Three Steps to a New Habit

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What exactly are we trying to do when we send people to training?  We are trying to create new habits, new ways of doing things that yield better results.  The problem I always hear though is that once people get back from training, it doesn’t seem to make a difference.  Buy why?  Why aren’t people excited to use their new knowledge, why isn’t it happening?  The answer is simple, our old habits are like a big comfy couch and new habits force us to get off the couch, nooooooo. So how can we create new habits for the long haul?

According to some experts on habits, Charles Duhigg (author of the Power of Habit) and BJ Fogg (Stanford University Professor and Tiny Habits creator), the key to creating habits is in what I call RDR or Remind, Do, Reward.  Think about it, one of the most difficult parts of creating a habit is simply remembering to do it and then getting our brains to want to do it again and again.  I think this is true of training as well, just remembering to do the new thing you learned and doing it over and over.

If you’re nodding your head in agreement that remembering to do it is the big hurdle, I am right with you.  I have a hard time remembering yesterday, but something as simple as a post-it note with a short reminder can be just the thing. To make it most effective, put the note somewhere where you perform another habit like brushing teeth (bathroom mirror), putting milk in your coffee (fridge door), or checking email (computer screen).   This will make the reminder something you are forced to see since it is coupled to something else you do every day.

Okay, so now you’ve got a reminder and you do the new thing, how do you begin programming your brain to do it the next time? This actually involves rewarding yourself.  I know it sounds silly but a simple pat on your own back can be the spark to keep the whole thing going for the next time.  Now, I don’t mean giving yourself a trophy or anything, just a hearty “Yes!” or a “You’re awesome!” or whatever makes you feel good about yourself.  You can also do some more elaborate things like an extra scoop of ice cream after you do the new thing consistently for a week or something.  This reward system works because of a little “feel good” or pleasure chemical called dopamine. When we get a reward it stimulates the brain to give us a little shot of this neurotransmitter and makes us feel good, and when we feel good, we want to do it again.

Another question that usually comes up about habits has to do with time.  How long does it take to create a habit?  There’s a little debate about this.  You will hear 21 days a lot but I have been told that that is a myth.  According to the authors of the book, The One Thing, it takes 66 days.  I will take that since they have a bit of research behind it, although, I usually just trim it to two months.

Anyway, how can this apply to the workplace?  How can a manager use this knowledge to move their team to build new or better habits?

Let’s say you have a goal to raise your service scores by 10 points and you have established a need to make welcoming customers into your business a standard.  This act of greeting is the new habit.  How do you put RDR into action?

First, your team needs reminders strategically placed.  These reminders can be a variety of things like a huddle each morning to verbally remind the team and some posters in the office, lunch room, hallways, etc. with brief reminders to greet customers warmly when they enter the store.  Next, you will need to practice a little of what Tom Peters calls MBWA, Managing By Walking Around.  This means getting out there and doing a little observation.  When you see a team member greeting customers, give them a pat on the back and tell them they did a great job.  Instruct any other managers to do likewise.  You could even give weekly or biweekly rewards to people who you see doing this regularly.

RDR, Remind, Do, Reward, it’s a pretty easy thing that can make all the difference in helping you create good habits whether for yourself or for a team of employees.

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