The Power of Good Habits
By the end of this lesson, you are expected to:
– figure out how to deal with bad habits that kill your productivity
– understand how the brain works in habit formation
– learn how to break bad habits and create new ones
How the Brain Works in Habit Formation
This lesson is mainly based on the 2012 New York Times bestseller “The Power of Habit”, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Charles Duhigg.
The book begins with the story of Eugene Pauly, a 71-year-old man who lost the medial temporal lobe of his brain to viral encephalitis. The rest of Eugene’s brain remained perfectly intact, and he had no problem remembering anything that occurred prior to 1960 – but suffered from total short-term memory loss, unable to retain knowledge of any new event for more than a minute and constantly repeating his words and actions from a minute before.
In an effort to make sure Eugene got some exercise, his wife had begun taking him on a walk around the block each day. She became frantic one day when he disappeared, only to show up 15 minutes later after taking the walk by himself. He couldn’t draw a simple map of his block or even tell you where his house was, but he began taking that same walk around the block every day.
Eugene had demonstrated what scientists had suspected but never proved before – that habits are formed and operate entirely separately from the part of the brain responsible for memory. Later tests confirmed that we learn and make unconscious choices without having to remember anything about the lesson or decision-making.
Your brain is constantly seeking new ways to save effort, and is always “chunking” sequences of actions into automatic routines. Backing out of the driveway, for example, requires over a dozen separate actions, but many of us do it daily without a second thought.
Let’s start with some examples of bad habits that kill your productivity.
Of all the bad habits, multitasking is among the worst and most common. When you multitask, you’re not actually doing multiple tasks at the same time. Rather, you’re temporarily giving partial focus to a single task while giving majority focus to the act of switching tasks. This results in producing subpar, incomplete work on a daily basis.
Some people are naturally helpful and will default to acquiescing even when they perhaps should not — to be polite, to avoid saying no, to avoid even the appearance of conflict. Then they take on too much, get overwhelmed and are unable to handle other commitments in an effort to fit everything in. So let it be known that your time is valuable, because nobody will respect it if you don’t say it loud and clear.
Keep these things in mind when you’re asked for something:
– Do you have/want to do it?
– Can you do it?
– Is the timing right?
– Does it complement, promote or support your goals?
The biggest barrier to effective delegation is often you. You must overcome your anxieties about giving others responsibilities in order to gain the benefits of successful delegation.
“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
Try following these steps:
– Identify and address the barriers in your own way
– Overcome these barriers
– Support your teammates who may try to avoid responsibility
When the phone is not on silent mode and people are in a meeting, having lunch/dinner or spending time with family, many people feel the need to answer their phone. Unless the phone call comes at a time when you’re not doing something important (which is rare for busy people who have a family and full-time job), don’t answer it. Too many people have the bad habit of answering their phone / checking their phone almost instinctively.
In fact, executives consider more than 67% of meetings to be failures. Unproductive meetings waste money and time (your’s and other people’s) so plan a meeting in advance with clear expectations and with a specific purpose in mind and determine whether it’s absolutely necessary or not.
Habits consist of a simple, but extremely powerful, three-step loop. According to Charles Duhigg, first, there’s a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.
Over time, this loop becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.
1) Cue: A trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode, and which routine to use.
2) Routine: Physical, mental, or emotional behavior that follows the cue.
3) Reward: A positive stimulus that tells your brain that the routine works well, and is worth remembering.
A Story about the Consumer Goods Industry
It might surprise you to learn that in early 20th Century America, hardly anyone brushed their teeth; in fact, so many recruits during World War I had rotting teeth that government officials declared poor dental hygiene a national security risk. That all changed, however, when a marketing genius by the name of Claude Hopkins was convinced by an old friend to apply his skills to hawking toothpaste.
Claude was the man responsible for taking unknown products like Goodyear and Quaker Oats and turning them into household names. His signature tactic was to tap into the Habit Loop by anchoring the product to a specific trigger, regardless of how preposterous the connection. Quaker Oats, for example, owes its success to Claude being able to convince America that it provided 24-hour energy – but only if you ate a bowl every morning.
Claude chose a similar cue to turn toothpaste into a national habit. His ads read, “Just run your tongue across your teeth. You’ll feel a film – that’s what makes your teeth look ‘off color’ and invites decay.” After giving people the cue, he continued with images of beautiful white smiles and the statement, “Note how many pretty teeth are seen everywhere. Millions are using a new method of teeth cleaning. Why should any woman have dingy film on her teeth? Pepsodent removes the film!”
The claim was downright false; the “film” is a naturally occurring membrane, and toothpaste doesn’t do anything to remove it. However, the cue was universal and easily apparent, and people bought the connection to the reward (beautiful teeth). Within a decade, toothpaste usage had expanded from 7% to 65% of the population.
Try to replace a current behavior (bad/unproductive habit) with a more positive and productive behavior.
– Prioritizing tasks so that small tasks don’t push out more important tasks.
– Being a better listener (interrupting less, focusing more on what others are saying).
– Not micromanaging; learning to let go of control, trust and enable other people more.
– Resisting distractions (email, web, socializing etc.) to work in a more focused way.
– Not getting impatient in team situations when you think the discussion is off track or unproductive.
According to Chris Bailey, author of “The Productivity Project”, the biggest myth around productivity is that waking up early will make you more productive. If you want to get more stuff done during the day, you may look at the habits of super-successful people and try to emulate them. However, recent research supports the claim that certain people are simply not wired to wake up early.
A study of nearly 90,000 people found that your DNA may help determine whether you’re a morning or an evening person. If you’ve tried waking up insanely early and it’s not helping you, it may be time to ditch the habit. As Bailey states, you shouldn’t listen to “blanket productivity advice” because what works for one person may not work for you.
In other words, waking up early is not associated with being more successful.
(Optional) Watch this TED Talk (22 minutes) by circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster, in which Foster says there’s no known difference in socioeconomic status between early birds and night owls.
Jerry Seinfeld’s Method for Creative Success
You’ll need a red marker and a calendar to display in a prominent spot.
1) Pick a routine task, a significant goal, or a skill you’d like to improve. It could be anything, from “Exercise” or “Learn Mandarin” to “Improve Customer Retention by 10%.”
2) Every day you work towards that goal or complete that task, put a big, fat X on your calendar. Pretty soon you’ll have a chain of Xs. Now… don’t break the chain. It’s that simple!
You can use this technique to track more than one goal or habit, but be judicious when choosing them. If you try and juggle too many, your chains will inevitably get broken and the whole thing will fall apart. Try to choose one or two big goals to build your chains on. Consistent, daily progress can have a big impact!
Use this approach to:
– Develop a new habit
– Make steady progress on a big project
– Give yourself an extra push of motivation to get things done
#1 Be proactive
#2 Begin with the end in mind
#3 Put first things first
#4 Think win-win
#5 Seek first to understand, then to be understood
#7 Sharpen the saw