The bagpiper was filling the church with Scotland the Brave as my Dad and I prepared to follow him down the aisle. My Dad turned to me with his faint Scottish accent and said, “Well, good luck. Don’t let this become a habit.”
I’d always heard that in order for anything to become a habit, you must do it 21 consecutive times. I incorporated this into my Change Management world by saying “Try XYZ for three weeks without changing your settings so you will develop a habit and better determine whether it’s working for you or not.” Every January 1st, I would re-instate my new exercise habit by going to the gym for 21 consecutive days (by day four, I couldn’t lift my leg to dress for the gym, so, this never quite worked).
My whole concept of how to create a habit was turned on its ear when I heard Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, speak at the Leadership Summit and say “21 days is bunk.” In order for behavior to become a habit, it must be done with little or no conscious thought. He went on to say, you must have two things to form a habit:
- Frequency - It has to be easily accessible and done often.
- Attitude change – you must have internal triggers, such as: routine, emotions, people, places, situations or your memory.
How many times have you checked your email since this morning? Do your pop-up alerts help feed your frequency? What is your internal trigger? Has it become routine? Are you fearful you’ll miss something important? Niyal said that people who are depressed check their emails more. Look, you’re fine! I bet I’ve checked my email the same number of times you answered above. We’re in this together!
I was blaming my failure at consistent exercise by not reaching the magical 21st consecutive time. I now exercise three times a day, everyday, without fail (unless I’m traveling). My secret? I bought a personal trainer named Maddie. She’s a black lab. I look forward to long trail walks through the woods with her so I can mentally prepare for my day, get unstuck and think creatively. I came up with the idea for this blog by wondering if Maddie would ever get out of the habit of splashing through every creek she sees. The point is, Maddie requires the frequency, the trail is easily accessible from my house and it has become an emotional need of mine.
The My Work screen is Rhythm is perfect for cultivating habits as well. It’s a screen I access daily to see what Action Items, Comments, KPIs, or Priorities need my attention. I glance at my Week in Sync notes to make sure I am focusing on the priorities I said I would. My clients have said this screen is a game changer because it makes Rhythm into a daily prioritization tool rather than a weekly exercise. More importantly, the more you check it, the less depressed you are because you know you are kicking butt on your 13-week race.
If you haven’t yet checked out My Work, I encourage you to do so! I promise, it’s easier than getting married 20 times or hiring a personal trainer who always smells like wet dog.