In my last blog, I pointed out that a daily goal can be your stepping stone to a successful future. It was also stated that many people know exactly what their daily goal is, yet still have trouble hitting it on a consistent basis simply because they have never been taught how to program goals into their subconscious mind. The purpose of today’s post is to show you a simple technique that will turn your daily production goal into an unconscious, habitual behavior. I’m going to show you how to create a good business habit.
Years ago, someone who attended one of my programs told me that, in business, there are really only two kinds of habits: You either have a good business habit or a bad business habit. There is little in between. Over the years I have come to fully agree with that statement. If you could record yourself doing an average day’s work, you would likely find that the many of your activities are habitual. Over time, it is often those small, rarely noticed behaviors that can radically affect your long-term performance. For example, if you work in an office, your first activity each morning might be to go to the coffee machine to get a cup of coffee before you start your business day. And, if you spend 10 minutes standing around, chatting with other team members while you wait for your coffee to brew, that means each week you have spent over an hour of what could be productive, dollar-producing time, essentially producing nothing of business value at all. Multiply that time over the course of a year and you have spent more than one full business week of your year watching a coffee pot fill. Using that example, how much farther along in your career would you be five years down the road if you simply changed that routine slightly. What if the first thing you did when you got to your office each morning was to make a few business calls for about 10 minutes, and then walk to the coffee machine after the coffee had been brewed, fill your cup, and go straight back to work.
Any good industrial psychologist can dissect a person’s business behavior and show them where they are wasting huge amounts of time or point out that making just a minor modification in one of their habits can pay huge dividends down the road. When shown ways in which they can become more productive by programming in a new habit, the vast majority of businesspeople are not resistant to the idea. In fact, the opposite is typically true. Most are quite eager to adopt a new behavior if it will result in improved performance. But that is as far as it usually goes. Many begin to implement the change but drop out before any significant improvement has been made. And an even greater number of people never even begin the process for a very simple reason: They just don’t know how to.
Oddly enough, most people have never been taught the correct way to develop a new habit. The biggest problem most people have with habit creation is being able to stay motivated long enough for the new behavior to be programmed into their subconscious mind. And that is because there is a dichotomy between how long it takes to form the new habit and how long the average person can stay motivated. People do not have trouble getting motivated; they have trouble staying motivated long enough to initiate any kind of permanent change. The typical person can stay enthused for about two days before their enthusiasm wanes, but it takes a bit longer than that to create a new business habit. The old adage states is that it takes 21 days to form a new habit in your subconscious mind. So, you have a situation where a person is trying to bring about a change that takes three weeks with two days’ worth of motivation.
If you have ever taken a course in basic psychology, you have probably heard a statement that went something like this: “Any event followed by a pleasurable experience is likely to be repeated, whereas any event followed by a punishment will tend to be avoided.” That simple statement is the basis of modern psychological theory and is better known as Pavlovian or classical conditioning. It is the reason why your dog rolls over on command and it may also play a large part in why you are hitting your daily production goal every day versus only half the time. We are all creatures of habit: We have walking habits, talking habits, eating habits, sleeping habits and business habits.
If your pet dog were to roll over on command, most owners would give the dog a reward, which reinforces that the animal has produced the correct response. It could be a treat or even something as simple as a pat on the head and a smile, but it would be tangible — something the animal could see, feel or hear. When would you give the reinforcement to the dog? Would you wait five minutes, then turn to the dog, hand him a treat and say, “here is the reward for what you did five minutes ago?” No, the reinforcement would need to be given immediately in order to be meaningful. Wait just a few moments before reinforcing the behavior and the reward has no meaning at all to the dog because dogs have very short attention spans. The good news is that we humans have attention spans that are longer. The bad news is…not by much!
When trying to program in a new business habit, most people do not glean the positive effects of the change in that behavior until weeks and sometimes months or years later. If they are a salesperson, they may see a larger commission check within a few weeks. If they are an executive or a manager, they may see a better running operation or an increase in productivity in their team by the end of the quarter. But as far as their own subconscious mind is concerned, if they do not get a tangible reward for doing the new, better business habit within the first 48 hours, there is no essentially reinforcement value at all. This is perhaps the biggest reason why most people find it so difficult to stick to a goal-setting program (or a diet, for that matter). Fortunately, the solution is simple.
If you’re trying to change a negative behavior and create a good business habit you should identify some kind of immediate tangible reward you could give to yourself each and every day when you produce the new desired behavior over the next 30 days. This reward does not need to be elaborate, just a tangible, rewarding event that registers in your subconscious mind as soon as possible after the desired behavior has been produced. Here’s an example. Let’s go back to my original example of wasting 10 minutes every morning standing around the coffee machine. If you wanted to get yourself in the habit of spending those 10 minutes making phone calls then, starting tomorrow morning, every morning that you actually make the phone calls, and skip waiting by the coffee machine, give yourself a simple tangible reward to reinforce that behavior. The reward could be anything as long as it’s meaningful to you and happens within 48 hours after the event. It could be a piece of candy, purchasing a song for your music library at the end of the day or renting a movie. I’ve seen people keep simple charts and simply check a box whenever they do the desired behavior, or put an emoticon on their smartphone. It makes them feel good and they can see it. Again, the reward does not need to be elaborate, it simply has to be tangible so that it registers in your mind as a pleasurable experience.
One would think that a large increase in your productivity a few weeks down the road would be much more rewarding than a small piece of candy today, but that is simply not how the human mind works. An immediate reward that your mind experiences today is often 100 times more reinforcing than something it has to wait for. Psychologists have demonstrated time and time again the power of immediate reinforcements over delayed gratification.
So take a moment and think about a good daily habit you would like to program into your mind to improve your business performance. Then, what simple reward would you be able to give yourself each day for the next few weeks when you accomplish that goal?
Now, you have half of a simple, proven program for creating habits. This half of the program is finished. And yes, I did just say “half” of a program, because there are two parts to the equation. Any event followed by a pleasurable experience is likely to be repeated, but any event followed by a punishment will tend to be avoided. It is the second part of that formula that most people ignore when it comes to changing their behavior and that is what I will address next week. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments. I would be happy to respond. My previous blogs can be found here.