To reach your goals—professional or otherwise—you need to be persistent and disciplined. You need to strive to make a little progress each day and expect that you will stumble and suffer setbacks. In many ways, habits help determine your ability to succeed.
Whether you are talking about dieting, preparing to run a marathon or getting that next job promotion, your habits can either keep you on track moving you closer to reaching your goal or prevent you from it.
Habits are what we do automatically and without deliberation, according to BJ Fogg, PhD, author of Tiny Habits: The small changes that change everything. He suggests that breaking new habits down to very small behavioral changes and tying these to habits you already do can drastically improve their adoption.
“Emotion creates habits,” says Fogg. “When it comes to behavior, decisions and habit are opposites. Decisions require deliberation, habits do not. Emotions can make behavior more automatic.” Ensuring that there is emotion around the behavior you’re looking to start will enable automating the habit.
“A range of positive experiences can reinforce a new behavior that leads to a habitual response,” says Fogg. “For example, anything that gives you instant pleasure can reinforce a behavior and make it more likely to happen in the future.”
Let’s say you’re looking to create a habit to be more present and less distracted in meetings. You often multitask and have a hard time accepting that this is not the most productive use of your time. Perhaps it has even increased during COVID times as you are able to check your phone and tend to other tasks while on Zoom calls.
But others noticed and said they feel you don’t respect them enough to be engaged. That by not being fully present you are preventing the meeting from being most productive.
Acknowledge, Acceptance & Action
First there’s the need to acknowledge that it is noticed by others and it is having a detrimental impact on how you show up. Then you need to accept that this is something you need to change. Finally, you need to determine a plan of action. This is where habits come in.
In order to stay fully present, you must quiet your mind. Turn off your monkey mind so that you can remain focused. Suspend the desire to do this other thing at the same time, so you can check it off your list. Resist the urge to think you can fully listen while doing something else.
A habit for this could be making time for 60 seconds prior to the meeting and take a few deep breadths. Then ask yourself: what will it take for me to be fully present? This alone could help you prepare to resist distractions and stay focused during the meeting.
Tie this behavioral change to the habit you may already have using a calendar alert for the meeting so that you are alerted a couple minutes early. In the same way that after your commute from work it can be helpful to take time to transition between the workday and your personal life, so too can this brief reminder to transition between what you were doing and what you’re about to do.
Make this a habit by using your calendar alert to perhaps include a note such as: “Take a few minutes to transition.” Rather than just being pinged that you are needed somewhere, have the alert bring to mind your desire to be fully present for this event.
Any behavioral change takes time before it becomes a habit. By breaking it down into something small such as a reminder to be fully present for a meeting and tying it to something that already is a habit (a calendar alert), you may find it will be easier to adopt this as a habit.
Success requires persistence and discipline. Adopting new habits that are tied to those habits you already have can greatly help you reach your goals.