The end of the year has crept up on us and, as we look back on a year like no other, most of us will once again not only be examining what we have or haven’t achieved but also be setting goals and resolutions for the new year. Helene Vermaak, Business Director at corporate cultural experts The Human Edge, says that if we have learnt anything from this past year it is that we have very little control over what happens, and that life is short. 

So, she says that if there are habits or behaviours that we want to change, there is no better time than the present to align our behaviour with our desires. A popular misconception around habits is that willpower is the source of sustained change. However, research has shown us that willpower is a muscle and as such it gets tired when exerted for extended periods of time.  “What this means is that creating a habit is more about strategy than determination,” says Vermaak.  “Understanding how to break a habit into pieces and then putting a plan into place will help you to increase your chances of success.” 

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit says that the science behind habits shows that a habit consists of three parts – a cue, routine, and reward – called the Habit Loop.

  • The cue is the prompt – something that triggers you to do a routine
  • The routine is the behaviour that we commonly think of as the habit
  • The reward is the payoff, the satisfaction we get from meeting the need

Vermaak says that by applying Duhigg’s Habit Loop we can change a bad habit or build a new one.

  • Firstly, study your habit. Be clear on the possible cues and rewards that are reinforcing your habit loop. Once this is done you can then work on changing your behaviour.  Remember, you need to determine whether the behaviour is productive or counterproductive – is the habit beneficial or not? If the behaviour helps achieve the results we want, then we keep it.  If not, that is when we get stuck in a lag. 
  • Understand what your cues and rewards are so you can swap routines.  Isolating cues and rewards isn’t just for changing a bad habit but is also used to build new habits. 
  • Lastly, keep experimenting until the routine sticks.  We all know how difficult it can be to change a habit.  If you fail it doesn’t mean that you are incapable of change but rather that you are making progress and learning something new along the way.  When this happens, you need to reexamine your cues and rewards.  If you are forgetting to implement your new routine it is likely that your cues aren’t noticeable enough and if you remember but are not feeling motivated, you may need to change the reward.  

“Our work and personal lives are defined by habits,” says Vermaak.  Whether it is grabbing your 7am coffee-on-the-go, the regular Sunday night movie, how you manage your inbox or how meeting times are utilised. Habits are all around us and it is only once we determine whether that habit is encouraging us to move towards where we want to go, in our personal or professional lives, that we can determine whether it is  good or bad and how it may be impacting the organisation or ourselves.  The Human Edge offers Duhigg’s Power of Habit training to assist individuals in creating habits by design and not by default. 

It is emotionally, physically and mentally draining to not be able to control something that we believe we can.  Duhigg says that The Power of Habit has influenced his life in every way possible.  “I no longer allow distractions to dictate my behaviour.  Exercise is easier, work gets done more efficiently and my ability to focus on projects and the most important people in my life – my family – has become tight, like muscle memory.  Understanding what motivates my habits, how the brain operates to create or change a habit and what rewards I am seeking with my actions has enabled me to control my behaviour, thoughts, decisions, health and wellness. I am no longer a prisoner of habits that do not align with my professional or personal goals.  It feels great!”

Visit The Human Edge website for more information

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