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Ask Andi: Changing behavior

In order to get better as a company, we have to change how we’re doing some things. But I’m finding it difficult to break old habits — for myself and the people who report to me. How can I help everyone here get better at building new habits? The alternative is to get rid of everyone and start fresh — just kidding! That’s not an option at all. What should I do?

Thoughts of the day: Habits are powerful and can be hard to change. The good news is human beings are wired to learn. It is usually less expensive to work on changing behaviors than it is to fire otherwise good people and train their replacements. Learn how to make the process of changing habits rewarding.

What people do during most of the day is a combination of conscious thought and unconscious activity. The newer the activity, the more conscious people need to be. The more repetitive tasks are done almost unconsciously. Those are the habits.

Our brains get wired through the process of repetition. Repetition leads to well-worn pathways in the brain. The more practiced the habit, the more worn the pathway, the harder it is to change behaviors.

To make changes it’s necessary to carve out new neural pathways in the brain. And to get the brain to stop using the old paths — that’s the challenging part. One interesting statistic I’ve heard is that building a new habit takes 21 days of practicing or repeating the new behavior. That’s related to what it takes to carve a new neural pathway in the brain.

Because humans are wired to acquire, process and use new knowledge, the door is open for us to build new habits, replacing the older, less successful ones. It’s all in figuring out how to go about doing that.

In order to change habits, set up reminders, plan out activities and include rewards. Take an active approach to change. Consciously pursue new activities. Practice new skills and behaviors repetitively. Build up new pathways in the brain — the new habits. Stay off the old pathways long enough for them to fade away due to lack of use.

Here are some steps that can help:

• Figure out what it is you’re trying to do differently and what you hope to accomplish by doing that.

• Define the new behavior or habit, clearly, in writing, so you can be conscious about it.

• Set up a time and place to practice the new behavior regularly.

In other words, make the experience of change meaningful. Practice. Allow time for change to occur. Focus on the wins.

It takes conscious intervention and practice to change habits and create new neural pathways. Build new routines to go with the habits you’re looking to change. Eventually, you’ll free up the conscious brain by consciously practicing new activities so much that they turn into unconscious activities. See yourself as successfully practicing until new behaviors become new habits.

Keep a record of your progress. Be aware of the changes that are happening. Look for gradual changes over time, rather than rapidly attempting big changes. Give up trying to be perfect. Accept that you may miss an activity, catch yourself and get back to practicing the new habit as quickly as possible.

Do use visualization to strengthen and deepen the habits you’re trying to build. See yourself performing successfully. Imagine in your mind’s eye the steps you go through to accomplish the new behavior. Focus on change as bringing pleasure rather focusing on than pain that may accompany struggling to change.

Looking for a good book? Try “Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long” by David Rock.

Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., strategyleaders.com, a business-consulting firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurial firms grow. She can be reached by phone at (877) 238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Please send it to her, via email at AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com.Visit AskAndi.com for an entire library of articles.

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Andi Gray is president of Strategy Leaders Inc., strategyleaders.com, a business consulting firm that specializes in helping small to midsize, privately held businesses achieve doubled revenues and tripled profits in repetitive growth cycles. Interested in learning how Strategy Leaders can help your business? Call now for a free consultation and diagnostic process: (877) 238-3535. Do you have a question for Andi? Email her: AskAndi@StrategyLeaders.com. Visit AskAndi.com for an entire library of her articles.

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