Habits are the subconscious behaviours that we all do, often every day without making a deliberate decision to do so. Habits are our brains way of saving energy and they can be really helpful and really unhelpful!
We all have bad habits that we develop over time that we want to change. Whether it is eating bad foods, being lazy watching too much tv or not exercising. Our workplace bad habits could include checking email too often, distracting colleagues or interrupting others in meetings.
So, if you have a bad habit that is negatively affecting yourself or others follow these tips for successful habit change.
- Become aware of the habit and when it happens
Some bad habits might be all too obvious to you. You come home from work, take your shoes off and lie on the sofa and put the TV on. You know you should be doing something more useful, but you are tired and can’t muster the energy. You are aware of the habit, and importantly, when it is happening. This is good as you know where to start in changing your habit. But some of your bad habits you might not even be aware of. You might not be conscious of the fact that checking your emails 50 times a day is having an adverse effect on your productivity, or you might not be aware of some of your bad communication habits you have picked up.
To help you to become more aware of your bad habits seek honest feedback from someone close to you. It could be a friend, your manager or a colleague. Ask them a specific question such as – what three things do you think I need to change or improve to increase my success at work? That will let them know you are open to feedback and force them to give you something meaningful.
Knowing when the habit occurs is the next critical element in habit change. Every habit will have a trigger. The trigger could be your mood – when I feel tired, I start to snap at my colleagues; it could be in your environment – as soon as I walk into the office, I make myself a coffee; it could be another person – when I see my colleague we go for a cigarette. When the trigger occurs, you have a few seconds to alter the behaviour and choose a different path – so it is critical that you know when these few seconds will occur.
- Know why you want to change
Before you start trying to change the habit be really clear on your reasons for wanting to change. The desire from change has to come from within you, not from someone else telling you that you should change. This desire to change can take a while to get, if you don’t have it you WILL FAIL! Understand how the habit change will positively impact your life and the lives of those around you.
Play out what will happen if you don’t change. What will be the long-term consequences of maintaining the habit? We maintain a habit because the short-term benefit is more real to us than the longer-term pain. Make that pain more prominent and current in your mind.
- Link to your Identity
Studies have shown that when people are able to relate a habit change to their self-identity, they will be more successful. Your self-identity is how you view and what you believe about yourself. What type of person are you and what values and principles do you uphold and live by? Be clear on those values and craft a picture of yourself that fulfills those values. If you always see yourself as a smoker it will be hard to quit smoking. If you craft a self-identity around a health-conscious person who eats healthy food, drinks lots of water, exercises regularly and doesn’t smoke you will be more successful. Smoking just doesn’t fit with the image you have crafted for yourself.
- Set a Date
Set a date for the change. Have a cut-off point from which point onwards you will no longer do your bad habit and will engage in a new positive habit. Having a clear cut off point removes the likelihood of making excuses and putting the change off.
Play out in your mind what will happen when you do the new habit. Visualisation is a great way to embed a new behaviour in your mind before you have even done it. Visualise what you will do rather than what you won’t do – your brain doesn’t process the negative. Also imagine what setbacks might occur and what you will do if those set backs happen. If you are trying to eat healthy and someone offers you some cake what will you say? Practice the sentence in your mind so it just flows out when someone asks you the question.
- Change your Environment
Set yourself up for success by creating a helpful environment around you. In building a new habit you want to remove any unnecessary decisions from the process. If for example, you are trying to exercise in the morning if you need to search for your gym clothes there is more chance you will decide not to bother. Have the clothes out and ready so you can immediately get up and go. If you are trying to stick to a good diet don’t allow bad foods in the house. If you want to stay focussed at work, remove the distractions from your desk. Because habits are subconscious anything in your environment could trigger the behaviour you are trying to avoid so make sure it is set up to influence positive behaviours.
- Tell others
We are more likely to do something if we feel socially accountable for that thing. Share your plans with friends, family and colleagues and ask them to hold you accountable to your new habit. There is an inbuilt desire not to lose face with others so shout about it and ask people to help you along the way.