Leadership Exercise: Building better habits
Fostering optimal habits is a critical component of high-performance leadership. If it’s proving challenging to embed new habits, despite your best attempts, here are some achievable techniques from behavioural experts – along with a simple exercise to help you put them into practice.
Why do we form habits?
In order to save energy, our brain constantly tries to turn our repeated thinking into habits. Your life today is essentially the sum of these hard-wired behaviours. We are particularly inclined to default to them when we are busy or not paying attention. In this case, we want our habits to be useful ones!
How habits form
Habits are created through a neurological feedback loop involving the repetition of a four-step process – cue, craving, response, reward. Take this example of getting stuck completing a tricky task at work:
- Cue – You get stuck completing a work project
- Crave – You want to relieve your frustration
- Response – You take a break by checking your phone for social media or a game
- Reward – Taking a break to check your phone for social media becomes associated with relieving feelings of frustration at work, and so you form the habit
The neurological feedback loop occurs constantly (and instinctively) throughout our day. Imagine walking into a dark room and flipping on the light switch. You have performed this simple habit so many times that the behaviour happens without thinking; yet you are still working through this feedback loop.
Effective ways to form habits
According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, whenever you want to effectively change your behaviour, simply ask yourself four things:
- How can I make it obvious?
- How can I make it attractive?
- How can I make it easy?
- How can I make it satisfying?
Stanford University Behaviourist and Tiny Habits author, BJ Fogg, has a revolutionary approach that aligns with these principles. He proposes that we should forget the idea of relying on willpower or motivation. Instead, we just need to start small and continue that way.
He has a 3 stage action plan for building new habits:
- Identify a trigger point in an existing daily behaviour ‘After I ……’
- Attach a new tiny behaviour ‘I will ……’
- Now celebrate your tiny habit
Getting started using tiny habits
Using BJ’s principles, let’s consider the scenario where you want to form the habit of being less overwhelmed by your emails.
- Identify a trigger point using the existing daily behaviour – ‘After I open my first email of the day……’
- Attach a new tiny behaviour to it – ‘I will take three deep breaths as I read the first email to stop feeling overwhelmed’
- Now, celebrate your tiny habit – take notice of what you achieved each and every time
We recommend watching this TED Talk featuring BJ, Forget Big Change
Quick exercise – Building better habits
Have a think about some of your habits. Consider how they are helping (or hindering) your leadership development. Quickly note these thoughts down. Then:
- Pick one tiny habit you would like to change or form
- Identify the cue or trigger point to attach your new habit to
- Recognise when you implement your new habit and celebrate it (this is especially important)
Small steps can lead to big success
Being aware of our ability to foster and build useful habits helps us become a purposeful leader. Breaking down goals into achievable small habits that you can comfortably achieve every day is one simple way to enhance both your well-being and your performance.
If you’re considering other practical steps to achieve leadership potential, the team at Mantle could help. Simply contact us now for a no obligation consultation.