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How to Establish New Habits


Change your habits and you can change your life. This is a strong statement, but it’s true.  The Habit poem is a great reminder of this truth.  I’ve seen it in my own life and I’ve seen it in many of the individuals I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years.  Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

In our Effective Utility Management courses we talk a great deal about the need to take a few of the ideas we present in class and work them into your routine until they become habit.  Then take a few more and implement those.  Wash, rinse, repeat. Consistent, incremental improvements will have a compound effect on your ability to lead and manage more effectively.  Before you know it, you will have grown from a good manager to an extraordinary leader.

At a recent training we did in conjunction with the California Utilities Executive Management Association (CUEMA) at the Rowland Water District in Rowland Heights, CA, one of the participants recommended we provide some type of follow-up to help managers and supervisors keep the concepts we teach fresh until they become habit.  Great idea!  So, I’ll be making a series of posts to help our students – past, present and future.  We’ll start with how to establish new habits and then move on to ideas for how to implement each of the topics we present in class. When you are done with this series, you will not only be able to establish new habits, but you will be well on your way to becoming a great leader.  Let’s get started.

5 Steps to Establishing New Habits

1.    Decide which few new habits you want to develop.

Before you dive in and try to start creating a bunch of new habits you should first narrow the list by deciding which few to work on first.  We recommend you start with the results of your Strengths & Weaknesses Assessment and your Personal Development Plan we started in class.  Take some time to determine which few areas will give you the greatest immediate impact. Try to limit yourself to three or less to start.  Once you get the hang of this, you can increase the number.  Remember, great leaders build on strengths so you will want to pick a habit to develop in one of your strengths areas.  That is, unless you have a fatal flaw that must be fixed immediately. Click the link for a list of the Five Fatal Flaws and how to fix them.

2.    Remind yourself why you want to develop these new habits.

We always encourage our students to start with why. The first step in your Personal Development Plan is to make sure you have a compelling reason why.  If you don’t, you most likely will not stick with it long enough to develop the habit.  What benefits will come to you and your organization as a result of this new habit? Having a strong purpose to motivate you will exponentially increase your likelihood of success.

3.    Set a daily goal and write it down.

Consistent repetition is key.  For a new behavior to become a habit and automatic for you, it must be repeated frequently until your subconscious mind takes over and you operate on auto-pilot in that area. Will you repeat this new behavior once per day? Twice? Once every hour?  Each situation is different and you must decide the best frequency for repetition.  In any event, your goal should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.  The more specific you can be with regard to the new behavior and how you will measure success, the better off you’ll be.  We’ll share more on setting SMART goals in a future post.

4.    Create a trigger or self-motivator.

Come up with some way of reminding and motivating yourself to use the new behavior or habit you are trying to create.  It may be a trigger word or phrase that you say to yourself either mentally or out loud.  For example, if you are trying to simultaneously break the habit of procrastination and develop the habit of getting things done you might use the self-motivator “do it now.”  Repeat this phrase several times in the morning before you head out or while driving to work as well as on the way home and before bed.  Then, anytime you have urge to put off something you know you should do, say to yourself “do it now.”  Then make sure you do it.  Strange as it may sound, you’ll be surprised at how this little trick of talking to yourself will imprint new thinking patterns in your mind which result in new habits if you stick with them.  Click the link for more self-motivator ideas.

5.    Track your daily and weekly progress.

What gets measured gets done.  Get into the habit of evaluating and documenting your progress at the end of each day.  Use the Weekly Behavior Tracker included in the Personal Development Plan to log your daily successes and score yourself at the end of the week. Make adjustments to your behaviors as needed.  Remember to use the continuous improvement cycle – Plan, Do, Review, Improve – to your advantage.  After evaluating how you did each day and each week, make small adjustments to improve your plan.  Then, implement your plan and repeat the cycle.  Continue until you have firmly established the desired habit.

By taking these five simple steps you will create new habits and can literally change your life.  You will be amazed as you grow from a good manager to an extraordinary leader.  Next time we’ll look at how to improve your leadership ability by focusing on your strengths.

Click on the link for more information and current schedule for our Effective Utility Management training program. Note: our fall schedule will be posted by April 30.