Why habits are the new game changer.

When was the last time you thought about your good habits? powerofhabit It feels like habits get a bad rap because we often think of them negatively as in biting nails or over-eating but they can be huge game changers when you make the effort to turn around those that aren’t working for you.  My inspiration today is from Charles  Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit which throws new light on why we have habits, how they come about and how to change the ones which aren’t working for us.

So why do we have habits? Scientists believe it’s because our brain is always looking for ways to save effort. Remember your first aerobics step class or L plated driving lesson? How exhausting! But after a while your brain learned what to do so much so we often experience auto-pilot  where we wonder where on earth we ‘were’ for a  few minutes. Tests at MIT in the 1990s also showed after learning a habit lab rats had only minimal activity occurring in the rest of their brains compared to the first few attempts of a new routine.

An ancestral part of our brain, the basal ganglia is believed to be responsible for our habit storage. When people’s basal ganglia is damaged they are no longer able to form simple tasks when their access to ‘habit storage’ is unavailable.

The interesting hard cold truth: When a habit emerges the brain stops fully participating in decision making. So unless you find new routines the pattern will automatically unfold. The brain also can’t tell when a habit is good or bad so a bad one can just be lurking waiting to be fired up for a unhelpful reward.

But once you understand the habit loop you can break it down into parts, experiment and find ways to change it up by overpowering the existing neurological pathways with more compelling habits.

The Habit Loop.

Habitloop

Firstly the cue occurs: A situational trigger that is based on a reward you’re seeking.

Next up the routine: A physical or emotional action you take to obtain the reward.

Finally the reward: The satisfaction you seek by following the routine

The key is to understand what the craving is,  experiment with the rewards and then the routine can be swapped out for something more beneficial.

Before we go into solution mode it is worth observing the mechanism of habits. Habits create strong neurological cravings however because they emerge quite gradually we are often blindsided by their influence.  What’s even more interesting is our brain begins anticipating the reward long before we take action. Marketers and retailers worked this out some time ago hence the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts spraying their scents of hot cinnamon baked goods across mall floors to trigger a potential craving. Or how about foaming shampoo and toothpaste? It doesn’t actually need to foam but product developers discovered consumers feel cleaner from a foam sensation which drives more use  of the product more often to satisfy the clean craving.

One of our biggest cravings is often for distraction. 6a0147e0ba5e57970b017ee83f2f17970dThink about when a text goes off. How hard is it to resist looking at it? The brain has started anticipating the distraction of opening a text before you’ve even looked at it. But if you have your phone on silent  have you noticed how much longer you stay focused on your task at hand for?

So how do we get past an unhelpful habit?  Science has proven if we keep the same cue and same reward, a new routine can be introduced. For example a smoker who has identified their craving is relaxation and the reward is feeling chilled out a new routine of long slow deep breaths during a gentle stroll which activates the parasympathetic nervous system may serve as a good alternative. Or if you want to start running you choose a cue (put your clothes out the night before) and a reward – maybe a smoothie. Cue-Routine-Reward-Running_thumbBut only when you brain starts anticipating the reward – the endorphins or sense of achievement from your quick lap round the park will it become an automatic association for your brain. So you need to keep repeating the action several times to teach your brain you crave that new reward . Another key point is you must choose your own meaningful reward – not what someone else has suggested.

But just having a new routine and reward may not be enough. You need to believe change is possible and studies have shown you are far more likely to succeed if you have an accountability partner or a group of people going through a similar experience to share and commit to change with.

Here’s how to re:set a habit in 4 easy steps.

Step 1. Identify your routine. What is the behaviour you want to change? Working from home I have to admit I do a fair amount of pantry grazing when I’m overloaded and need a breather. My routine is to get up stare longingly into the pantry and wait to find something to satisfy what I believe is a hunger craving.

3Step 2. Experiment with rewards. Get your lab coat out, your notepad and pen & start trialing new rewards. I tried getting out & schimmying round the block. Then meditating. Then having a drink of water. After trying each new reward set an alarm for 15 mins. At that point ask do I still want the original ‘reward’?

Step 3. Isolate the cue. We have so much information bombarding us all the time it’s hard to know what exactly is triggering us. Answer these questions every time your habit is triggered to identify what is causing you to choose this habit over something more beneficial.

  • Where am I?
  • What time is it?
  • How am I feeling?
  • Who else is around?
  • What action preceded the urge?

Step 4. Have a plan. Remember that a habit is a choice that we deliberately made at one point, we then stopped thinking about it but continued to do every day. So start by making conscious decisions with a plan to do the new action. When I feel an urge to hit up the pantry I have a plan now to go for a walk and get some fresh air mid morning and mid afternoon when my craving for distraction seems to be at it’s highest. You might also want to find an accountability partner or group of people to help support your plan and discover the game changing nature of habit refinement.

Want more? Check out this nifty infographic from Duhigg on habits

 

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What happens in a coaching session?

No one really writes about this. And this is why. The best coaching session is dynamic and malleable because every client has a different perspective, challenge or opportunity to discuss each time. It doesn’t follow a step by step formula like in other professional services. However if you’ve never had a coaching session here’s a basic synopsis for perhaps a first time client.

  • You meet with your coach in a location where you feel comfortable to speak openly and after a brief intro you’ll discuss the specific area of your life where you are challenged at the moment. It’s here you’ll decide with your coach the desired outcome for the session and quite often it’s not the original challenge you thought. Coaching can be done in person but nowadays it’s just as common to speak with your coach on the phone or over Skype. My coach is in New York!
  • You then begin a coaching conversation where the coach listens as you explain the situation. A good coach won’t get involved in the story. Rather they are listening for beliefs, comments, patterns, body language and may stop you mid-story if they feel they already understand enough.Coaching-conversation
  • A trained performance coach will ask smart insight-giving questions. As mentioned in my previous blog on What is coaching, it is not about advice. It’s about asking the questions to get you to think outside of what you are currently able to ‘see’. While a coach will provide a safe, trusting environment they are not your friend so they are able to challenge you in a way in which perhaps family or friends would not.
  • These questions will bring about realisations in terms of your current situation and where you might be holding yourself back. As you are in a trusted space without judgement you are free to express where you are having difficulties.
  • It’s at this time your coach may prompt you to start thinking of opportunities or solutions you hadn’t imagined before. Once you’ve tabled these you can decide on which option is most viable given where you want to get to.
  • Next up is setting a plan. This is not just about setting some SMART goals and setting sail for Tahiti with a mojito in hand.  TahitiYour coach will hold you accountable to what you’ve committed to. And yes, we all get busy and have reasons for not completing our tasks but it’s amazing when you know you have someone to report back to (who you’ve invested to keep you on track) how much more likely you are to complete what you committed to.
  • Finally you’ll finish up with a brief summary of your session and a check in on how you now feel about your situation at hand. Together you will set some targets and there may be some extra reading or work to complete before you met again.

This is a super basic format however every coaching session is different. Coaches have many models and techniques to use so you should never feel like it’s the same old routine every time.

Sometimes it might be quite goal oriented while other times you may explore a behaviour or belief for example a lack of self-confidence or your procrastination habits, then find ways of shifting your mindset to change your outcomes.

Of course to really know what a coaching session is like you need to experience it for yourself. Reach out if you’re interested in finding out more.

 

It’s all about the story.

Controversially, I’m not starting off this year discussing the craft of goal setting or how to be super focused for 2016. Rather I wanted to share some thinking around stories and the important role they play in shaping our reality. If you find yourself asking a rugby sized team for their opinion on a challenge you have or wonder why you keep receiving the same results over and over this may present some enlightening insights into how you can change your story to positively impact your internal and external world.

Personal branding is the latest in a slew of buzz phrases in personal development land. And it’s certainly worth a thought. In marketing we talk about positioning, leverage, engagement and targeting however a large chunk of a product or service’s success is the consistent story which is being told internally and externally. Our personal brand or story is no different.

As we are all very aware our thoughts and actions create our reality. If we’re not happy with the results we’re getting in one area of life, the answer is simple. Change the thoughts and the consequential actions. And as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog the story you are telling your audience is also the story you are telling yourself – only you are the person hearing multiple times over.

story

When we are ‘high on life’ from the potential of a new relationship, exciting career opportunity or weight loss achievement for example our flurry of positive energy is infectious. The majority of folk are drawn to our stories like bees to a honey pot and as Jon Gordon writes in The Energy Bus, those who are not are quickly dismissed as we float or fly between groups spreading gently or loudly our tales of success feeling confident, enthused and full of momentum.

However as we know life isn’t always like that. There are times when we might miss out on a promotion at work, a family member hurts us with unkind words or despite efforts our health goals are just not happening. We tell one colleague, we share it at home, next we tell a concerned family member and with some friends over brunch. Before we know it, we have a team of experts giving their opinion on our situation and we’ve given this story so much energy it’s has its own TV show.  This wasn’t our intention of course. We were simply after some insights.  But now the aftermath results in multiple phone calls to see if we’ve taken the advice, our instinct is clouded with judgement of others and we are becoming the starring role in our increasingly dramatic story.  It feels heavy, confusing and weighs negatively on our minds.

 

When our stories are having a negative impact we have a choice. We can choose a different script. Rather than buying into the story, we can choose not to give it as much energy.  We can decide to confide in the person who knows us best. Ourselves! Check in and query what is this actually about? If a person displays an attribute we don’t like, is this something we don’t like about ourselves? Are we sabotaging results by playing the lead role and what are we getting out of it?  If we want to air our thoughts and bounce ideas, choose only a couple of key people who aren’t going to turn it into an episode of Home & Away whether that’s a trusted friend, mentor or coach. And a final note own your story. Be wary of becoming a dumper, someone who offloads dramas onto others leaving them in the wake of our problems.

Let me be clear. This isn’t about being inauthentic and fabricating picture perfect stories of our worlds. Nor is it about suffering silently when we feel hurt by a situation and need help dealing with it. It is simply suggesting we become conscious of the daily scripts we are running, own them and be prepared to change course when they are no longer useful.

Some questions for you:

  • What is the main story you are running with right now?
  • How much negativity vs positivity is there?
  • Is it going to move you towards the life you want and make 2016 your best year yet?
  • Do you need to understand your story further and consider how it might need to be tweaked in order to move you forward?  laptop

As Rebecca Campbell wrote in Light is The New Black “She left the old story behind her and stepped into a new once upon a time”.

Can you high five yourself?

When the All Blacks win the next rugby world cup  the Kiwis will have no problem celebrating.  When your friend, colleague, child or even pet has a success you have no issue applauding.  But giving ourselves a high five when we make it to a milestone & shouting “Good on me” from the rooftops? It seems to feel a little squeamish.

As The You Project turns one this week and LinkedIn’s constant alerts signal more excitement about the anniversary than me I questioned why is it that I felt so uncomfortable celebrating.  Particularly outwardly. Down-under we like to think we have a ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’  criticising any sign of a self-promoter however Tony Robbins who has worked with millions of people worldwide assures us we are not that special, this is a worldwide phenomenon –  we just have a good name for it.

Most of us were brought up not to brag about achievements and those kids that did were certainly frowned on. But why do we accept someone being proud of their achievement as bad?   Is it possible to re-frame our beliefs around this in order for us to display pride more freely?

elenor

One of the most common barriers to acknowledging success is worrying about what people will think. But as Marie Forleo reminded clients in a recent vlog there are always going to be people who judge you. Key question:  Who are you living your life for? Are you trying to live your whole life not judged by anyone? Because we know that is actually not possible and attempting it is going to be very unfulfilling.  Draw a line in the sand & leave the naysayers who judge where they are – they’re not likely to be crucial to your success anyway.

Setting very high standards and the ‘I’m not enough’ syndrome also hold us back from celebrating success. “Once I have reached 1,000 clients or when I get the promotion then I’ll celebrate”. But this is a moving goal post. If you work like this, there will always be another goal to achieve and you’ll also miss out on the awesome dopamine which comes from acknowledging an awesome outcome.

How to say “good on ya” and reap the rewards:

  • Enjoying your success builds confidence, self-worth and creates a positive energy around you which people find infectious and want to get on board with.
  • Acknowledging your achievement inwardly by meditating, journalling or pondering as you exercise recalling HOW you got to where you are today. The lessons, the wins and the challenges you overcame along the way.
  • It’s not ALL about you.  Celebrate your achievements with those key players who helped you get there & spread the good vibes by asking them what they have done lately they are proud of?
  • Celebrating doesn’t have to be a big night on the ‘turps’ or a $500 day spa package. Come up with a list of small treats, activities or moments.
  • YOU are the key pillar to the success in your life. If you can’t say good job to yourself why should anyone else?

The YOU Project is still very much in its infancy. No bids for takeovers just yet. It’s been an exhilarating roller coaster ride of self-discovery, intensive networking and dealing with an HR manager, marketing and finance departments with different agendas has had it’s moments. However while there is so much still to accomplish I have made it to a year.  Every day I still feel so excited to work with my awesome clients and help move them to more fulfilling places. I get to learn and develop new inspiring content, create workshops and have some awesome projects in the pipeline.  A massive part of my year has also been reaffirming what incredible support I have from my network of mentors, clients, family & friends which has given me so many rewarding opportunities.

So I’m going to toot my horn this week. Toot toot.  I’m proud The YOU Project has turned one. I’m not worried if people judge me for feeling a bit of goodness. That is their choice. I’m walking the walk of what I spend my days encouraging my clients to do – take a moment to go “Yes, actually Bec, good work, keep it up”.

So what latest achievement are you proud of? Your task for this week is ASK 3 people what they are most proud of at the moment then share yours – a little self promo never hurt anyone. I want to hear about it!

2Finally, a massive thank you to all the awesome clients, mentors, family and friends who have been so incredibly supportive to me these past twelve months. I look forward to celebrating with you all soon.