Monthly Archives: August 2017

hugging

With September and a new school year right around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to think about habits at home.

When you come in the door from work, what are the first few things you do?  Do you complain to your spouse about your boss?  Do put on your running shoes and get some exercise?  Or do you hug your kids or your dog?

For the next few days, pay close attention to the predictable patterns that play out when you get home from work. Do they support you in creating a life that you love, both inside and outside of work?  Or are your “at home” habits derailing you?

In this “back to school” season, you may find the perfect opportunity to change your habits. Even if you don’t have kids or they are done with school or not yet entered school, there is change in the air every September. Let it buoy you along as you make positive changes to your at home habits, creating a life you love to live, both at work and at home.

What habits support you at home?

Let me know in the comments below.

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    habits-good-bad

    Habits most often come about accidentally.  We try something and it works: we get a reward. The next time that same cue triggers us, we implement the same routine and get the same reward. Rinse and repeat numerous times (some say 21 is the magic number) and a habit is born.

    But what if you recognize a habit that you have and you don’t like it. Can you change it?  Or swap it out with a different habit?

    Researchers agree that yes, we can change a habit, and they have some specific insights on how to do so.

    If you’ve read my recent blog posts, you’ll recall that a habit is includes a trigger or a cue that prompts a specific set of behaviors (a routine) and it ends in a reward. The stronger the craving for the reward, the easier the habit develops.  And the harder it is to break.

    Researchers now know that the cue triggers our brain to have a craving for the reward, and it’s not likely that the cues are going to go away. And our brain certainly doesn’t want to let go of the reward. What’s left to change? The routine, or the specific behaviors that we take when the cue shows up.

    Here’s a before and after comparison of the habit change. Let’s say the habit I’m trying to change is to stop gossiping with my coworkers.

    Before  

    Cue: A natural lull in my work (a slight moment of boredom).

    Routine: Get up from desk, walk over to Roxanne’s office, get the latest gossip, go back to my desk.

    Reward: Distraction and a change of scenery to cure the boredom and reset my attention span.

    After

    Cue: A natural lull in my work (a slight moment of boredom).

    Routine: Get up from desk, take the stairs to the main level, go out the back door, take a short walk, go back to my desk.  (Or, if it truly is social interaction I crave, go to Alex’s desk for a short visit . . . she rarely gossips and always has interesting anecdotes.)

    Reward: Distraction and a change of scenery to cure the boredom and reset my attention span.

     

    So while we cannot easily change the whole habit, we can systematically run different routines until we find one that gives us the same reward.

    What workplace habits would you like to change?

    Let me know in the comments below.

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    Cravings

    Ty was a participant in one of my leadership development classes. In our session on effective meetings, I’d shared research on how much more efficient meetings could be if people refrained from attempts to “multi-task” while in the meeting. The buzzes and beeps from our smartphones, tablets and laptops are addictive. We crave the distraction and the potential reward that comes with an exciting or important text message, social media alert or email.

    So Ty set out to curb his craving for distraction.

    It was harder than he thought.

    “I keep looking at my phone to see if there are any new messages,” Ty told me, “I have it silenced, not even on vibrate, and I am so addicted I keep looking.  I can hardly last 10 minutes!”

    I empathized. I’d been there myself a couple of years ago when I broke up with email. It is simple, but it certainly isn’t easy.

    I explained to Ty that his smartphone habit was based on the repeated and predictable pattern of Cue –> Routine –> Reward.

    The cue was his boredom.

    When his mind would drift, whether in a meeting or doing independent work at his desk, that was his cue to reach for his phone. Maybe a juicy reward (interesting message) just arrived.

    What makes the smartphone habit stick is the craving for the reward.

    We all want the kudos email from a customer, the confirmation of a new project with your best client, or a note from your sweetheart.

    But more often it is a notice that the cable bill is due, Amazon would like you to rate your recent purchase or Target alerts you to a sale curtains.

    Ty’s anticipation for a reward, in fact his craving for a reward, was what made the habit stick.

    Once he understood that the craving for the reward was driving his behavior, he understood, and he relaxed a bit. “I get a little hit of that craving when I’m just looking at my phone on my desk, trying to will myself not to look at it,” he said. “I’m going to leave it in my pocket or put it in my desk drawer when I need to concentrate so that I’m not triggering the craving just by looking at it.”

    When I last spoke with Ty, he was making good progress on delaying the reward. He’d decided that kicking the smartphone habit altogether wasn’t in the cards for him, but he could at least delay the eventual reward . . . be it a text from his sweetie or a sale on curtains.

    What strong cues draw you in?

    Share yours below and I’ll reply with some tips to curb them.

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    Cue Routine Reward

    Passed over for a promotion yet again, Sandra came to me frustrated and angry.  After we talked for a bit, I asked her how her morning at the office started each day. She explained that she came into the office each morning, head down and aiming straight for her office. She made little eye contact with others and usually had no specific interactions with people apart from the occasional “Excuse me” or “Third floor, please,” in the elevator.

    Sandra spent the first 45 minutes of her day catching up on email. With colleagues in other time zones (and local colleagues who seemed to work around the clock), email felt like the bane of Sandra’s existence. If she could at least get her inbox to a manageable size before the day of meetings and project work began, she felt a sense of accomplishment. It was good to start the day ahead of the game, she thought.

    Shortly after she started working for her current employer, Sandra felt continuously behind on her work, especially email. She resolved one day, years ago, to get caught up one morning. She came in with absolute focus, spoke to no one on the way to her desk, and churned through several hundred emails before coming up for air. When she was done, she felt a rush of accomplishment. And she began to repeat the pattern.

    What Sandra didn’t realize was that this habit of “head’s down” approach first thing in the day was impeding her relationships with her co-workers, even the ones she worked the most closely with.  In the absence of even a smile or a quick hello, people thought of Sandra as aloof and standoffish, hardly material for a promotion.

    Sandra’s pattern follows the routine researchers at MIT have discovered when it comes to habit: it starts with a cue or a trigger.  For Sandra, that was hundreds of unread and unanswered emails in her inbox. Prompted by the cue, she implemented a routine: a head’s down approach to clearing her inbox, complete with the absolute focus while walking to her desk. And finally, reward. For Sandra, the reward was the sense of accomplishment she felt heading off to her first meeting with her inbox at zero.

    Cue –> Routine –> Reward.

    Those are the makings of a habit.

    Left unchecked, our repeated behaviors develop into habits with no conscious effort on our part.

    Or habits can be deliberately designed to support who you are and what you want to create for yourself professionally.

    What do your habits say about you?

    Let me know in the comments below.

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