How to Build a New Habit: It's a Formula
Few of us who struggle with how to build a new habit even realize realize the extent to which our habits already govern everything we do.
Habits are not just those mechanical behaviours, like brushing our teeth, that we repeatedly perform: they reveal themselves in almost all of our actions.
Watch a colleague walking down the hall. Notice their posture; are they slumped, round shouldered and stooped or tall and straight?
Guided by Habits
Regardless of the answer, almost certainly, every time you observe this person, you will see the same gait because they have habitually trained themselves to walk this way.
I had this conversation recently with a client who was explaining his confusion at the behaviour of a valued colleague.
It seems this person has a rather short fuse and was prone to instant bursts of rage whenever anyone – particularly a subordinate – dared to challenge him.
He would instantly become enraged and respond by raising his voice and hurling a hurtful string of insults and putdowns at his target.
My client’s colleague had been the subject of several complaints to senior management and had received reprimands and counselling to seek change. Obviously if he wanted to keep his new job, he needed to examine how to build a new habit.
He had enrolled in anger-management training and had also sought the help of a psychologist.
He began showing signs of improvement.
As my client explained to me, his colleague “ran hot and cold. Sometimes, in these situations, he would conduct himself as we all hoped he would, like a true professional. Other times, he would fly off the handle and be just as rude, demeaning and unprofessional as he had always been before. None of us can understand why he keeps going back and forth like this.
As I listened to his story, I was reminded of many other similar conversations I have had with people expressing surprise at how easily and readily they, or someone they know, revert to old behaviours despite enormous attempts at change.
The answer is simple: habits.
Flying into a rage is a habit finely honed over a long period of time by my client’s colleague. He has, through repeated practice, trained himself to respond a certain way whenever confronted by a subordinate.
On those occasions, after beginning therapy and anger management classes, when he remained calm and professional in dealing with a dissenting person, he was attempting to form a new habit, but as we know, the lure of an old habit is powerful and compelling.
One of the reasons his colleague continually reverts to his all behaviours is because, there is a definite and specific formula for changing habits and, as the formula is not widely known, most of us attempt habit change by focusing, and putting all our energy, into the new and desired behaviours.
This is the final step in the formula and almost always doomed to fail when it is the first, and only, step most of us employ.
Behaviour Isn’t Enough
Most self-help books and courses tell us what we need to do to bring change to our lives. They don’t examine how to build a new habit at all. Merely adopting new behaviour is not the same as learning how to build a new habit.
Their focus is always on the behaviour we must adopt for change to occur. In other words, they are guiding us to begin at the end of the formula which is why, when we adopt their teachings, we enjoy moderate, but short-term success and then struggle to sustain the new behaviours.
Which helps explain why old habits never die, they just lie in the background waiting for the perfect moment to pounce and recapture their former glory.
Habits Make Us
If habits make the person, and make no doubt about it, they do, then devoting the time to develop the skill to make your habits such that they continually move you toward achieving your goals and personal contentment will prove to be the best investment you will ever make
And when those pesky old habits try and sneak back, I know the formula that will stop them in their tracks. Stay tuned…
Let’s make a habit of meeting like this.
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