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How to Make New Behaviors Last

When it comes to any change, it’s never easy. You can have a well thought out plan with the best intentions and still have your initiatives fall flat. Why? This is something that most companies struggle with, particularly when it comes to large-scale initiatives like collaboration. Part of the problem with a collaboration initiative is that it is so disruptive. To have successful collaboration, everyone has to alter their routines and habits – and that’s tough. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be so difficult any longer.

“Who we are and what we accomplish depends largely on a vast network of routines and behaviors that we carry out with little to no thought whatsoever,” writes Jocelyn Glei in a blog post from Behance’s blog, 99U. Habits are the brain’s own internal productivity drivers, the more we repeat a certain task, the more the brain habitualizes it. The more a task become a habit, the less brainpower needed to complete it. Glei explains, “the brain quickly transforms as many tasks and behaviors as possible into habits so that we can do them without thinking, thus freeing up more brainpower to tackle new challenges.”

How habits are formed

When we are first asked to perform something new, our brains work extremely hard. They process tons of new information as we undertake the task that is asked of us. Quickly, though, as we begin to understand how a task works, the behavior starts becoming automatic and the mental activity required to perform the task diminishes dramatically.

Think back to the last time you had to learn a new piece of software. Remember how much concentration and focus it took? Then compare that to the amount of mental effort you use when you are using something a lot more familiar – say Microsoft Office. According to writer Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, “This process – in which the brain converts a sequence of actions into an automatic routine – is known as ‘chunking,’ and it’s at the root of how habits form.”

Once we’ve developed these habits, there’s an extremely powerful three-step loop that we fall into. First there’s a trigger or a cue. Essentially, it’s something that tells your brain to switch over to automatic mode and which habit you need to perform. Then there is routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Lastly, there is reward. This helps your brain figure out if this particular habit loop is worth remembering. “As this loop then is repeated, the cues and rewards become intertwined until a power sense of anticipation and craving emerges”, writes Duhigg.

So as you can see, it’s not a wonder that we have such a tough time changing! Luckily for everyone, there are some ways we can help beat this loop.

How to change those pesky habits

Glei first points out that there’s no escaping the three step habit loop described above, primarily because “it’s hard-wired into our brains.” However once you accept this, trying to implement new habits is difficult but fairly straight forward. “The trick is to keep the cue and the rewards while changing the routine,” says Glei. Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, that’s because it is – sort of. We’ve all tried to change our habits before. Typically we’re successful for a few weeks, then we slide back into our old, poor habits. The key to avoiding this behavioral reversion according to Duhigg is dwelling on the benefits of the habit you want to adopt. By focusing on the benefits, it will help keep you motivated. “Allow yourself to anticipate the reward. Eventually that craving will make it easier.”

With this knowledge, I hope that you are now better equipped to help your team adopt some new, powerful habits and keep them for good.

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