Thoughts on Leadership: Habits for Life

This week my travels find me in alignment sessions for our Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices and Real Living Real Estate brands. Our mission as we meet with prospective brokerages and their leaders is always to help them reach their goals faster than they would in our absence. We go over our systems, processes and the mission and vision of our brands, but we also create customized solutions for the brokerages that will instill new business habits for even greater success. In a way, we’re like a branded accountability partner to the brokerages that join our network, there every step of the way to motivate them to grow.

In his book, “Atomic Habits” James Clear writes this about accountability partners: “An accountability partner can create an immediate cost to inaction. We care deeply about what others think about us, and we do not want others to have a lesser opinion of us.”

His point, when taken in the context of our final post for Habits Month, is a good one. Even after habits are formed, there are measures we can take to ensure they’ll stick. If you’re in the habit now of exercising each morning but want to guarantee you’ll continue for months and years to come, ask a friend or colleague to be your accountability partner. A quick text – “on my way to the gym” – is all that will be required to enter into a social contract by which you’ll feel a sociological obligation to fulfill the habit because someone else is counting on you.

When it comes to habits, the power of people cannot be overlooked. Habits can and should form from your own self-interest to better yourself each day, but they’ll endure because you know others are watching the progress you make. Clear says, “knowing that someone else is watching you [in the success or failure of your habit-building] can be a powerful motivator.”

To recap what we’ve discussed about habits this month, here’s how to create a good habit, according to Clear:

  • Make it obvious. Design your environment so that the “cues of good habits are obvious and visible,” as Clear writes. For instance, if you want to create a new habit of eating healthy at work, prepare your meals at night and have them ready and waiting for you to easily grab from your refrigerator before you leave for the office each morning. Remember, like Tiger Woods, you can stack these positive habits on top of each other once they form to build on the momentum of your beneficial behaviors.
  • Make it attractive. “Pair an action you want to do with an action you need to do,” writes Clear. He also says to make a habit attractive, surround yourself with people—and a culture—where this habit is encouraged. For instance, if you want to be more productive, surround yourself with productive, go-getters.
  • Make it easy. If you want to jog in the mornings, leave your shoes by the door and keep your workout clothes by your bed … or sleep in them if you have to! Reduce the friction or the number of steps you have to take between you and your good habit.
  • Make it satisfying. “Give yourself an immediate reward when you complete your habit,” Clear explains. This way, you’ll start to associate a difficult habit with something you do enjoy.

And here are Clear’s tips for breaking bad habits:

  • Make it invisible. If you have a bad habit of checking your phone too much during the day, leave your phone in another room and give yourself a certain amount of uninterrupted work time. You can even use an app on your phone to lock it for a given period of time or you can block yourself from opening time-wasting apps for a set time frame.
  • Make it unattractive. This tip has to do with your mindset. “Highlight the benefits of avoiding the habit,” Clear says.
  • Make it difficult. This is the converse of the above tip for creating good habits; make a bad habit difficult. If you’re eating too many sweets, put cookies inside a jar that’s really hard to open. You’ll be surprised what a little friction can do to help you avoid unhealthy behavior.
  • Make it unsatisfying. For this tip, an accountability partner really comes into play. It goes against our human satisfaction to disappoint someone once we’ve committed a goal to him or her. If you have an accountability partner and continue with a bad habit, you’ll feel totally unsatisfied with your lack of progress.

So, what’s the message? There are plenty of steps to take to form good habits and rid yourself of bad ones, but the key word here is “steps.” Habits aren’t magic. They don’t suddenly form or disappear overnight. That’s why we must take small, atomic steps in the habit-building or breaking process. Remember, Clear says small changes compound over time. Those tiny, margins of improvement we make every day are the real keys to unlocking our full potential. All we have to do is commit to being better today than we were yesterday, put one foot in front of the other and realize that as long as we’re stepping forward, we’re moving in the right direction on the unending path to success.

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