Discipline and Habits

Habits are powerful tools to help you keeping a healthy discipline in your everyday life which in turn, helps you achieving more of what matters to you. Discipline is the third pillar of my productivity coaching approach that help you achieve your missions.

What is a habit?

If you want to learn more about habits and how to use them in your life, I strongly recommend the very interesting and entertaining book “The Power of Habits, why we do what we do in life and business” by Charles Duhigg, a business reporter at The New-York Times.

Basically, a habit is a cycle that starts with a cue (what is the trigger of your habit?), a routine (the habit self) and a reward (the reason why you have developed the given habit). If you want to change a (bad) habit or implement one, think about this pattern cue -routine -reward to help you framing it.

Other useful ressources in the book self and on the website of Charles Duhigg

Why could habits be useful for you?

To understand why, think about driving a car for instance. When you learn to drive a car, you have to think for almost every movement you do. You have to coordinate your feet and hands whie at the same time focusing on the road, check the signalling boards and the other users of this public space. When you think about it, it’s quite a complex activity. But after a while, with some practice, part of the complex process has been outsourced to your brain and happens automatically. You still need to concentrate on the road, but you don’t need to think about the coordination of your feet and hands, or how to shift gears.

So part of the attention required during the learning phase is now automatic and your brain can use the freed capacity to focus on something else, like the road to follow, music on the radio or a simple conversation with someone in the car.

This is what is so great at habits : you can choose to make specific, repetitive actions automatic for your brain – almost like programming a computer – so that you can free it for other activities.

Habits and Productivity

If you want to become more productive, the use of a set of habits is a powerful support. For instance, you can schedule systematic times in the days or weeks when you perform a given task you tend not to do but that could be helpful in improving your personal productivity.

I found it difficult trying to apply the GTD’s best practice of weekly Review (i.e. part of the Getting Things Done methodology of David Allen where you systematically review your lists of next actions, projects, waiting for etc. every week).

So I first tried to block 2 hours/week in my agenda for this purpose, on Friday early afternoon. I think I never made it, or perhaps one time. After some other trials and no results, I decided I would split the weekly review in 20′ every day during which I had to review only one of the lists I had. And I decided it would be at the end of the day, the very last action. I even pushed the vice to time myself and try to review the lists as fast as I could while doing it as well as I could. A game-like approach …

So the Cue was the time of the day, the routine was reviewing my list – with a little challenge component – and the reward were (1) I did my weekly review systematically, (2) I did it very efficiently and (3) I finished my working day with a little game with myself, perfect to be full of energy for the second shift, the family one!

Habits and difficult relationships

In chapter 5, pp 127 to 153 of the book, Charles Duhigg explains one example of great use of the power of habit, in the context of difficult relationship. Here is what happened : an employee of Starbucks had to prepare a coffee for a customer that was not really nice to him. Instead of putting her name on the coffee he would prepare, he wrote “bitch“… And she made a Youtube video seen more than a million times… not a great publicity campaign for Starbucks.

Instead of firing the employee, Starbucks acknowledged that, for many different reasons, some of the customers can be really rude with their employees and that they have an interest in answering respectfully to their customers, even the rude ones.

So they started a new training program to help their employees manage such kind of customers. This training is based on the habit loop, and it’s using the LATTE method. What is this? The LATTE method is a plan the employees prepare in advance to react in an optimal way with unsatisfied clients. This way, they put aside emotions and react in an appropriate way for the circumstances.

LATTE stands for Listen to the customer, Acknowledge their complaint, Take action to solve the problem, Thank them and Explain why the problem occurred. I really think this method is great!

I tried it in an adapted version to deal with people that were making me hangry but to whom it was in my best interest to answer quietly and emotionless. And it really worked fine because, as you have your plan prepared in advance, you simply apply it mechanically, putting basic emotions in the drawer.

(about that, my father once told me he learned a similar trick, working for a bank, when he received a (paper) mail he wanted to answer in an agressive/inappropriate way. He was told to write the angry mail, put it in the drawer and review it the next day when the emotions were less sanguine. I still apply the email version of this, having a folder in my mailbox I call the “Fridge” and that replace the drawer in the story of my father.)

And you?

Have you red this book? Have you already tried to change a bad habit? Have you already tried to implement a new productive habit? How was it? Did you encounter difficulties? Which one? Are you still following this habit?

Your experience matters to me! Please don’t hesitate to share it in the remark hereunder or ask your questions for tips and tricks to install new habits!



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