How to change your habits as a business owner

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Bad habits tend to hang around like bad smells. Maybe you already know the habits you need to change to be happier, more productive, and more fulfilled in life and business. You might have goals to be more organised, to prioritise, to delegate, to systematise, to loosen your control. 

Of course, identifying what they are is the easy bit, the tricky part is to follow through, stay the course, and to be held accountable so new habits become ingrained in our daily practice and the bad ones get left behind for good.

If you’ve been following these posts you've come a long way already: From identifying your mental health warning signs and learning how to prioritise your mental health to becoming more energised and excited to motivate yourself and your team for growth and independence. With these essential tools for health and productivity locked in, all that’s left is to get some amazing habits in place to keep the momentum going.

The part where most people come unstuck is not being able to go the distance. For habits to stick, it’s crucial to have systems in place that keep you coming back to them, even when the initial spike in motivation wears off. That way you won’t fall back into old habits when something goes wrong. 

You probably know someone who’s gone on a strict diet to lose weight, only to fall apart if a birthday or Christmas comes along, or if they are having a terrible day, then all that hard work and effort goes out the window and they revert to old eating habits again. When you have a system in place, it will help you stay on track, no matter what.

Because habits are a collection of unconscious behaviours that we develop over time and action automatically, in order to change them it’s important to dig down and understand why they are there.

How habits are formed

People have a hard time breaking bad habits despite being aware of them because habits are unconscious actions that are easily taken for granted. Taking the time to reflect on why and how a habit is formed will give you an idea of how to put a stop to these bad habits for good.

Every habit starts with a psychological pattern called the “habit loop” and it follows a three-step process:

  1. Cue - This is what triggers the brain to enact the habit and it can range from a time of day, a location, or even an emotional state. 
  2. Routine - This defines the behaviour of the habit itself and it’s what a person either wants to change (like smoking) or reinforce (like exercising).
  3. Reward - This is the positive reinforcement you receive after enacting the routine, it’s what makes your brain decide to remember this loop in the future in order to feel that way again.

As soon as the routine or behaviour of the habit becomes automatic, the conscious decision-making part of your brain goes into sleep mode, which is why it’s challenging to stop bad habits. Even if you try to resist the “cue,” your brain will remind you of the reward you get from the routine.

Take the time to reflect on the habits you want to change and ask yourself these questions:

  • When did you start this habit?
  • What is the trigger that resets the loop for this habit?
  • Why did you start the routine?
  • What reward do you get from the routine?
  • How is it negatively impacting your life?

Your answers will give you a clear idea of the most effective strategy you need to implement in order to change them and create better habits. 

Many bad habits provide instant gratification which can really make it tough for you to shake since you’re being positively reinforced with that fast reward. By looking at the long-term effects and the negative impacts on your life and business, you can put things in perspective and make it much easier to resist the cue when the habit loop resets. 

How good habits can improve your life and business

Habits make life easier for us. It’s a great shortcut in energy and time to have actions and decisions on autopilot, as long as we are getting the outcomes we want.  As well as helping us to achieve our life and business goals more easily, great habits shape who we are, give us access to our ideal lifestyle, boost our mood, increase our confidence and belief in our ability as well as step in when our motivation is down. 

So even though you might not be motivated to go for a run in the morning, if it’s an ingrained habit you will go anyway and you’ll get that great feeling of health and vitality when you get back. 

Making a habit of doing positive, dollar-producing activities becomes much easier when you love the routine rather than when you force yourself to do it. It’s important to build habits around the things you love doing or the way you want things to be, so you come back to it more naturally and get back to it quickly if you have an off day or two.

It’s understandable if you experience off days, working from home and social restrictions have added new challenges, including lockdown fatigue. Make sure you are doing the work to set your business goals and prioritise your workload to meet them and make a habit out of checking off the action steps that see the results you want. When you get to the point where habits are on autopilot it can even strengthen your sense of motivation because you’re being productive without having to apply extra effort. That way, you’ll find it easier to go back to that motivated mindset even when you’re facing unprecedented challenges.

3 steps to building better habits

We know that habits, good and bad, run on a pattern: The “habit loop”. We can use this proven and naturally occurring system to make habits we want, the way we want them. 

By making a step-by-step strategy based on our natural learning loop, we can easily create better habits to suit our needs and get where we want to go.

1. Create an automatic and attractive prompt

Your prompt will serve as the cue for the habit loop you’re creating There are five types of cues you can use:

  • Time - This is one of the most common triggers as it helps you set your daily routine. Examples of this include waking up and sleeping at certain times, or allotting time for different tasks (e.g. checking emails in the morning, making calls after lunch, etc.).
  • Location - We assign behaviours and habits for specific locations. If you get used to working in the dining room rather than to your designated workspace, you’ll start associating that space with work rather than with the room’s intended purpose, which is to eat.
  • Emotional state - This is typically a cue for bad habits in response to negative emotions (i.e. procrastinating or doom scrolling through Twitter when you feel unproductive or unmotivated). So, you need to proactively build better habits when responding to what you’re feeling, no matter the emotion (i.e. taking deep breaths whenever you feel stressed).
  • Preceding event - Many habits can also be a response to something that happened that day. For example, checking your phone when you hear a notification tone or opening your emails after drinking a morning cup of coffee.
  • Other people - The people you surround yourself with can greatly impact your habits and routines so it’s important to be around others whose habits you want to model.

The type of cue you set will depend on the habit you’re trying to develop, so you need to assess both the cue and the habit in order to make the prompt more attractive to your brain when it’s time to set it into a routine.

2. Make it easier to take action

You’re more likely to build better habits and maintain them if there are fewer obstacles in the way of doing them. That’s why you need to remove as much friction as you can from the good habits you’re trying to develop. 

Friction refers to the factors that can discourage you from continuing to do your new habit. In one study, researchers changed the timing of elevator doors so that workers had to wait nearly half a minute for the doors to close instead of the usual 10 seconds. The additional delay pushed many people to take the stairs since that was easier than waiting for the elevator. 

This shows how sensitive we are to friction in our environment, so the less challenging it is to implement your new habits, the easier it will be to incorporate them into your daily routine.

3. Reinforce your new habits

The best way to make this new loop stick is by reinforcing the habits you’ve created. This encourages your brain to remember and enact this routine for next time.

Some ways you can reinforce your good habits include:

  • Starting a daily streak - Keeping a record of tasks you consistently complete in a day through an interactive and engaging way can motivate you to accomplish your to-dos.
  • Creating meaningful rewards - You’re more likely to maintain your new habits if you reward yourself as that creates a positive association with the habit you’re trying to develop.
  • Having an accountability partner - Telling someone your plans gives you less wiggle room to get out of it. To avoid the pain of admitting defeat you are more likely to push through setbacks.

As well as an accountability partner, it can help to hold yourself accountable to an experienced business coach. They can provide the right amount of pressure to see your goals through while also helping to guide you through the process and identify any tipping points that are keeping you stuck in old habits. 

If you need an accountability partner, going online can be a great choice as long as the network you are sharing with is supportive of your goals. A community of other business owners who are on the same journey is a great place to get connected as these will be people who understand your problems and the strategies you are putting in place to overcome them.

By identifying where your old habits have come from and what reward you are getting you can put strategies in to replace them with better habits. By using your natural habit making system to install prompts and rewards you can make new habits stick and keep that momentum going.

If you are ready to surround yourself with business owners who are on the same journey as you are, join us at The Business Evolution. We can help you stay accountable and support you in making and keeping great habits.

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