Knowledge is learning something new everyday. Wisdom is letting go of some bad habits everyday.
Bad habits — everyone’s got them. From nail biting to being perpetually late, we all have little behavioural patterns that we could definitely live without. Being ourselves – fallible human beings – is often used as an excuse why we have these “imperfections”, but our own unique “human” self-awareness and resilience is actually the best defence against unhealthy and unwanted habits.
Bad habits can be broken.
“Habit” is a routine of behaviour repeated regularly that tends to occur subconsciously. A routine we repeat regularly becomes increasingly difficult to break or even to observe. These habits (good and bad) are the infraestructure of our lives and in many ways they determine our future which is why it is essential to not only pursue success habits but also be capable of identifying, breaking and removing bad ones. For leaders we have to not only be capable of doing this for ourselves but also be able to lead our team in doing it for themselves.
Great people leaders are capable of guiding others to break bad habits.
The most obvious tool in fighting bad habits is the prevention of the habit to begin with. This is why effective training of any team can’t only focus on training the needed skills and procedures to follow, it must also go into attitudes and expectations. A new staff member may have the pre-existing bad habit of using their personal phone at work but when they start their new job they have a clean-slate, offering them an opportunity to break bad habits. However if your work productivity training hasn’t covered the consequences of uncontrolled personal phone usage on productivity and left clear the linkage of this to work results – and even to work contentness – you can be pretty sure this pre-existing – bad – habit will surface soon.
The first line of defence against bad work habits is training in prevention.
The same goes for common bad habits, like: punctuality, poor work appearance, staff chatting, social media usage, procrastination etc… if your induction hasn’t left clear your company’s expectations in these areas and linked these to staff productivity, you can be pretty sure staff’s pre existing bad habits will surface. More dangerous than this, is that one new staff member’s uncontrolled bad habit, could break the good habits other staff members have worked hard to implant. No company or work environment has the exact same environment so the bad habits you are seeking to prevent will no doubt be specific to your work conditions but what is essential as a leader is to recognise that you have the responsibility to guide your team away from forming bad habits.
As leader you have the responsibility to prevent staff forming bad habits at work.
Not all bad habits can be prevented, some will escape our influence and form and others are too strongly implanted to be “prevented” by training alone. Also, if we move into a new leadership post, we will inherit a team with pre-existing good and bad work habits therefore we also need to know how to address, cure and remove bad habits, as well as preventing them. The first key factor to addressing and overcoming a bad habit, be it in our ourselves or others, is to be conscious – aware – of the problem, the transition from stage 1 to 2 in the learning pyramid. This may sound simple or reductive, but it can be one of the most difficult steps in the process of overcoming a negative pattern. Try to notice what exactly you (or your team player) are doing, and then identify the triggers (cues) and the environment of the habit. If a team playing is procrastinating, ask what is causing that procrastination? Is it them feeling they have too many things to do? Is it the “weight” of making that first step? Or is it lack of confidence in a specific area? Once you identified the root cause you can direct willpower directly towards that specific moment and fight the continuation of that bad habit head on.
The first step to curing a bad habit is awareness of it and connecting its occurence to a trigger or sequence of triggers.
After you have observed the habit and identified the cause of the issue, it is a good idea to write it all down: noting down the (bad) habit and below the triggers you identified and then the root cause of those triggers and finally the consequence of the bad habit. This process aligns awareness of why this behaviour occurs with the real consequences and hence make it easier to focus on what to do about it which ultimately should be removing a bad habit and replacing it with a good one. Looking at the example notes to the right for a staff member of mine, you can see how the awareness of having a messy desk was justified by leaving in a rush due to (triggered by) the worry they felt about not arriving on time to pick up their son. When they were asked to look into the consequences of leaving in a rush, they identified it had more impact on them than they first thought: it was causing them: to leave some things half done, starting the next day with disorganization and feeling less control over their work responsibilities. As they went through this process, they realised the real root cause was their poor time management which was a far bigger issue to address than a messy desk but by analyzing why they had a messy desk, they reached this far more useful conclusion. They then identified that a solution could be having an “end of day (tidy up) routine” that they time-blocked into their daily work procedure. They then concluded that this would only happen if they planned out their days week by week and reflected on and replanned their day daily. The result of this “bad habit” identification process (see also diagrams below) was a commitment to plan out their day and the understanding of the consequence this was having on them.
However being aware of a bad habit and then identifying a solution will still often not be enough by itself to remove an entrenched bad habit. In these circumstances we will also need ready made “if then” counter plans to redirect us in a more positive direction when we feel the “cues” (triggers) of a bad habit. For example in the messy desk example, we would likely need “if then” plans for the following situation below which could break our “end of the day routine” unless we were prepared for them.
- If a must do task out of your control was scheduled for the end of the day – IF THEN: I would move my “end of day routine” forward and do it an hour earlier for all areas i could.
- If an improtu situation happens at the end of the day that i can’t avoid – IF THEN: I would do my end of day routine later after i had picked up my son and/or come in earlier the next day to still start my day in an organized fashion.
- If I find myself losing the desire to do my end of day routine – IF THEN: I would put up notes around my desk and on my computer reminding myself of the difference it had made and why it mattered to me.
These are just some examples but the point is that to really break a tough bad habit you must be prepared for moments of weakness and have “if then” responses planned to redirect you when feel the cues (triggers).
If you want to break a entrenched bad habit, you need to have “if then” plans prepared for dealing with weak moments.
Breaking bad habits is an essential part of staff productivity and should form an integral part of any professional development programme. We should train staff in good practices to help prevent bad work habits forming. However even more so, as leaders, we must be ready to identify and bring up with staff in feedback sessions bad habits that we spot and should encourage them to actively do this identification for themselves. When we spot bad habits that we know are effecting work productivity, our goal must be to put an action plan in place to remove them and indead replace the bad with a good habit. When we achieve this we will reap the rewards, not only in the direct benefit of having more productive staff but also an more autonmous team who can identify and remove bad habits for themselves.
Great managers know how to break bad habits so they are replaced with good ones.