We can change the reward – So it is difficult for us not to open the fridge? Then have substitute products there, other than the delicious cakes or wine that we normally turn to. Find a non-alcoholic alternative, or a healthy snack and make a new habit out of this.

The thing with habits is that they are pretty enduring. They have served a purpose for us, for example helping us get over our stressful day. They can be difficult to change and they need persistence. The journey is often strewn with false starts and reversals. It is important to become consciously aware of our behaviour and to be consistent. A step backwards is not a reason to give up.

Other actions to take:

  • Deal with why we have the triggers in the first place, as in the above example of stress.
  • Keep a journal to help identify the triggers and actions that need to be changed and to keep tracck of  the progress we are making.
  • Find a buddy to share with to help reinforce the new behaviour.

In the book, Creativity Cycling I have written about how habits build into mindsets and why we should break out of them.

What advice can you share that can help others with their habit breaking?

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently published a book on creativity for leaders with Dr. Tracy Stanley, entitled Creativity Cycling .

Risk and why it is important for Creativity

Risk is a part of life: something we all live with. Some people are more comfortable with risk, others have no choice. However. I propose that for change, development, creativity and innovation, a level of healthy risk is essential.

Risk and Fear

Risk, however, can bring with it feelings of fear. As I write this I remember reading the book by Susan Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway . It had a very positive effect on me at a time in my life when I was about to leave a full-time job in one country for an uncertain freelance career in another. The fear around risk is that we may fail. However, if we never take a risk, we may never live life at our best.

This fear of failure is prevalent in organisations.  Failure is often punished and the consequences of this is a reluctance to start or try anything new or different. This is detrimental to creativity and innovation. As people and as organisations, without taking a risk, we cannot develop and change. To enable creativity and innovation risk is essential.

Risk and a Creative Culture

Goran Ekvall proposed that there are essential elements of a culture needed to support creativity. This quote from his paper –Organizational Conditions and Levels of Creativity highlights the value of risk-taking. ‘As risktaking and anxiety are ingredients of creative acts, culture elements that make risktaking and failure less threatening and dangerous are promoting of creative behavior, whereas in situations where creative initiatives are met with suspicion, defensiveness and aggression, the fear of failure becomes strong and holds creativity back.’

Charles Handy stated that ‘Experiments may fail, thus forgiveness is essential. Instead of failures, unsuccessful experiments must be viewed as part of the learning process–as lessons learned.’

We all have our own boundaries, or constraints when we consider the level of risk that is acceptable. One difference in level of risk acceptability could be due to the prevailing culture. If we can learn from the mistakes we make when taking risks, then we can change and develop. However, it is almost impossible to learn from mistakes in a blame culture in which people feel threatened and feel bad about mistakes. This undermines self-confidence and leads to a culture of low risk taking.

A learning culture, rather than a blame culture requires an active learning habit.  A leader needs to coach their staff so that they can reflect upon their actions, understand them, learn from them and then build upon them to try something different. In this way people can take responsibility for their actions, take risks, and develop their creativity.

Actions to Take

So, what do we need to put in place for risk to be acceptable?

People need to be competent to understand the level of risk that is acceptable and how to ensure that mistakes are made ‘safely’. Experiment in creativity and innovation is essential when developing ideas, provided that the experimentation is done in a safe way, and the culture is supportive. The risk is then a managed risk. If the experimentation fails, learning can result from it.

To summarise

  • Risk is needed to enable creativity and innovation.
  • To remove the fear of risk, a supporting culture needs to be in place.
  • In organisations this means that leaders must –
    • Develop trust, so that open discussions can be had around level of risk in any situation.
    • Train employees to be able to take risks safely
    • If mistakes are made, coaching and open discussion will enable lessons to be learned.
    • Turn these lessons into learning for the whole organisation.

Barbara is an executive coach, leadership and creativity facilitator. She has coached women and men in a variety of corporate settings, and has developed a unique approach to using creative techniques in her coaching and workshops to enable change at a group or individual level. She has recently co-authored a book on creativity for leaders, called Creativity Cycling , with Dr. Tracy Stanley. which covers the process of CPS and techniques that can help challenge assumptions.

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change

‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’IMG_0916

These words had been going around my head for weeks since I heard the Damon Albarn song ‘Mr Tembo’.

Somehow it has particularly resonated as I was facing a not unexpected but nevertheless unsettling change in my career. Continue reading “‘It’s where he is now but it wasn’t what he planned.’ A personal experience of change”

What is really important in a change programme?

I recently came across a very interesting article about Kaizen methods
of change which led to me revisiting the concept of Kaizen and change. I have always understood Kaizen to be about facilitating change through small steps. In fact the original Kaizen approach, as declared by the Kaizen Institute , emphasizes that it is not just about small steps, rather it is about everyone being involved in change. Continue reading “What is really important in a change programme?”

Life is lived forward and understood backward

To quote Mintzberg whom I referenced in my last blogpost , ‘As Kierkegaard once observed, life is lived forward but understood backward. Managers may have to live strategy in the future, but they must understand it through the past’

At the point at which events happen we often cannot totally understand their meaning and certainly not their full implication. We can only infer what this may mean in the future. However we can and should look back and reflect how events have shaped where and who we are now in order to move forward. Continue reading “Life is lived forward and understood backward”

Goals are important however they should not be set in stone

As someone who is in the business of supporting others to change, I accept that the setting of goals is very important. However I am reminded, every time I set a goal, of the line from John Lennon’s song Beautiful Boy,  ‘ Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans’.

I am sure this has been interpreted many times in many ways however I wanted to share my take on this and the context in which I am writing this. Continue reading “Goals are important however they should not be set in stone”

Enabling change in an energised way

I have been enabling change for as long as I have been working! This has taken many forms, as a manager, a teacher, trainer, facilitator and coach. One of the constant challenges I have found is how to gain peoples buy in to what can be a very painful process. If we are honest, few of us like change initially. You just have to look at the way people choose to sit in the same seats every day on their daily commute! We create our own comfort zones by forming habits and performing rituals on a  daily basis. This provides a sense of security and I am not knocking this as I need this as much as anyone, however we do need to be pushed out of our comfort zones in order to grow and develop and for change to happen. Continue reading “Enabling change in an energised way”

4 ways passion is important at work

Passion can be defined as any powerful or compelling emotion. This can be either positive or negative and wars have been fought due to the level of negative emotion.  So, what does passion mean in a work context?

4 ways in which passion is important at work

  1. Passion is strongly correlated with motivation. If people are passionate about what they are doing then they will be motivated. Motivation and passion will keep you going and developing

“The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.” – Malcolm Gladwell Continue reading “4 ways passion is important at work”

The value in creating a shared vision

Creating a shared vision

Creating a vision is essential in any change process because a vision offers us a strong mental image of something we want to create in the future and it can motivate us towards that future. When the vision involves others, then engaging them in a shared vision is extremely valuable. It is more powerful than developing a strategy particularly if it is developed as an image rather than using words. Continue reading “The value in creating a shared vision”

Change and the creative process

Some time ago in my working life as an employee I initiated a change process which made excellent use of creative tools. I will come back to this example in future blog.

Since then I have been using creative tools in my work in a variety of contexts as well as teaching them to managers and leaders. I am convinced of the value of using creative thinking tools in order to work through the change process.

So what does this mean? Continue reading “Change and the creative process”

Wicked Problems and Creative Change

Change is a given in organisations and the need for change is recognised when there is a gap between what is desired and what exists. We could refer to this gap as a problem or a series of  issues, sometimes even an opportunity.

In terms of problems there are two ways of looking at these, tame and wicked problems. Tame ones are relatively easy to solve as they are clearly formulated and there is an obvious testable solution. These can be solved using logical, rational menas provided that there is a clarity around the problem definition. Continue reading “Wicked Problems and Creative Change”