Building New Productive Habits

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Recently talking to a good friend of mine, who happens to be a doctor specializing in public health, I shared how difficult it is, for all of us, to cope with the new realities of the Coronavirus. She immediately responded that the problem is we want to go back to the old ways of doing things, instead of seeking out new ways. She went on to say that the virus and its attending hardships will be with us for at least another year. Her comment started me thinking about habits and two business books I read that dealt with habits: The Power of Habit and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Revisiting them made me realise that we are slaves to our habits. We have adopted many habits and even when circumstances change or we realise that these habits are harming us, we often find it impossible to change. Take for instance smoking, many persons soon realise that smoking is slowly killing them, but find it almost impossible to stop. The challenge with the pandemic and its attending hardships is that we cannot let go of old habits. If this is the ‘new normal’ then we will have to learn to let go of old habits and start new habits, more in line with the present situation.

How can we draw lessons for these books to help us adapt to the new normal? Here are two gems mined from the books, I hope they help you:

Charles Duhigg in the Power of Habit says the following:

All habits have three elements – Cue, Routine, Reward. The cue triggers the habitual streak that ends in the reward. We must be aware of what cues trigger the habit. Let us say a cue for the things we do at the office is arriving at our desk. Then as soon as we arrive at the desk we start with the same productive routine.

With the pandemic, that routine may now be impossible. We now have to go to our dining room table as a desk. But the dining room table is a cue for another routine with another reward. When we arrive at our home desk it does not trigger the same productive routine. We want to get a snack. We must now form a new habit linked with our at home dining room table desk.

One way of doing this is to start a new habit by giving yourself a small reward. When you get to your home dining room desk, you create a new productive routine, then after 1 hour stop and give yourself a reward. Do not take the reward before the routine is completed. After a few days the dining room desk will become a cue for a productive routine in anticipation of the reward.

Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People says the following:

Habit number 4 is think Win:Win. Too often we think in a win:lose pattern. We think that for us to win someone else has to lose. Or if someone wins then we lose. We are very prone to this sort of thinking during the pandemic. We may think that with a downturn in the economy there is only so much money circulating. Persons are losing their jobs. I better hold on to my money and not spend. I had better lay off that employee. But if we all think like that we can create a vicious cycle, creating a further downturn.

Instead we have to cultivate a new habit, that of thinking win:win. Each time we get a cue to contract, to withdraw, to curtail we must envision a penalty of further economic hardship. Instead we must replace our routine with a reward of thinking success and growth. Instead of curtailing why not think change. How can I use this employee differently to be more productive in this new normal. How can I change my routine to be more productive.

There are so many more gems that we can mine from these two great business books. I encourage you to get a hold of one or both and start a new habit of reading good business books. I assure you of a very great reward.

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