Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks (or how to change an ingrained habit)

habits-good-bad

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks (or how to change an ingrained habit)

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Category : business communication

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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