- Studies suggest that 40% of our day is driven by habits and routines.
- The more intentional we are about choosing and implementing habits, the greater the impact they can have on our success.
- Charles Duhigg’s habit model reveals how we can hack our habit loop for improved effectiveness.
As businesspeople, we are often managing a dynamic mix of responsibilities – meetings, emails, projects, budgets, not to mention personal responsibilities, community participation and family time. And yet, despite the varied activities that populate our to do lists, studies suggest that about 40% of our day is driven by repeated habits and routines that are ingrained (whether intentionally or not) into our daily lives. It stands to reason, then, that the more intentional we are with our habits, the more successful we will be – after all, who wouldn’t want an additional 40% of time and effort behind their goals?
Of course, as anyone who had tried to change a bad habit, or build a new one, knows, this is easier said than done. The very nature of habits – “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up” – indicates that they can be a challenge to change or establish.
Luckily, business journalist Charles Duhigg, in his 2012 bestseller The Power of Habit concisely broke down the structure of habits and uncovered ways we can use the structure to our advantage in breaking old habits or building new ones.
Habits are made up of three components: The Cue, the Routine, and the Reward. In his book, he cites the simple but powerful example of Proctor & Gamble, who saved their failing, previously-unscented Febreze product so that it offered a reward (a fresh scent) to their desired cue (cleaning) and routine (finishing with a room freshening spray). The scent is unrelated to the functioning of the product; Febreze works by eliminating odours, not adding them. But the reward was essential in completing the habit loop and drawing consumers in.
This example shows that the cues, routines, and rewards need not be dramatic to be effective. And we don’t need to be a large CPG organization to hack the loop. We can apply the same principles to our business and personal lives.
Many businesspeople have shifted, at least in part, to a remote working life. This shift has upended old habits and requires us to build new ones. How can the habit loop help us? Let’s look at an example:
With the shift to work from home, a crucial habit is shutting off at the end of the day. Although mobile technology means office workers are more connected than ever after-hours, the physical act of leaving the office tells us that work hours are over. When the office is also your kitchen table, that cue has been eliminated and it’s easy to have a quick dinner at the table and then log right back in – especially when many of our extra-curricular activities like driving children to sports or heading to the gym have also been limited. This is a habit we might wish to change.
Identify the cue: What happens right before you log back in? What trigger is it setting off? Try to be mindful of what’s going on for you leading up to logging in – are you bored, stressed, too tired to shift gears? This will be useful information when you try to hack the loop.
Identify the routine: In this case, it’s logging back into work, perhaps to check emails.
Identify the reward: This can be tricky because rewards can be subtle. It might be as simple as passing the time, giving you intellectual stimulation, or perhaps it’s helping you avoid stressors at home, or making you feel more in control of your next workday.
Now that you’ve identified the current loop, you can consciously replace the habit with something healthier and more productive.
Let’s say the cue of finishing dinner is triggering feelings of boredom. Now, instead of logging into email, you might replace this routine with logging into an online course that might help you build a new skill, or even perhaps a fitness class that is challenging enough to keep you mentally engaged. You’ve satisfied your need for the reward of staving off boredom and giving yourself some mental stimulation, and all you’ve changed is the content you are logging into.
The habit loop can be a powerful way of building new habits in addition to changing old ones. The action of the habit is essentially the routine portion of the loop, so by using an existing cue and creating a reward, routines can be more easily established, driving a brand-new habit loop.
For example, let’s say your desired habit is doing a daily check in with one of your team members. Perhaps you already have a habit of taking a break at 3 p.m. to briefly check social media feeds. You can use the 3 p.m. break as a pre-established cue and the social media time as a reward. Although it will feel unnatural to add in the team check in, because you are attaching it to pre-established cues and rewards, it will be easier to add this habit than if you just added it as an extra to do item on your list. In time, it will become part of the habit loop and will be an item that you deal with automatically.
Once established, good habits enable us to take consistent actions which drive our success while using less mental energy to do so. By understanding the habit loop, you can hack into it and use it to your advantage.