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

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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    GrowthMindset

    Ever wish you could just sit back, relax and let change wash over you? What if I told you that one of the most powerful techniques Olympic athletes, blockbuster actors and top sales performers use to seal the deal on their success was readily available for you to use, too?

    Good news!  It is.

    The secret?  The easiest way to shift your mindset is to visualize yourself having a growth mindset.  Visualization is the process of seeing in your mind’s eye the behavior you wish to have, in the moment you wish to have it.

    Sound woo-woo?  Esoteric?  Consider Michael Phelps who has earned 28 Olympic medals in swimming. His coach trained him to “watch a movie” in his mind of him winning every race. His coach told him to do the visualization (watch the movie) every night before he fell asleep and every morning upon waking. The more detailed, the better. Every stroke, every movement, in precise detail.

    How will it work for you? Imagine you’re at the start of your work day. See every challenge that comes your way as an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Fill your “movie” with some of the more challenging scenes from a typical day: getting less-than-stellar feedback from your boss, learning a new software program, a difficult conversation with a colleague.  In each of the situations in your visualization, see yourself responding with a growth mindset: see yourself asking questions like, “What’s the most effective thing I can do right now? How can learn from this? And how can I improve based on what I now know?”

    Or, I’ll make it even easier for you:  Watch this guided meditation. I’ve narrated the movie for you. Review it at the start of your day, imagining your day lived through a growth mindset.

    After you’ve listened to it, share your thought in the comments below.

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    changetheirmind

    You know the difference between growth mindset and fixed mindset. You’ve been working on it. You can spot a fixed mindset a mile away.  And it bugs the heck out of you when you hear your colleague/spouse/best friend/child responding to life with a fixed mindset.

    Ever wish you could (quite literally) change their mind?

    Okay, so you can’t necessarily change their mind. But you can change their mindset.

    Here’s how:

    1) Look for an opportunity.  Find something they did well (project work, yard work, helping you with something).

    2) Show appreciation for their effort. It sounds like this: “Thank you for helping me host the client dinner/party/garage sale.  Your effort and help is noticed and appreciated.”

    Research on mindset shows that when people are praised for their effort they are subsequently more willing to take on more challenging tasks. On the other hand, those who are praised for their intelligence or their innate talent (i.e., “You’re so good at hosting client dinners/parties/garage sales.”), were less likely to perform well on more challenging tasks.  Moreover, those who were praised for their intelligence or innate talent were less likely to even want to take on more challenging tasks!

    3) Rinse and repeat. Continue to find opportunities to praise or show appreciation for a job well done.
    Show your appreciation for the effort, not the person’s intelligence or talent.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that you issue false praise or thank someone for meeting minimum expectations. Instead, look for the gems. They may be few and far between at first, but the more you cultivate them, the more they will emerge.

    The steps:

    1. Find an opportunity.
    2. Appreciate/praise the effort.
    3. Repeat.

    Give it a try and then share your results in the comments below.

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    mindset_brain

    Ever wish you could catch yourself in a moment of fixed mindset (see The Secret to Success) and do a 180-degree turn, flipping yourself into a growth mindset quickly?

    Our brains will fall back on what they know best until they are conditioned to respond differently. It is possible to retrain your brain to switch to a growth mindset. You can do so more quickly if you use a framework or pattern that you’re already familiar with. Remember the “Stop, drop and roll” technique you learned in elementary school, in case of a fire?  The process for shifting to a growth mindset I designed is built on that simple three-step process.

    1. Stop.  Monitor your thoughts (think: self-awareness) and listen for fixed-mindset thinking.  You’ll notice it because it includes absolutes like never, always, everybody and anybody.  It sounds like this: “Everybody else always loses weight/gets promoted/has a great relationship.” When you catch yourself in a fixed-mindset thought, the first thing to do is stop.

    2.  Drop.  Drop into a reflective state of mind. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself the question, “Is that thought true? 100% of the time?” Make a conscious effort to evaluate your thought pattern and ask yourself if it is the mindset that will serve you best. Hint: if it’s a fixed-mindset, it probably isn’t serving you.

    3.  Roll.  Imagine doing a somersault (or a roll in a kayak if that’s more your speed) and rolling out the other side with a different mindset. Roll yourself into a different state of mind by trying on a growth mindset thought. It might sound like this: “If I apply myself and learn some new techniques I can lose weight/get promoted/improve my relationship.”

    Everybody slips into a fixed mindset occasionally.  Even the most optimistic, growth-oriented people have moments where a fixed mindset stalls their progress.

    The next time you hear your self-talk going down a fixed mindset path, remember to stop, drop and roll.

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    fixed vs growth mindset

    Bill was frustrated.  His manager Eric was well known and liked across the organization and it seemed like everything he touched turned to gold.  Eric was also 10 years Bill’s junior and had a similar college education and background. Bill was always trying to prove himself and show everyone how much he knew, to no avail. It seemed to backfire. Bill’s frustration boiled down to this: Why was Eric so successful and why wasn’t he experiencing the same success in his career?

    Turns out, Eric has a growth mindset and Bill has a fixed mindset.

    A growth mindset, says researcher and Stanford professor Carol Dweck who coined the term, is the belief that qualities and abilities can be developed or improved through effort and dedication. People with a growth mindset love learning and have resilience that helps them accomplish great things.  That description fits Eric like a glove. Eric is open to constructive feedback, always looking for a better way . . . in everything from how to keep his email manageable to how to be a better spouse and parent.

    Bill on the other hand, exhibits a fixed mindset.  People with a fixed mindset tend to believe their basic qualities and abilities, like their intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. They often believe that talent alone creates success (without effort). They spend their time proving their skills or intelligence instead of developing them. Bill was always striving to sound like an expert and show everyone how much he knew; key signs of a fixed mindset.

    Is it possible for Bill to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?  Absolutely! But first he needs to catch his fixed mindset thinking in the act and change his attitude and beliefs. If he can do that he can change his mind. Literally.

    When he hears his self-talk (or thinking, if you like that term better) say something like, “I’ll never get promoted,” Bill will need to catch himself and reframe the thought to something like, “If I work hard and continue to learn, I will be ready for a promotion.”

    Then, he will be able to tap into the secret to Eric’s success: his growth mindset.

    How about you?  Could you amp up your success by taking on a growth mindset?

    Listen to your own self-talk today. Do you hear fixed-mindset or growth mindset thoughts?

    Take action: when you hear a fixed-mindset thought, stop yourself and reframe it to a growth mindset thought.

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