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How to achieve remarkable growth with small habits

How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your lifetime?

How many of them did you stick to?

We've all lived through the all too familiar pattern. The annual influx of so-called 'New Years' resolutions' fizzle out as quickly as they started, and we resume our old habits as if nothing ever happened. The major reason why these resolutions fail? We put far too much pressure on ourselves to change everything all at once.

It's a fantastical mentality which has great intentions, but not much substance. Let's say you've promised yourself you can learn a pitch perfect Hendrix solo within a week, when you've never picked up a guitar in your life. It's simply not a sustainable way to build a habit.

Quick lived attempts at habit building are just unrealistic goals that are simply too large to achieve so quickly.

The stats speak for themselves:

  • 77% of people can keep up a new behaviour for a week, but only 19% of people who invent these habits are able to hold onto them for two years (Clare Kumar, 2020).

  • A whopping 95% of our behaviour is habitual, or we’ll only do it because of a strong external stimulus. That means, only 5% of our choices are conscious, self-selected choices (Harvard Business Review, 2011).

  • For something to become a habit, it takes about 66 days, or two months to fully form into a habit that you do unconsciously and completely automatically (James Clear, 2018) 

Trying to instantly achieve these dream-like goals instantly jolt us out of our comfort zone and routine. This means achieving them is incredibly tough to keep up with because we're forcing ourselves to behave in a way that's completely alien - in the push of a button.

'Atomic Habits'

James Clear’s 2018 New York Times' bestseller ‘Atomic Habits’ gets to the gist of habit building.

It’s the modern day bible to building habits; a self-help book chart showstopper that reshaped many perspectives. Needless to say, it's popular thanks to it's home-hitting relatability. 'Atomic Habits' is an interesting read packed with penny-dropping moments.

It succinctly explains why it's near-impossible to replace old unhealthy habits with new healthy ones. And if replacing them is difficult enough, sustaining them is even harder. Many of us fall at the first hurdle, because we assume the new behaviour will only take place if we're in a state of 'wanting' to do it.

We just assume that we'll 'be in the right mood' when it's the right time. But when is the right time? We end up within this purgatory state of looped procrastination until the desire to build the habit dissolves, making room for another idea.

Stepping out of our comfort zone is tough. That's why it's better to start small.


Failed habits are a result of too much pressure

Let's be honest, remarkable changes don't happen when we put too much pressure on ourselves. Trying to make drastic changes overnight just won't work. The magic all lies in the minor details.

Building small habits minimizes expectations. It helps us take baby steps towards a bigger end goal, but makes the journey far more palatable than a balls to the wall method or cold turkey approach.

The congregation of small habits we live by might seem insignificant, but they make us who we are. In fact, our whole lives are structured by a series of both conscious and unconscious habits - most of which we don't even realise we're doing.

Logically then, small tweaks + consistency = remarkable outcomes 

And this works for not only our personal habits, but in all aspects of running a company.

'Habit stacking'

‘One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behaviour on top.’ (Clear, 2018).

Habits are even harder to form when you don’t enjoy the action before it. So, by tightly knotting your new habit to an old one, it’ll become automatic with time. For example, if you want to start drinking more water, fill up a glass of water every time you fill up your coffee.  

Eventually if you start drinking more water, you feel healthier with time - and so on. If you consistently build on these small habits, you’ll make great changes. The classic snowball effect takes place, and over time, the habit is built.

Positive company habits

Forming habits in your company takes time and consistency, because you’re not just forming habits for yourself, but for a whole system or unit of employees.

Firstly, assess your biggest areas of improvement, and see how you can build a habit that will vastly improve that area.

  • Make it accessible and in reach. We develop habits when an opportunity is placed right in front of us

  • If you're an SME owner, actively develop the habit yourself to lead by example

  • Normalise the change

  • Develop a reward system to incentivise your staff to build the habit too

  • Keep it consistent

Perhaps you're introducing ways to make your company greener on all levels of operation throughout your company. Make the new behaviour easily visible, whilst keeping it consistent. Over time, the improvements in your company's greener habits will become so habitual that your departments aren't even conscious that they're doing it anymore.

How we communicate these habits is important, too. To build new company habits, change the identity of the company. In this case 'we'll run X amount of greener incentive schemes by the end of 2023' (the result) is less effective than saying 'we're a green company' (the identity). Our results are just a by-product identity.

Psychologically, this quantifies the habit, which puts a time limit on it. So subconsciously, we assume that once we've achieved the result, we don't need to practise the habit anymore.

Repetition is key

The aim is to turn the habit into muscle memory. Just like training a muscle, repetition is the only way that happens.

Ultimately, you want your new initiatives to become so habitual that they are thoughtless actions. The repetitions of these actions are the stepping stones and they get you where you need to be. Eventually, these positive behaviours are practiced so often that they become engrained into the fabric of your company. Repeat these positive actions, and the growth will speak for itself.

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