3 Strategies for Kicking Bad Habits at Work

Break patterns to achieve success in your professional and personal life.

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Nick Inglis
Nick Inglis
There are times in your career when you feel like you're in a rut. To get through these times and move forward, you need to change your current patterns and replace them with new ones. Every life pattern has three components: a cue, an action and a reward. To achieve new success, you first need to identify your cues, your rewards and your routines. After you've identified these components, it becomes much easier to make small changes that have big impacts.

Identifying your cues. Cues can come in many forms. Charles Duhigg, author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business," neatly organizes cues into five categories: location, time, emotional state, other people and immediately preceding action. When trying to identify your cue for a particular pattern, ask yourself the following questions:

• What time is it?

• Where am I?

• Who else is here?

• What did I just do?

• How am I feeling?

Discovering your behavior driving rewards. To change a habit, you need to replace that habit with something that provides a positive reward, replacing the old reward of your bad habit. Your rewards are sometimes a mystery, so you'll need to test to determine which reward is actually driving your behavior. What urges are you are fulfilling in performing the tasks of a pattern? Duhigg suggests that to identify your rewards, you should first try substituting another reward for your initial one. For example, if you're prone to eating cake with friends, substituting a cup of coffee may be effective at changing the pattern. If your substitution reward isn't effective, try replacing it with an opposing one instead. So if you're prone to eating cake with friends, try a quick walk around the block instead.

Changing your routine. Once you've identified your cues and rewards, you'll want to change your routine. Your routine will be triggered by your prior habit's cue and provide the prior habit's reward. So, in the example of being prone to eating cake with friends, your cue could very well be meeting with friends. The reward could be satisfying your desire to have a break from conversation. Now you need to identify a routine to replace your prior pattern.

When meeting with friends (cue), you will have a break from conversation (routine) because it provides you with (fill in your desired reward).

Habits in your business life. There are two ways habits affect your business: Habits change your productivity and volume of work achieved, and habits change your effectiveness and quality of work produced. An easy way to identify habits that may be ripe for change is to ask yourself the following questions:

• What is something that prevents me from getting more work done?

• What is something that prevents me from creating better quality work?

In preventing yourself from getting more work done, you may find yourself wasting the minutes before a regularly scheduled meeting. The cue may be the alert that comes up 15 minutes prior to the meeting, followed by the reward of socializing with others in your department. Perhaps a better way of solving that problem may be to change your alert time and allow yourself some socialization time after your meeting, where that time may be better-utilized in discussing points from your meeting.

Identifying the habits and patterns that hold us back can help us make the changes that are needed to move forward in our careers. By breaking the bonds we have created for ourselves, we can attain new success if we're willing to work hard at modifying our behavior.

Nick Inglis is a contributor to the Personal Branding Blog. He is an expert on enterprise software and is the author of the AIIM SharePoint Governance Toolkit. Nick has traveled the world teaching Fortune 500 Companies, governments, organizations and is a go-to keynote speaker for conferences and events. He has worked with companies as diverse as Ernst & Young, Shell and Canon.