We are all creatures of habit.
Breaking them is tough and forming new ones is even harder. And when new habits conflict with old habits – well, that’s about as difficult as it gets.
In fact, nearly half of the activities and tasks we do on a daily basis are habitual – and they are almost impossible to break. So how can we best approach changing our habits and increasing the likelihood that they’ll stick?
Here are five strategies designed to help you to form new habits at work:
- Commit to developing new triggers
- Ensure your environment supports your new goals
- Attach a new habit on to an existing one
- Practice and repeat new skills
- Focus on habits that deliver more than one benefit
Commit to developing new habitual triggers
Habit and routine are connected, so to change an existing habit (and form a new one) you need to think how the environment you’re in will or won’t increase the likelihood of success.
For example, if you are hoping to spend the first 30 minutes of your day reading industry news but you currently start your day delving through your inbox, it’s important to take a step back and look at the ‘trigger’ that needs addressing in order to create this change.
This trigger might be time of day – that is, first thing in the morning. Or it could be another behaviour that comes first, such as automatically checking emails as you open your laptop. Environment can also trigger a habit, such as the action of sitting at your desk.
To break an existing habit like inbox-checking and give you the best possible chance of replacing it with a new one (such as daily reading), you could try the following:
- Enter your ‘reading time’ into your diary so that you begin to receive daily reminders informing you that first thing in the morning is a time for reading, followed by email.
- Keep your email account closed with notifications switched off until you have finished your reading. This removes any temptation to check in.
- Spend the first 30 minutes of your work morning in the breakout area or at a hot desk. Being away from your own regular desk may help you to form the new habit – without having to break the existing association of ‘desk equals emails’.
Ensure that your environment supports your new goals
Habits are not formed in a vacuum, they are directly connected to your environment.
Habit-forming becomes more challenging when work days are unpredictable, and involve lots of meetings or business travel. Forming new habits at work becomes easier and more manageable when the environment is consistent and supportive.
So if the new habit you’re trying to instill is to take a break from your desk and stretch for 20 minutes per day, your best chance of success is to ensure that where ever you are, you always have access to a break room or free space. And that you have the opportunity to leave your desk at the same time each day.
Attach a new habit on to an existing one
Linking a new behaviour to a pre-established one could increase the likelihood of you turning your new goal into a fully-fledged habit.
Applying a new action to one you already do semi-automatically makes the entire process easier and forges a new and essential connection, whereby the existing behaviour becomes the ‘trigger’ for the new habit.
For example, let’s say you want to drink more water throughout the day and cut back on caffeine. Firstly, you swap your regular coffee for decaf, and then each time you make a hot drink, pair it with a glass of water.
Adding the new action (a glass of water) to an existing habit such as a morning decaf or afternoon herbal tea will make the chances of it becoming a habit far higher than if you were to try to replace the tea or coffee with water.
So adding to, rather than replacing, existing habits increases the likelihood of a new habit forming.
Practice and repeat new skills
When forming a new habit, it is essential that you create opportunities to practice and repeat the new behaviour or learned skill in an attempt to ingrain it in your everyday life. Repetition is key, especially when it’s linked to a specific time/place.
So try to ensure that your new goal aligns with your working life and that they complement each other.
If you’re able to put new behaviours into practice more easily and more frequently at work, they’re much more likely to become habitual.
Focus on habits that deliver more than one positive outcome
By creating a new habit that has multiple benefits, you are more likely to strongly identify with the new behaviour and the good things it brings.
For example, perhaps you would like to form a habit of going to bed by 10pm on weeknights because you believe it will enhance your productivity at work. You can add deeper purpose to this new habit by identifying additional benefits, such as improved physical and mental health, and enhanced mood and happiness.
A goal with multiple benefits is more likely to motivate you so that in turn, you repeat the new behaviour until it becomes habitual.