The Making and Breaking of Habits
The route to a stress-free and rewarding career and life depends in great part upon the good habits we foster, including exercise, optimism, healthy eating, and mindfulness. Bad habits, however, are often easier to acquire and harder break: chocolate and cigarettes are so much more immediately satisfying than broccoli. So how do we make good habits, how do we abandon bad habits, and how do we tell the difference?
Good Habits vs. Bad Habits
Good habits have the following characteristics:
- They do not trigger stress in you or those around you: organization reduces stress while disorganized clutter increases it, even if it feels comfortable to begin with.
- They enable you to accomplish more: once your office is organized, you are able to find items more quickly and complete tasks faster.
- They become easier as time goes on: the more you practice organizing the less onerous it becomes.
- They free your mind: with your office space organized, you can move on to other tasks rather than stressing over where you stored that important file.
- They improve self-confidence: you know you can follow through.
Despite all these benefits, bad habits still flourish in the workspace and are sometimes encouraged. Multitasking was once believed to be the pinnacle of productivity; research published by the National Academy of Science has revealed that media multitasking (using several forms of media at once, such as smart phones and laptops) actually reduces performance.
How to Encourage Good Habits in Yourself
The basis for changing any habit is self-awareness. You must be able to catch yourself in the repetitive act or thought so that you can switch from bad habit to good or reinforce the good habit. Once you recognize that a habit needs changing or reinforcing, you should:
- Break the habit into components. You begin the process of walking for an hour by starting the habit of walking 10 more minutes every week.
- Share your journey. When others are aware of what you are trying to do—and that you may occasionally falter—they are more likely to offer the support you need.
- Recognize your responsibility. No one can force you to make changes; the commitment must come from you.
- Reward yourself. Establish a reward if you meet your goal(s), even if it is merely a moment of self-congratulation. Relish success.
- Accept occasional failure. The ability to handle failure as a learning experience, rather than an irredeemable fault, will allow you to preserve self-esteem and try again.
How to Encourage Good Habits in Your Team
Not all bad habits are worthy the fight of breaking them and habits that may seem good to you (the ability to run a marathon) may be punishing for others. Therefore, if you are going to encourage good habits in your team, such as better time management or creative problem solving, you must:
- Show the team that the improvement is worthwhile and has benefits, not just to the company, but to the team member.
- Provide resources and opportunities for success. For example, if you want to encourage more physical activity, you might provide fitness equipment and a longer lunch hour, enabling people to use the equipment during the workday.
- Be realistic. No one changes habits in a moment and some “bad” habits provide mental health benefits that you may not understand.
- Recognize your part. For example, if you regularly criticize and belittle team members, you should expect them to be resentful of you and to mimic your behavior by being hyper-critical of their peers.
- Reward positive changes. Nothing solidifies a good habit faster than a word of praise, a celebration, or some other reward.
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