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Weekly 3: Helpful habits

Summary: Form habits to fill in skill gaps. Question your assumptions. Ignore the bad and build the n

Idea Journal Weekly 3

May 27 · Issue #36 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Form habits to fill in skill gaps. Question your assumptions. Ignore the bad and build the new. (~7 min read)

#1. Increase the value of your work with new habits.
In his essay The Power of Habit, productivity consultant Brian Tracy describes how you can use the process of creating new habits to be more successful in your field of work.
First, identify the 5 to 7 key skills of success in your field.
Once you have this list, ask yourself: Which of those skills are you weakest in?
Take that skill and follow the 7 steps below to improve.
For example, if your weakest skill is writing, here’s what the process might look like:
1. Specific action: Be clear and specific about the new behavior that will support your new habit (e.g., doing a writing exercise for 20 minutes every morning).
2. No exceptions: Making exceptions is at the root of all failed attempts to develop new habits, so don’t rationalize any excuses to practice your new habit during the formative stage. 
3. Spread the word: Letting other people know about your new habit has a few benefits: 
  • First, you’ll be more disciplined and determined when you know that others are watching to see if you’ll follow through on your resolution.
  • Second, you’re more likely to stay on track with the support of those who want to see you succeed.
4. Visualize success: The more often you imagine yourself acting as if you already have the new habit, the more easily this behavior will be accepted by your subconscious and become automatic. What will happen when you’re writing more effectively?
5. Talk to yourself: Create an affirmation that you repeat to yourself (e.g., I will become a better writer). Because what you focus on grows, you can intentionally change your thought patterns and increase the speed at which you adopt the new habit.
6. Resolve to persist: Commit to doing the new habit until it’s automatic, and not doing it makes you feel uncomfortable.
7. Reward yourself: By rewarding yourself each time you practice the new habit, you reinforce the behavior. Even if you feel devoted to your goal, this can act as “insurance to keep you going even in face of obstacles.”
Note: We wrote about another one of Brian Tracy’s personal development tools, the “Seven Rs of Simplification,” in a previous issue.
#2. To be more effective, question the assumptions behind your routines.
As creativity consultant Todd Henry writes in The Accidental Creative, we develop personal systems to replicate our past successes, and to prevent repeating past failures. 
But if the assumptions behind those systems are based on past experiences and are no longer relevant, they may only serve as well-intentioned distractions.
If you find yourself losing traction or doing sub-optimal work, it’s helpful to ask: Are there assumptions you’re making about your current projects that are unnecessarily limiting your options?
Henry tells the story of a manager he coached, who had developed a new routine to get to work very early in the morning to get a head start on the day.
This was “remarkably effective” for a while, but over time the manager’s productivity during those early mornings began to wane. His solution was to wake up even earlier and get to work sooner each morning.
But this didn’t improve his performance.
Henry explained to him that his extraordinary productivity in those initial early mornings had less to do with the mechanics of his schedule, and was more the result of the renewed focus that came with the change in routine.
“What began as a means for getting an early start on his truly important work had turned into nothing more than additional time to check email, shuffle papers, and work his task list.”
The solution was to establish a few key objectives for what he should and should not do in his mornings, “and soon he was back to his highly productive ways.”
Note: One way to come up with such key objectives is to use Todd Henry’s concept of “Challenges,” which we wrote about in a previous issue.
#3. Work with your brain -- not against it.
Bad habits are hard to break, and we can blame this on how our brains work.
Author Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent that our brains are good at building circuits, but they do a poor job of deconstructing them: “Try as you might, the bad habit is still up there, wired into your brain, waiting patiently for a chance to be used.”
Instead of trying to fix a bad habit, Colye recommends that you’re better off ignoring it. Instead, focus your energy and efforts on creating a new habit that will eventually override the bad one.
When you’re building a new habit, it’s OK to start slowly.
You might feel “frustrated and stupid” at first, but the key is to stick with it and gradually increase the difficulty, little by little.
Coyle gives the example of the Shyness Clinic, which helps “chronically shy” people improve their social skills.
Instead of trying to fix a person’s problems with shyness directly, the program focuses on building new social skills through “a series of simple, intense, gradually escalating workouts that develop new social models.”
The client’s first exercise might involve walking up to someone they don’t know and asking for the time. As the program continues, they’ll eventually be able to have a conversation with a stranger in an elevator.
Those clients who successfully make it through these exercises are then ready for the ultimate test: “They walk into a crowded grocery store, lift a watermelon above their head, and purposely drop it on the floor, triumphantly enduring the stares of dozens of strangers.”
Note: We wrote about another one of Daniel Coyle’s ideas, how to choose a coach or mentor, in a previous issue.
Quote of the Week
“ … we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
- Historian Will Durant in his book The Story of Philosophy (often misattributed to Aristotle)
Idea Journal
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