As you my have seen in my previous article, I believe habits are more powerful than resolutions or goals for achieving what you want professionally (and personally) in 2015.
Why? Because habits focus on behavior, and behavior is what produces results.
But how do habits actually work? I’m re-reading Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit, and while it’s very insightful…I think he has it slightly wrong.
Duhigg says that habits operate according to a 3-part cycle:
Cue » Sequence » Reward » (repeat)—or visually:
The cue can be a stimulus, like the "ding" from your email app, a feeling like hunger, an environmental factor like cloudy weather, or even the time of day. Just about anything that happens repeatedly over time can become a habit-triggering cue.
The routine is simply what we do by habit—the behavior or response pattern triggered by the cue. It can be a split-second mental reaction, or a complex, multi-step physical action, or virtually any combination. The routine is what creates the result—good or bad—and "installing" better routines in our habits can make a huge difference in our overall success.
Finally, the reward is some sort of desirable feeling or experience—not merely the absence of a negative consequence, but an actual positive feeling or experience that takes place within the mind. That's what motivates the entire process…and it's also where Duhigg's model gets a little off-track.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, we come to anticipate the reward as soon as we experience the cue. This sense of anticipation is detectible as a flurry of activity in the brain, followed by near-automatic execution of the routine.
But you’ll notice that anticipation is missing from the diagram above. It should appear between the cue and the routine, because it’s the cue that triggers the anticipation, which in turn triggers the behavior, resulting in the reward.
After the reward is received, it serves to "re-load" the anticipation, so it can be "fired" again next time the cue occurs.
On the other hand, if there's a problem with the reward—for example, if you get food poisoning after eating your favorite food—the habit loop can be broken, because the reward will fail to "re-load" your anticipation for next time.
So the lower arrow in Duhigg’s diagram should in fact point not to the cue, but to the anticipation (or what he calls a "craving," though it's missing from the diagram).
So why does this matter for you as an instructional leader in 2015?
Because if you want 2015 to be better than 2014—if you want to get better results in any area of work or life—changing your habits is the #1 way to make it happen.
How We Can Change Our Habits
Duhigg explains that the "golden rule" of habit change is to maintain the same cues and rewards, but substitute in different routines that are more desirable.
This may explain the popularity of e-cigarettes in recent years—they can be triggered by the same cues, and offer the same rewards, but without the inhalation of actual smoke.
Or think of diets—most diets encourage you to substitute healthier foods for unhealthy foods, rather than disrupt the deeply ingrained hunger-food-satisfaction habit loop.
Certainly, if you can easily replace a bad routine with a good one, go for it. Chew gum instead of your fingernails. Go for a walk instead of wasting an hour on Facebook. Whatever makes an improvement.
But if we’re talking about shaping habits to make ourselves dramatically more effective in work and in life, that’s not going to get us quite far enough.
We need a more ambitious plan if we're going to achieve great things in 2015.
Desirable habits are often pretty tough to pull off, because they require advance planning and preparation. If you want to make a habit of going to the gym, you have to get a membership, have clean workout clothes, perhaps arrange childcare, and so on.
So it may be that to develop a new habit, you have to not only swap in a desirable routine, but also manufacture the right preparatory steps and cues (such as alarms, reminders, gear, etc.) so the chain of events unfolds as intended.
Despite the arrow from reward to cue in Duhigg’s model, cues come from elsewhere. In the guide, we’ll explore exactly how to construct them to maximize your productivity.
I want to lay this out more specifically in a how-to format, so I’m working on a detailed workbook to help you map out the habits you want to build for 2015.
This workbook will be completely free, but don’t treat it like a free thing. Treat it like you paid a fortune for it, because that’s how valuable it is to develop habits for high performance, and that’s the only way you’ll follow through.
I expect to have it finished early next week, but I will ONLY send it to you if you want it.
To request the habit guide, click here, and I’ll send you the guide as soon as it’s ready. The link will also take you to the PDF of Leadership, Simplified, which has more great strategies for your success in 2015.