“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” ~ Warren Buffett
Many of us take the opportunity during the Christmas/New Year break to reflect on the year that was, and to make resolutions for the coming year.
We often tend to focus a lot on goals – big achievements that you can tick off when they’re done. But the reality is that success comes from lots of little habits that build up over time.
What is a Habit?
“Habit is stronger than reason.” ~ George Santayana
A habit is a behaviour that at some point (probably in the far distant past) was a novelty. So you did it again. And again. And again…
Eventually, it became unconscious. Something you do without even thinking about it. Instinctive.
The novelty factor at the outset will have triggered the reward centres in your brain. It will have been something that felt good – or at least there would have been a sense of righteousness about it (in the case of something that you didn’t actually enjoy but knew was good for you).
Now, it’s just ‘what-you-do’. You aren’t even aware of it sometimes.
How can you Create New Habits?
The good news is, you can change your habits. You can get rid of bad ones, and you can also create new ones. But it’s not easy. In fact, it can be downright hard!
Successful leaders have learnt that this is the best way to ensure they keep growing, learning and building on their success.
Research suggests that it takes anywhere from 21 to 66 days to form and embed a new habit or break an old one – so you need to be committed. Avoid temptation, don’t rely on willpower. If it requires effort, try and do it earlier in the morning when your decision-making ‘muscles’ aren’t exhausted.
This is a method for dropping a bad habit that you get some sort of ‘kick’ from. Like smoking, or eating comfort foods.
But ‘cold turkey’ (other than being delicious leftovers) is also the hardest method. It requires you to make a definite decision, to have very compelling reasons why you want to make the change.
My mum managed to give up smoking cold turkey, but this was on her surgeon’s advice after a very serious broken leg (multiple compound fractures, multiple surgeries, a large steel frame screwed into her leg… you get the picture). He told her that if she didn’t give up smoking it wouldn’t heal. So she did. And so did her partner. Because he knew it would be easier for Mum if they did it together! (So sweet!)
Another way to get rid of a habit you don’t want is to substitute it for one you do want – or if it isn’t so bad, do it at the same time. What do I mean?
Well an example is watching TV and going to the gym. You know you should go to the gym, but you’re really enjoying your favourite show on Netflix… So take your iPad and watch Netflix on the treadmill!
If you have a competitive streak, find a way to turn building your new habit into a game. Create a series of rewards at various levels, keep track of your ‘streak’ and maybe compete with a friend!
Successful leaders practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a powerful habit. It enables you to distance yourself from the noise of your own thinking, and be truly present in the current moment. Rather than worrying about the future, or agonising over the past, you can just be.
This is a powerful habit for a range of reasons, but foremost among these is that a solid mindfulness practice actually makes it much easier to ditch bad habits and create good new ones! Why? Because it helps break you out of your unconscious thinking patterns and actually notice when you’re about to do something that you don’t want to do.
In addition, people with a regular mindfulness habit are better able to cope with stress, feel more grateful, and overall report higher levels of happiness than people who don’t.
I use Headspace for my practice, but there are other apps available, as well as videos and community classes. Whatever works for you!
Successful leaders speak last
I don’t really think I can say anything more about this… watch the video.
Successful leaders unleash feedback
“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes.” ~ Daniel Kahneman
Make it a habit to let people know, regularly, what you love about the work they do, what you don’t love about the work they do, and what they might do differently to be more successful in your eyes.
Remember that feedback is simply your way of letting others know what you think about their work. It isn’t absolute, universal, or even necessarily correct! But it does help people understand you better, which greatly increases the chance that people will know what you need them to do!
The reverse is true too. You should seek feedback at least as often as you provide it. But you actually need to want it. And do something with it… Otherwise it will dry up. Feedback from others is a valuable gift. Treat it that way.
Successful leaders ask powerful questions
“Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” ~ Tony Robbins
Questions are powerful, when wielded effectively. Get in the habit of asking better and different questions. Why?
Because your brain desperately wants to answer them. (So be careful what you ask.)
When something bad happens, it might be your current habit to say “why does this always happen to me?” Your brain will immediately start finding dozens of reasons why this sort of thing should and does happen to you. Failings, faults, excuses… you name it.
Guess what happens if, instead, you ask “how can I turn this into an opportunity?” Exactly.
Your brain will start to search for answers to that question. The difference being the answers are much more useful! They move you forward rather than holding you back!
The other time you need to practice the habit of asking questions is when someone asks you a question. In this case, the opposite is true. Your brain will try to answer the question. In fact, you’re even likely to be flattered to be asked! But the worst thing you can do is answer the question – particularly if the person asking is your subordinate. Instead, ask them a question back. “What do you think you should do?”
Great leaders play coach more often than they play oracle. You don’t have to have all the answers, you just need to have better questions.
Successful leaders embrace curiosity
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” ~ Albert Einstein
Make it a habit to be curious about anything and everything.
When something goes wrong, be curious about how it happened. When something goes really well, be curious about how it happened. When someone on your team makes a mistake, be curious about what was different in that situation. When someone close to you is having a bad day, be curious (and compassionate) about why.
Successful leaders have an insatiable appetite to learn, and this stems from deep curiosity. This works incredibly well in tandem with mindfulness (start out by being curious about some really mundane everyday things that you hadn’t paid attention to previously) and asking great questions – which are obviously vital to active curiosity.
If you want these new habits to stick, you need to commit to practicing them everyday, and you need to keep track of how you are going. Furthermore, you need to keep it up for a couple of months, after which you should find it starts to get a heck of a lot easier!
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I want to help you to lead. Not from a position of power, but from exactly where you are now.
So I’m writing a book specifically for you. It’ll be out early next year (28 February 2018 to be precise).
If you’d like to know more, please sign up for i3 Insiders (I don’t spam, just a weekly newsletter) where I’ll keep you up to date on progress, test some ideas, and even share a preview or two as we get closer to launch-day.
Let’s do this!