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Habits: Less is More

Remember when you started your last new job and on the first day, you vowed to keep a clean email box, use a daily tracking doc and walk every day during lunch? Or maybe you were so excited by the new commute because it meant you could ride your bike to work. But now, as you look at your routine, you’ve only ridden the bike to work once since you started, your email inbox is at max capacity, and the IT guys are always on you about being a storage hog. What happened?

I saw a similar thing at my local gym during the month of January. Everyone was resolved to establish new habits. New members flooded Boot Camp classes and monopolized the treadmills for the first few weeks of the New Year.  And then, just as fast, they were gone.

Most of us have heard that it takes 21 days to develop a new habit, right?  Well, new research found the time it takes for a new habit to stick is actually 66 days, and the individual times varied from 18 to 254 days!  What??

So, do we all just give up, give in, and go home?

Sure, we could leave the treadmills to the diehards.  Or, simply select all and delete everything in our inbox when it gets full.  (I once worked with a gent who did this. No kidding. His theory was that if something was important, he’d get another email.)

Or we could accept that the key to success is baby steps. Building new habits successfully is like building a giant Lego set.  If you place the specific blocks in the exact order and precise location, you’ll accomplish the build (given a little time).

What does building Legos have to do with forming new habits?  Define actions that are specific, exact, and performed at a precise time. Rather than deciding to start a 6 day a week exercise program, define a specific, exact activity that you incorporate at a precise time with your existing routine.  You will take the stairs when you enter the building in the morning and exit in the evening.  Instead of blearily watching your coffee brew in the morning, you will hit brew and jog in place until the cycle finishes.  Pretty soon, you’ll take the stairs when you head out for lunch as well…just out of habit.

Trying to reach a sales goal?  Make one call before you sit down in your office chair to get the day started off right.  Respond to exactly 5 emails while you have your afternoon Snickers bar before surfing social media.  Listen to 12 minutes of a podcast during your commute home. 

What do you already do every day to which you can add on a specific, precise activity?

Set aside time to evaluate the new habit, it’s effectiveness and any changes that are needed. And be kind to yourself. Understand that not all habits will stick or will be a good match. There is no way possible I could jog before coffee! Don’t feel like a failure if you didn’t find the right method on the first try. Try a new approach and develop a new habit.

The other important piece of habit building is accountability! You know the people…. the ones who are all about posting their check-ins at the local gym. It seems a little braggy sometimes. In reality, most people aren’t trying to toot their own horn; they are aiming for accountability. By posting their check-in, it’s a visual cue for them to keep going to the gym. Similarly, you can tell a co-worker or partner about your own new habit-forming. Building in accountability really does help. Even a simple question from a co-worker on how the new email system is going can help spur you on to stick with the plan.

As we move past the post-holiday season, think about the habits you left behind and those you want to develop (even if you’ve already failed in your resolutions). Think little for big results and set a specific, exact plan in motion. Remember that small changes can yield big rewards!

What will you change?