Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity, Organizational Performance
This op-ed was originally published in The Globe and Mail on January 2, 2019.
You’re watching an old movie on TV to relax and unplug. About half way through the movie a commercial jumps onto the screen. It focuses on the fact that another year has come to an end and a new year is about to begin, signaling to your brain an opportunity for a new beginning.
Your mind unconsciously unpacks one thing you want to continue doing in the new year, one thing you’d like to stop doing, and one you’d like to start.
In this moment of clarity, you realize how beneficial it would be for you to make a couple of micro decisions that – if followed over a period – could have a positive impact on your quality of life at work and at home.
You understand that change happens by making one choice at a time and that by simply making the same choice over and over it can eventually become a new habit.
I’m often asked how long it takes for a new micro skill to become a habit. My response is, “As long as it takes.” Building a new habit often depends on how much value is attached to it. For example, unless we value our personal health, making new diet micro decisions likely will not last.
This micro skill is meant to be a reminder that we don’t need a new year to create a re-start. A re-start can happen any time by simply pausing and considering some of the daily micro decisions and behaviours that are helping or hurting us.
Re-starting is really an easy way to reinforce beneficial micro behaviours to make a few minor adjustments.
Many of us fall into daily routines that become automatic and outside our level of awareness until we think about what we’re doing. Automatic routines facilitate micro decisions and micro behaviours that may or may not be good for us.
For example, for years you left work at 4:30 p.m. to get home to your family for supper and to help with the children. One day you had to stay later to finish some project work, so you were an hour late leaving. This was the start of a new norm. Before you knew it, two months had gone by and you were now regularly leaving work at 5:30 p.m.
The challenge and the problem with this example are that new routines often become habits without us being aware of it. They take hold because they’re rationalized as being necessary, and with little attention to unintended consequences they increase strain on your family and pressure on your marriage.
For re-starts to happen, there must be awareness.
Success at home and at work will ultimately be defined by the micro decisions we make over and over, as these drive the micro behaviours and experiences with ourselves and others.
With respect to a re-start, we need to remember that we really don’t need a major event like the start of a new year to decide to make a behavioural change. It can happen at any time. We just have to make that decision.
Every day is a day we can make a re-start, if there are behaviours we want to stop or start. Making a re-start happen requires motivation to make a change.
Evaluate your micro behaviours at home and at work. Consider your personal point of view, that of your work peers and managers, and your family. Each view may be focused on different behaviours, which is why it’s helpful to step back, evaluate and when in doubt where to focus, ask for feedback.
The goal of a re-start is to recognize the behaviours that are good and beneficial to continue, those that are detracting from our success and that we and others would benefit from stopping, and to find an opportunity and benefit for starting a new behaviour.
Making a re-start doesn’t need to be complicated; it means focusing on a few things at a time.
Creating a re-start
Step 1 – Be clear on the reason for each decision.
Continue one micro behaviour that positively supports your quality of life at home and at work.
Stop one micro behaviour that if stopped could positively support your quality of life at home and at work.
Start one micro behaviour that could positively support your quality of work at home and at work.
Step 2 – Implement a game plan and timeline on what and how you will stop and start new behaviours. Simply having a vision without the required knowledge and skills often results in failure. The first part of your implementation plan may be learning so that you can make your desired change. For instance, wanting to stop smoking may not be enough; you may need guidance on how to do it.
Once we know how to do something it can become easy, and over time it can become a new habit that we will want to continue.