Make it a Habit!

April 17, 2015 by Rose Cook

HabitIn my never ending quest for knowledge and my desire to always try new things I just started a “21 Day Reset Program for Fitness and Nutrition”. As hard as I work to eat right and exercise, I know I can do better and it’s fun to challenge myself in ways that make my fitness goals more interesting. The concept of this program is that it takes a minimum of 21 days to form a new habit. In this case the first challenge is to eat breakfast within one hour of waking and to skip all sweetened beverages. I thought it seemed simple enough, definitely beneficial to me and a habit that I would like to become part of my routine. Heck, I can do anything for 21 days, right? So far so good.

This topic of ingraining new habits interested me so I did a little more research on how long it takes to actually form a new habit. I believe it was Benjamin Franklin that first theorized that it took 21 days to make or break a habit. And, in theory, he was definitely on to something. We are all creatures of habit and the more we do something the more built into our routine it becomes. Eventually it’s not a new behavior, it’s our new “normal”. However, what I found in researching this “21 day” idea is that in reality, it’s a myth! It’s a great foundation, a great beginning goal, but not a true indicator of how long a new habit will take to be forged. I guess that’s why most of the research prefaced with “at least”, or “at a minimum”! One article, written by James Clear states that, “… if you want to set your expectations appropriately, the truth is that it will probably take you anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new behavior into your life – not 21 days.” Oh well, maybe it did sound too good to be true, but I still like the idea of that 21 day starting point.

I’m always trying to relate new concepts back to project management – so how can we relate all of this to what we do as Project Managers (or managers of our homes and families for that matter!)? An article by Joy Lawless posted on the “Wrike Project Management Blog” ties it all back together for me and really emphasizes the importance of building good habits with your team (even if the team is your family!), regardless of how long it takes. Lawless breaks it down very simply to the following:

“The 5 Strategies for Forming Productive Habits”

1. Lead by example: Define the behavior you want the team to exhibit, then practice what you preach. Your team will follow when they see you do it first, and when the benefits of this new habit are clear.

2. Share the power to change: In spreading the new habit, you may need the help of power users or evangelists – enthusiastic team members who can spread the new habit to the rest of the team and even the entire organization.

3. Apply horizontal or vertical rollout: Split up the habit into smaller actions and smaller parts, so that tiny steps can be made. Small wins can motivate the team to take it the rest of the way, no matter how difficult it may be.

4. Motivate your team: Influence the emotional side of your people, not just the intellectual. Give them incentives to practice this new habit. Make it fun. Be creative.

5. Blend new work styles into existing practices: Leverage any existing habits that are useful when trying to “write” new habits onto the team’s repertoire. This makes the new habit feel more familiar and ensures a more natural transition.”

Fostering new habits will take time and it’s up to us as leaders to be able to develop these new routines as seamlessly as possible. I especially like strategy number 1 above. If I’m going to expect new habits from my team I need to be the first one jumping in with both feet. Getting results takes patience, persistence and consistency.

I think the hardest part of changing behavior towards building a new habit is starting. I need a tangible goal to work towards to keep me motivated to continue. Personally, I’ll still use the first 21 days as my starting point. For me, by the time I’ve hit that benchmark, I really don’t have to put as much thought into the new behavior. As it becomes more automatic and routine, it simply becomes my new “normal”. I’d love to hear about any new habits you’ve introduced to your team or into your life and what’s become your new “normal”!

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