Unlocking Links and Changing Habits

January 11, 2018

I’m a Fellow of the RSA (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce). It has a long and interesting history:

It was founded in 1754 and was granted a Royal Charter in 1847. Notable members have included Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, William Hogarth, John Diefenbaker, Stephen Hawking and Charles Dickens.

The RSA was set up to “embolden enterprise, enlarge science, refine art, improve our manufactures and extend our commerce”, but also to reduce poverty and secure full employment.

There was an interesting article recently on their blog by Ian Burbidge on the topic of habits, and here are some extracts:

We try to understand these issues by looking through three lenses that provide perspectives on the incentives and power dynamics that influence our behaviour and illustrate, ultimately, the complexity of making change happen. Why is this relevant for behaviour change? Well, change is change, a shift from one state to another. It’s too easy to look at an individual and say ‘just do it’. Seeing our lives as complex and interlinked allows us to identify and then unpick the full range of ties that bind us in our current habits and behaviour…

Knowing does not equal doing. Even if we receive and inwardly digest the public health messaging around alcohol, it does not automatically follow that we act on that information. For many of us, no amount of information will lead to new behaviours. But we can disrupt habits by interrupting or changing their behavioural triggers. Further, the evidence from my work with Do Something Different is that once you begin to untangle this web of linked behaviours, all sorts of magic happens across all elements of your life. This magic happens because everything is linked: whether we smoke, work or exercise; who we socialise with, whether we volunteer in our community, what we eat, how we spend our spare time… this is our life and it’s often messy, always interlinked. Unpick one set of links and it impacts on all the others.

I quite like this idea of a web of links and thinking how displacing some may lead to magical (unexpected) behaviour.

A more pragmatic view on habits has been discussed in a preceding post.


Project Ups and Downs

January 6, 2018

Spotted a couple of nice graphics on the customary ups and downs of projects…

Austin Kleon

Kiki’n Da Teef

Looking For Potential

January 6, 2018

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.” – Ellen Goodman

James Dyson’s Best Advice

January 6, 2018

From an article in Fortune on the entrepreneur James Dyson:

“My father died when I was 9, and I remember doing the household chores to help my mother. I loathed changing the vacuum cleaner bag and picking up things the machine didn’t suck up. Thirty years later, in 1979, I was doing chores at home alongside my wife, Deirdre.

One day the vacuum cleaner was screaming away, and I had to empty the sack because I couldn’t find a replacement bag. With this lifelong hatred of the way the machine worked, I decided to make a bagless vacuum cleaner…”

Dyson’s best advice:

Product is king.
Whatever your product is, make sure everyone in the company understands the product. We have every employee on their first day make a vacuum cleaner—even if you’re working in customer service.

Ban memos.
People live off memos and emails and don’t speak to one another. The real value occurs when we meet each other at work, spark off each other, argue with each other. That’s when creative things happen. Having a philosophy of disliking emails is healthy.

Create an open environment where everyone’s involved and appreciated. If you don’t put people down for making a silly suggestion, you can get great ideas. A lot of great new ideas come from silly suggestions or wrong suggestions.

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…


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)