I’m a big believer that a big part of ongoing business operations is about building business habits that stick. The things you do everyday are what makes business happen. As well, since a big part of culture is how we collectively get things done – what we do around here – habits speak to culture too. But this is me on my soap box.
In a recent podcast, Whitney Johnson spoke with Katy Milkman about her book How to Change. (I’ve now added it to my audible wish list. It will be my next listen!). In Katy’s research on the success of people changing behaviours, she uncovered some things that run counter intuitive to conventional wisdom on how people build habits.
One surprising point was you are more likely to retain a habit when we are flexible in your practice of it. Lately, there has been a lot of literature on habit building. Often telling us to setup specific cues, with time being one of them. For example, repetition of activities at a specific time can reinforce building the cue. However, being flexible seems to contradict that wisdom, and instead help to build habits that stick.
They ran an experiment with Google staff who were building a habit of regular exercise. Some of the people set specific times to exercise – repeating the habit within strict conditions. Other people exercised at random times.
Interestingly, the people who exercised at flexible times were the ones that stuck to the habit. Even after the experiment ended. As a result, flexibility seems more important to building a habit than they had initially assumed.
Alternatively, the people with a set exercise time, would just miss exercising on the days they couldn’t do it at that time. They were too rigid. If they couldn’t do it at the set time, then they blew it away rather than reschedule it.
Personally, I find that setting parameters helps to reinforce a habit you have already established. While being flexible helps you to build a habit from scratch. As well, when a habit gets into a rut, then being flexible can breathe in some life.
I think you hear the other advice because both approaches can be true. The “it depends” is where you on the curve of change. Having awareness of that and knowing your goals for what you want to change can help you decide on the best approach right now. (Hmmm, that’s being flexible in our approach, lol.)
I’m going to apply this to a habit I am working on – to increase my social media engagement. I’ve been setting goals to post and comment daily on LinkedIn and Instagram. I’ve been targeting doing it around lunch time. Because it’s a break away from other priorities. Even if that means I am scheduling posts to be published later, it’s a good time to do it. Or at least I thought so.
To be honest, I’m only doing it 1 or 2 times a week. Other priorities take over. Meetings get scheduled. Interruptions happen. Hmmm. Taking this example, it’s time to get a little more flexible with the time of day. Make it a to-do I do regularly but let go of when I do it. (Follow me to see if I can make this one of my habits that stick.)
What business habits are you wanting to change or develop? Could being more flexible help you to change?
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