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.

 

The Repeater

Life is speedily passing us by. We’re busy with family, career, friends, saving money, spending money, networking, socialising, renovating and enjoying holidays. We’re often so caught up bouncing from event to event we don’t even notice the consistent feedback we’re getting where a repeated action is not working for us. And even better we usually rationalise it by convincing ourselves ‘Well, that’s how it’s always been’.

Consider this. burgerYou go to Maccas (in an absolute emergency of course!) and order the same combo every time – not ‘lovin’ it’ but it’s what you know. Next time you order it again and are similarly disappointed with the taste.  Frustrated, you complain to your buddies.  When you head back again (potentially with a monster hangover) you order the exact same combo and are surprised it still tastes the same. Yes, you are in a spiral of a repeater combo mistake!

So yes, you guess it … you could  be ordering the very same combo in relationships, career, health – anywhere in life.

Where in life do you find yourself going ohhh wait a minute, I have been here before? The scenery, staging, lighting, people and content may be different but it’s the same combo and deep down you know it! Perhaps you’re an evidence gatherer searching tirelessly to make the right choice? A course-aholic – once you finish the next course then you’ll be ‘ready’? HFordDo you play the victim card a little too often – bad stuff always seems to happen to you? Are you a rescuer –  endlessly needing to save the world?  Do you have to be right all the time and are prepared to bring forth your shiny sword to defend yourself? Are you a ‘grass is always greener’ type never completely fulfilled or do you run at the speed of lightening when confrontation heads your way and have multiple unresolved disputes lingering in your mist? Do you trust people too much or not enough? Or perhaps you rush into decisions impulsively without considering all the consequences?  In The Monk Who Sold Ferrari by Robin Sharma it teaches how you will keep being served the same lesson in life until you learn it. Only then you can move forward on to your next exciting lesson – ole!

How to get out of Repeater Mode. 

Find your calm zone to sit and get real about your patterns. What repeated mistakes are you making? Where is it glaringly obvious but you’re so caught up in everyday life that they whizz by like the Mercedes in the Formula One. When you break down those repeated actions are they in all areas of your life or just some? It might be worth getting a trusted friend/ guide to help you on this (if you’re ready to hear it) as sometimes it’s easier for others to see.

Don’t give yourself grief about your mistakes – you had to experience them fully to really ‘get it’ & it’s where the growth happens. However be man or woman enough to admit you were probably getting something out of your repeater – you may’ve even formed a bit of a story about yourself that went quite nicely with your bag of fries let’s be honest!

Progress is a conscious choice. Commit to breaking up with your repeated pattern that is holding you back from moving forward and growing into an even cooler person. Acknowledge it, learn from it, then choose a different combo. It’s going to be easy to slip back into the old pattern because it feels secure and comfy so you’ll need to be on high alert and practice some solid self-awareness or have a friend/ mentor at the ready to keep you in check.

Reflecting on your repeated mistakes as with your weaknesses is a chance to take control of your life and having more say over how you shape it. If you leave it to chance, hoping the results will change by themselves you are potentially handing your life over to being shaped by accidental and external events.

TWB_260In The Winners Bible by Dr. Kerry Spackman comments that while self analysis is not glamouress task,  it’s where you build a platform for change “allowing you to grow and become an advanced soul, rather than an adult with a child’s personality”.

So get down and dirty with the realness of being a human – you’ll come out better off. As Henry Ford said “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing”.