Yes, You Can Change Your Leadership Habits!

The more you learn about habits and how much control they have over people’s lives, the more you notice habits at work around you. You cannot go anywhere or do anything without noticing constant habitual behaviors. Once you start studying habits, you start seeing them everywhere: People chewing on their nails, staring at their phone screens or employing the usage of certain words or phrases – I’m sure you know what I mean! Habits are so prevalent and so powerful that it might seem like it would be impossible to change them, but that is simply not true.

Yes, habits can be hard to break and extremely difficult to change. They are not, however, impossible to alter. If you are a leader and you recognize that you could benefit from changing your habits, the road ahead of you might seem discouraging to travel. What you need to know is that people change habits all the time, it just takes practice, discipline, mindfulness and the belief that it is possible.

Some leaders may believe that they are too old or too entrenched within their roles to truly change or adjust their habits. If this applies to you, I would invite you to consider changing your thinking. Change is possible at any age or at any level of leadership. The idea that leaders or anyone, in general, cannot change is a myth.

You can change your habits and you can change your leadership. But first, you need to change your mind in regard to some of the more common myths surrounding habit change.

3 Habit Myths Busted

“Leaders can’t change their habits” is an absolute myth, but it’s not the only one.

Here are some of the more common habit-change myths – and the reasons they just aren’t true:

#1 – You Can’t Afford to Make a Mistake When Changing Habits

Have you heard that it takes 21 consecutive days to form or change a habit? Maybe you’ve heard that it takes 28 or 30 days. While this may or may not be true, depending on the individual, there is a belief that one must never make a mistake or skip a day when attempting to change a habit or form a new one. This is a total myth.

The fact is that different people respond differently to habit-change methods. Maybe 21 days of disciplined effort works for some people. But that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Furthermore, you can make mistakes or skip a day without losing the benefits of the work you’ve put in.

The 21 (or 30 or 28) days myth was debunked recently in a study. The same study also debunked the idea that you can never miss a day or experience a backslide when you are working on changing your habits. In reality, missing a day every once in a while has little to no impact on the larger goal of changing a habit. Yes, repetition and discipline are important, but you can let yourself off the hook if you happen to miss a day, or if it takes you longer than 21 days to make the changes you desire.

#2 – Rewards Are the Best Tools for Changing Habits

One of the best ways to learn new behaviors is to associate rewards with the desired actions. But if you want to truly change your habits for good, it’s a little more complicated than that. Rewarding yourself for sticking with a new habit can help, but what’s more important is recognizing the cues that go along with habits.

To get rid of a negative habit, you need to recognize the cue that drives the decision to engage in that habit. For example, let’s say you want to be more physically active. You realize you need to cut something out of your schedule. So, you decide that you want to stop scrolling mindlessly through your social media feeds at lunchtime and start taking short walks instead. Essentially, you want to replace a bad habit with a good one, which is a great way to approach this type of behavior change.

You could reward yourself every time you go for a walk instead of picking up your phone, and that might make a difference. However, in order to truly change your habit, you need to identify the cues that trigger your desire to pick up your phone in the first place. You need to be mindful and notice the urge. Maybe the cue that triggers picking up your phone occurs when you have eaten your last bite of lunch. If you notice and acknowledge this cue and the associated urge, you can make a conscious choice to do something else, like go for a walk. Once you have completed this cycle, then you can reward yourself, which will reinforce the behaviors that you want to implement.

Rewards are important, but they only work when you can identify the cues that trigger the initial habitual behavior.

#3 – You Need to Share Habits with Other Successful People

While it’s true that many successful people share certain habits, attempting to mimic the habits of others is not guaranteed to bring you success. If you want to develop habits that help you become a better leader, you need to identify what works for you, individually. And you need to identify the negative habits you’d like to replace with better ones. There is no magic formula that works for everyone when it comes to habit change and formation. There are guidelines that can certainly help, plus there are techniques involving mindfulness and self-awareness that can make the process more manageable. But the real work must be done by you in order to become the leader you wish to be.

What’s in Your Habit-Change Toolbox?

Essentially, changing your habits is a personal journey that you must take on your own. You can do it successfully – I know you can because I’ve seen it happen countless times with leaders – but you need the right tools and the right mindset. It requires a toolbox that contains self-awareness, mindfulness, focus and discipline. You have the tools you need, but those tools may need to be developed as you navigate through your habit-change journey. Thankfully, help is available. Stay tuned to this space next week. I will discuss some of the ways you can find help to change your leadership habits in ways that take you to a new level.

Any questions or comments? Let me know what you think by sharing them here or sending me an email at joanne.trotta@leadersedgeinc.ca.

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