As entrepreneurs or startup employees, we are always being challenged to “unlearn,” pick up new habits, or tweak life patterns that we have been used to for years.
It could be something as seemingly simple as keeping a clean inbox and responding to emails faster, or complex patterns like changing the way we talk to others, or working on our productivity. In The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,
Charles Duhigg talks about the Habit Loop, and how a cue-and-reward system boosts willpower.
“First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: the habit loop,” he says.
Here we simplify ways experts say people can form new habits, and make them stick:
1. Learning habits
In work and in life, the uber-successful always insist they are lifelong learners. “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young,” car giant Henry Ford said. The Harvard Business Review says that developing a learning habit requires you to articulate the outcomes you’d like to achieve. In other words, figure out what it is that you want from picking up this habit. Then, set realistic goals.
Reading a new book every other week may work for an accomplished reader like Mark Zuckerberg, but if you are not a book lover and are trying to change that, start with one in a month.
Keep a journal to track your progress. Listen more – consciously let others do the talking. This might seem silly, but set aside a time, away from cell phones, tablets or any other distractions, for this. Take handwritten notes, because it improves retention as compared to typing on a laptop.
Experts at Duke University have found that while interventions and cajoling by friends may work for things like taking up a new course, they had a limited effect on repeat-forming behaviour, like giving up fast food or exercising.
For this kind of behavior, the best way is to go by your grandma’s wisdom – practice and self-regulation are the best winners. It is also important to pick one thing in this category. Don’t try giving up smoking, going on a diet, and hitting the gym at the same time.
“You can basically do one thing at a time. If you’re going to go to the gym, that’s the one thing you’re going to do,” Christine Whelan, a public sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told The Washington Post.
Repeat behaviors work well with Charles Duhigg’s cue-and-rewards system. Read about how our brain reacts to this system, and the actual science behind this here.
More on the rewards system here.
The most complex thing is to unlearn something that has become a personality trait, like changing the way we speak to our teammates, or the way we react to criticism.
Experts have talked extensively about how negative reactions to criticism harm workplace dynamics. In the charged atmosphere of startups and entrepreneurship, it is easy to confuse “hustle” for being brusque with team members. A good way to judge and change your personal behavior is to focus on linguistic style and body language. Everything that is said must be said in a certain way—in a certain tone of voice, at a certain rate of speed, and with a certain degree of loudness, says the Harvard Business Review.
A good rule of thumb is to pause while talking, and to will yourself to shut up at times. In the face of criticism, it is best to check your initial response – don’t say the first thing that comes to your mind.
Other hacks include asking open-ended questions, controlling voice pitch, and remembering that other people in the team exist for a reason, and that the world doesn’t revolve around you.
Turning personality trait changes into habits requires all the hacks above: figuring out why you are making the change, keeping a journal to track yourself, and figuring out the rewards and motivation for it. But one last thing to keep in mind is to reach out to others and create feedback loops, which are known to regulate human behavior. Check with friends or friendly colleagues whether the changes are resulting in a better you – and really listen.
This article contains opinions of the author.
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