The Art and Science of Habits

November 13, 2017

I came across an interesting video (above, 24 mins) by James Clear on his four stage approach to establishing good habits. In it he explains each step, gives examples and adds a tip or two for how to carry it out in practice. He also alludes to scientific studies that back up the claims made.

I was particularly interested in this as I was attempting to embed some new habits myself. I started in a flurry but now realise I’ve not got as far as I hoped so it’s a good time to revisit the process to figure out what I may have been doing wrong.

Here’s the four stages, plus my own observations (additional points are made in various other articles on his web site):

1. Noticing The Habit
Point: It’s best to have a concrete plan to address the habit rather than a vague intention.

“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity.”

Tip: Do a failure pre-mortem – imagine failing and try to think why it happened (and how you’d feel). This helps mature the plan as you can build these insights into it (it should provide extra motivation as well of course).

Recently I decided to join a local health club, partly as I thought it would be good for me and partly because they had an attractive deal (to try to get new members in). I suffer from insomnia and I thought that being fitter might help me get better sleep (this would be an extra perk, quite a strong motivator actually).

Like many others, it all started out well. How to use the equipment was explained and a personal fitness plan agreed (suitable for my age etc). The first few sessions, although it was certainly at a beginner’s level, were quite revealing – I was soaked in sweat in just after 30 mins. I’m not over-weight but I’m obviously not fit.

However after a few nights of really bad sleep, one morning I wasn’t in the mood for the fitness club so I skipped the planned session. And there the rot began, if I skipped once, what would skipping twice matter and so on…

I’m not sure how to get over this one (as there is a physical reason involved not just procrastination) but I have the suspicion that if I had dragged myself there I would have felt better in the end. Partly as I’d be a tiny bit fitter anyway plus building up confidence in overcoming barriers and not giving in to them. See also Point 4 below.

I wouldn’t say I ever looked forward to the sessions but I did feel really good afterwards so somehow I need to focus on the final feeling not the start. I’m sure that when the habit was established I’d quite like going.

2. Wanting The New Habit
Point: Review Your Surroundings.
Tip: The physical environment can affect habit formation in a big way e.g. being surrounded by distractions. Design your environment to encourage good habits.

My own office (I work at home) is rather disorganised with books and items all over the place. I tell myself that this is OK as I’m a creative type but underneath there’s a feeling that I just lack a bit of discipline.

As a immediate way out of this (tidying up my office will take a while and would of course be another distraction) I decided to work in the local library. This was quite good. For instance, reading a book (on business writing) took just a day, including notes. I was quite shocked at the progress I’d made and it made me realise just how time-sapping distractions in my office can be.

3. Doing The New Habit
Point: Just Do It. Getting started is often the problem…
Tip: Use the Two Minute Rule i.e. focus energy and enthusiasm on the start not the finish (once got going, momentum will often carry the activity on naturally).

I’ve found this to be nearly always true. It’s quite strange, as once started things often get quite motivating and it’s hard to think why there was a barrier in the first place. In a way you have to trick yourself (but cleverly).

The trouble is the two-minute rule also works for distractions. I’ll just check this (train times for example) and then start my article afterwards and then one hour later I’m still on the web (anything else interesting going on in London when I visit etc). So perhaps this is more a point of focus, simply schedule all fun, light stuff for after the bulk of the day (which is itself a habit).

4. Liking The New Habit
Point: Think of ways to bring long term advantages into the present moment. Quote from Seth Godin: ‘the best way to change long term behaviour is short term feedback’.
Tip: use the Seinfeld Strategy and focus on not breaking the chain (details of this approach are here) or if you do, get back on track quickly.

I thought I could do this via a digital diary but this didn’t really work (it got lost in all the other stuff I was writing about). I think the idea of having a real calendar stuck on a cork-board in my office would be far more effective (maybe even on the fridge as well).

Time for another go…

 

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Writing Is Writing

November 11, 2017

Wandering in a bookshop today, I browsed a recently published book on quotes and advice on writing by various authors.

Opening the book, this was the first quote I saw:

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.” – E L Doctorow

This really hit home as it’s exactly what I’ve been doing the last two months, avoiding ‘writing’!

Point taken, back to the grind.


Listening Bores

November 11, 2017

I’ve written quite often on this blog on the advantages of really listening to people during conversations. A difficult task at the best of times. Here’s another viewpoint 🙂

“No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you’ll see why.” – Mignon McLaughlin (American journalist and author)


How to Talk and How to Listen

July 2, 2017

Celeste Headlee (from a TED Talk, see here which includes a transcript)

There are quite a few posts on my blog that orient around the role and importance of face-to-face conversations. Some of these focus on actual events that promote and stimulate (group) conversations, such as the Knowledge Cafes pioneered by David Gurteen (for example, see here). Another aspect that interests me are the conversational skills we all have and, importantly, how these can be developed further.

This was brought home to me in a vivid manner a few years ago when I heard a talk on ‘how to have better conversations’ and approached the speaker afterwards with some queries. He then duly broke most of the advice he had just given out eg didn’t listen, didn’t ask questions, ignored my body language etc. Apart from being wryly amusing (not to mention disappointing), it provided a good example of the common disparity between theory and practice! That being said, I expect we’ve all done this at some time or other, or maybe we’ve simply been trained and educated to act this way?

In many organisations there are opportunities for developing communication skills (say through formal training) although these rarely seem to cover conversation. Conversation seems to be thought of as an ad hoc skill which you just ‘have’.

Anyway, this leads on to the funny and insightful TED talk (above) by Celeste Headlee (which has had over 3 million views). As she says, even if you master just one of the ways she recommends you’re doing great!

Interesting quote from the video: “Conversational competence might be the single most overlooked skill we fail to teach.”

After listening to this video, and as a trial, I’ve tried to ‘listen’ more and it really does work. I catch myself bursting to say something and then just say ‘let it go’ and it’s quite amazing how the conversation develops (the other person realises you really are paying attention to what they’re saying and are quite often surprised!). I’m now going to try a few of the other suggestions (see list below; mainly being briefer, staying out of the weeds and less repeating).

Another illuminating activity is to just listen to people having conversations and figure out what works and what doesn’t and then try to incorporate the better points. In TV interviews, repetition, unnecessary details and rambling really do stand out like a sore thumb.

Why not give one or two of the topics a go yourself, you may be (pleasantly) surprised at the results!

As a list, the ten points are (however, best to just watch the 12 minute video):

  1. Don’t multitask.
  2. Don’t pontificate.
  3. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Go with the flow.
  5. If you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself.
  8. Stay out of the weeds.
  9. Listen.
  10. Be brief.

Nonlinear Thinking

June 19, 2017

Examples of some nonlinear relationships (from HBR article below)

From an article in the Harvard Business Review:

“In recent years a number of professions, including ecologists, physiologists, and physicians, have begun to routinely factor nonlinear relationships into their decision making. But nonlinearity is just as prevalent in the business world as anywhere else. It’s time that management professionals joined these other disciplines in developing greater awareness of the pitfalls of linear thinking in a nonlinear world. This will increase their ability to choose wisely—and to help the people around them make good decisions too.”

The article discusses some simple examples that might crop up in a marketing scenario.

Whilst knowing the relationship between quantities, even qualitatively, may be difficult to determine in practice, simply being aware that nonlinearity may be important could be enlightening and suggest alternative ways forward.


The Secret To Success Is Talking

May 24, 2017

From the Sunday Times (subscription required, so here’s an extract, published 7 May):

Becoming a billionaire could be really quite simple: make sure you receive no more than six work-related emails a day.

That, according to Sir James Dyson, whose family fortune has reached £7.8bn this year, is the secret to his success…

For Dyson it began 30 years ago, when he founded his vacuum cleaner company and banned staff from writing memos. He told them to talk to each other instead.

Even today he gives recruits old-fashioned exercise books and urges staff to use them in meetings instead of laptops.

He has built dozens of cafes at his work places “so people can have face-to-face communication. We’re creating things, working out how to sell them. You can’t do that on your own. You have to talk.”…

Perhaps it is a lesson for us all. If you log on and are faced with a screen of 300 emails, just remember: that is why you’re not a billionaire.

I knew someone in middle management who had a reputation for not replying to any email unless it was from someone of ‘significance’ (= on the Board of Directors and similar). Her view was that if it was really important someone would make contact with her, face-to-face or by phone, and they would sort things out that way. Oddly, she got away with this as everyone assumed she wouldn’t answer emails and so was only contacted when she was really needed and the matter was important! A natural filtering system. The rest of us had 300 emails a day to plough through. It would be interesting to know how many of these were actually of any real consequence (my guess is very few).

For another way to cull emails, see here.


The Verbal Landscape You Live In

May 17, 2017

Which one do you inhabit? At work and more generally. From a post by Seth Godin.