A common question asked of Learning and Development professionals by managers is where to begin in terms of their development. This supposedly innocuous question turns out to be a deceptively difficult one to answer. Many may argue that it depends on the individual and what they feel is an area of need. While this may be true, I would argue that certain foundational or keystone skills that once mastered make additional skill acquisition much easier. One of those skills is habit formation. Like Tim Ferris states in his book Tools of Titans, “You don’t “succeed” because you have no weaknesses; you succeed because you find your unique strengths and focus on developing habits around them.”
Over the past decade, this area of self-improvement has witnessed more than a few best-selling books in this area. Some of my personal favorites are Atomic Habits by James Clear, Tiny Habits by BJ Fogg, and the The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. The growing literature on this topic provides many practical tools, tips, and strategies in creating good habits that stick. Some of the techniques I have used are the following:
Habit stacking attaches a new habit to the end of a current habit. Once you identify your current daily practices, you can add a new habit to the end of one of them. For example, after I walk in the door after work, I will go for a walk with my dog.
DO THE TINIEST VERSION OF THE HABIT
Another strategy used to encourage habit formation is to make the habit tiny or focus on mastering the smallest version of the habit or behavior. If you would like to get more exercise by going to the gym, then start by placing your gym bag next to the front door the night before.
These habits are tiny pockets of time that you regularly have during the course of day. After you turn the shower on and wait until it gets warm, you will do 5 push-ups.
As you try these techniques don’t forget to celebrate after, which reinforces the new behavior that leads to a habitual response. Habits form much quicker when you when they are associated with positive emotion. Celebrations should occur immediately after the behavior and have a certain amount of intensity. BJ Fogg states we should feel a sense of ‘Shine’ (authentic pride) from the celebration.
There is no magic time frame for habit acquisition. Some will say it takes 21 days while others will assert 60 days. How long it takes will vary based on the person, the behavior and the circumstances. From the research I have read along with personal experience, it can takes at the minimum 60 days.
By focusing on effective habit formation techniques, you ensure that practiced self-development skills will have the staying power to positively impact your life. Like James Clear states in his book, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems (habits).”
ABOUT CHARLES GOOD
Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.