So habits are strong, long lasting and can either work for us or against us. But why do we stay with our unhelpful habits? Surely, as you read this you can think of at least one habit you might want to change can’t you? Just like the statement, “Everybody can use at least one more pair of shoes”, so too can we say a similar thing about habits; “Everybody has at least one habit to change”.
But is habits all there is? No, there is more. What do your habits tell you about yourself? What do the routines of those you lead say about them? Your patterns carry with them a message about you and your thinking in general. Habits and habit loops are attached to assumptions or paradigms about the way you think things should be. These assumptions can be as influential as the habits themselves.
Our assumptions support our habits and our habits support our assumptions. In a sense, what we have going on here is a kind of paradigm loop. Because we tend to eschew disequilibrium, we tend to justify and make “alright” our habits by our accompanying assumptions. We construct an unconscious or semi-conscious validation process for our habits that basically says; “Things are fine – this is what you do – at least for now”.
Here’s an example. Let’s say a leader has the habit of checking and re-checking the work of his subordinates prior to deadlines. The cue is the approaching deadline. The reward is the feeling of security that comes from believing everything is “just so”. What assumption could be attached to this habit loop? Let’s say for the sake of example that the accompanying and underlying assumption is; “Life is treacherous here due to challenging expectations of the market and THE thing to do is be perfect.” There is nothing necessarily “wrong” with this assumption, but is it accurate? And what are the costs & benefits of supporting this habit loop with this assumption?
To unlock the potential of individual, team and organizational performance, both habits and supporting assumptions must be evaluated. In a sense, reality-tested. Most of the executives and leaders with whom I’ve worked over the years possess an above-average appetite for freedom. The freedom to excel and achieve tends to be highly valued by most. Freedom can be drastically reduced by habit loops and their assumptions, until exposed by awareness.
Maybe it’s time to stop repeating the past and start creating the future.
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