“Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits.” That’s according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why we Do What We Do in Life and Business.
I got to thinking about the habits that we undertake while reflecting on the discussions from a recent management team retreat. We were probing how and why we do certain things to see if there were routines – or habits – we wanted to break or establish.
Scientists tell us that habits emerge because our brains are looking for ways to save effort. We all can identify habits – both personal and professional – that impact our lives. Just as we have good and bad personal habits, organizations have good and bad routines. We want to avoid habits that turn important decision-making over to a process that occurs “without actually thinking,” but at the same time we want to build routines that support our goals and aspirations.
Thankfully, habits and routines can be changed. They aren’t destiny, to quote Duhigg again. At their most basic, habits include “cues, routines, and rewards.” Once we recognize the cycle – and understand that we can change the routine to override a bad habit – we can decide to change it. But we have to make that conscious decision.
I’ll end with a short story that Duhigg uses to illustrate his point:
“The way we habitually think of our surroundings and ourselves create the worlds that we each inhabit. ‘There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says ‘Morning boys. How’s the water? … And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’’
The water is habits, the unthinking choices and invisible decisions that surround us every day – and which, just by looking at them, become visible again.”
As we begin the new year working on New Year’s resolutions and strategic plans, this might be a good time to consider which habits and routines are holding us back and need attention.
Have a good week.
More to come…