How to make good habits stick

Co-written with Eva Gruber, Habit Coach

Habits are something that you do often and regularly, frequently without thinking about them, and sometimes without even knowing. Humans are, by our nature, creatures of habit.

Studies show that about 40% of people’s daily activities are habitual. That’s between 6-10 hours a day! The habits we form, like checking our phones on waking, eating fruit and vegetables at every meal or walking a certain number of daily steps, become a considerable part of our routine. Our habits ultimately become who we are. Good habits allow us to build environments in which to be happy, healthy and fulfilled. Bad habits can have a negative impact on our health, happiness and wellbeing.

New habits can take time to work out but not necessarily 21 days

Developing good habits can improve your health, productivity and happiness. You’ll feel the benefits of your good habits throughout all areas of your life. New habits can take time to work out. The secret is to make them as easy and rewarding as possible so we want to repeat them. When an action is repeated consistently, it becomes automatic, and when it’s become automatic, it’s a habit.

It’s a myth that a habit takes 21 days to establish – think about your own experiences or ask ask anyone that’s maintained a habit for 21 days and then stopped. Think about the time when you tried to heat healthily, gave up alcohol or did regular exercise. Habits are not about willpower. They are about making actions automatic so you don’t even make conscious decisions about them. If you’ve tried and failed to change or start a habit keep reading…

Emotions create your behaviour and, therefore, your habits. There’s a direct connection between what you feel when you do something and the likelihood that you will repeat the behaviour (and make it a habit) in the future. Good feelings spur the production of dopamine, a chemical that controls the brain’s ‘reward system’. If something feels good, you want to do it again, and a habit is formed. So, if you want to establish a habit, you have to connect feeling good to your actions and behaviour. We form habits by repeating behaviours. Research by BJ Fogg has shown that the most important part of forming a habit is having a strong positive emotion connected to the new behaviour. So the diet or exercise regime that you dislike even though you know it’s good for you will never become a habit.

To start a new habit, set an aspirational goal. It helps to have a good reason to start a new habit. It has to be something that you genuinely want to achieve (not what you think you should want or what other people tell you that you should want). It can be anything: a new job, getting fitter or healthier, losing weight or building better relationships. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s something that’s important to you. Write it down.

Start small and make it simple. The secret to establishing habits is to start small. Decide on a tiny action to set you on the path. For example, if you want to get fitter, don’t set yourself a complete lifestyle change that starts again every Monday. Start with the behaviours that will result in the outcome you want. Start with one tiny habit. For example, one thing that will help you is to move more. Every time you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, walk up and down in the kitchen. Aim for 20 steps every time you boil the kettle. Then start to introduce more: 30, 40, 50 steps etc. It’s these, easy tiny habits that you can build on that will set you up for success.

Many New Year’s resolutions fail because they are not tiny. The expectation of a lifestyle change on 1 January is too difficult and too big a step. According to BJ Fogg, doing something you don’t enjoy, and subsequently failing to make it habitual, is actually more detrimental to a mission for change than doing nothing at all.

Tap into your established triggers. A tactic to establish a successful new habit is to seamlessly slip it into your existing routine. In the example above, boiling the kettle is your trigger. It’s something you already do. Then decide on your tiny action that takes you nearer to your goal. If your goal is to get fitter then rather than scrolling through social media while your waiting for the kettle to boil, start taking steps. If your aspirational goal is to read more, read a page of your book while you’re waiting. Be deliberate by writing it down.

After I ………………..….(existing behaviour), I will ………..……………(new tiny behaviour).

Celebrate. When you’ve done your tiny action, pat yourself on the back. Tell yourself, ‘well done’. Say to yourself out loud that you’re awesome. Do this straight away as you complete the tiny action. Instant reward builds confidence and makes you more likely to turn this small action into a habit.

‘If you pick the right small behavior and sequence it right, then you won’t have to motivate yourself to have it grow. It will just happen naturally, like a good seed planted in a good spot.’ BJ Fogg

What tiny habits can you start to form today so that in a few weeks on 1 January 2021 you’re already on the path to the goal you want to achieve? In December over at the Lucidity Network we’re focusing on establishing habits for success. If you’re serious about making better habits and want to get off to a great start in 2021 join us.

Eva Gruber is a certified Tiny Habits® Coach trained and mentored by world-famous Habit Researcher and Stanford Professor BJ Fogg PhD. Moreover, she is a Space Curator and expert in physical and digital tidying, decluttering and creating spaces at your home or workplace, trained and mentored by world-famous tidying expert and best-selling author Marie Kondo.

For more information about the Lucidity Network and how to get access to training on habits, group coaching as well as a network of brilliant people to help you achieve the success you want in your working life go to www.lucidity.org.uk/the-lucidity-network/ or drop us a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.

Don’t feel guilty about taking an afternoon nap on a Tuesday

I love a nap in my working day. It’s not always possible. (for example when I’m running a training course or a strategy day!) However, now so many of us are working from home it does provide more opportunities for napping. And napping can help our focus and productivity.

When I first left a ‘proper job’ and started working for myself, I was thrown sideways by how hard I found it. I completely underestimated how much I’d miss my colleagues and having people to bounce ideas around with. I also found it really hard to focus and get the work done. That’s why I put in a lot of effort into testing different ways of working until I found the things that worked for me. My important findings were:

It doesn’t matter when you do the work as long as you deliver what has been agreed, on time and to a high standard. Humans are not designed to work from 9am to 5pm. This is a leftover from when a large number of the workforce worked on production lines when everyone had to be there at the same time in order for the thing to get made. Today, especially now so many of us are working from home there is flexibility to work the hours that better suit us. That might be working around childcare and family commitments as well as daylight hours and when we do our best work.

The time of day that you do different tasks can help your productivity. We all have cycles; times of day when we’re more alert and decisive, times when we’re more creative and times of day when stringing a sentence together feels like a struggle.

I’m definitely more productive and have better attention to detail early in the morning. That’s when I need to do the difficult stuff that I need to think about. By 2pm my brain is getting foggy and I shouldn’t be trusted to do or remember anything important. Later in the afternoon I perk up again and can often have a really productive few hours. There’s no point working late at night. I’d rather get some sleep and get up at 5am. The same piece of work that will take me 3 hours at 10pm, will take me an hour (and will be better quality) if I do it at 5am.

Naps help my productivity. I love a nap. My body clock is definitely geared to wake up early, get stuff done, have a mid afternoon nap, wake up do more stuff and then bed at a reasonable hour. I was pleased to discover that there is much research showing the health benefits of naps. They can improve cognitive performance as well as boost mental and physical health. Naps help us to stay alert, can reduce stress, and we’re more productive as a result. There’s even such a thing as a nappuccino. (Coffee before a nap. For full details download the step-by-step guide to the perfect nap here)

Often when I’m running sessions with teams about establishing habits for happy and productive flexible working, including naps and working different hours, the topic of guilt emerges.

I hear things like ‘If I’m not at my desk from 9-5 I feel guilty.’ or ‘I’d feel too guilty to nap’ or ‘I feel guilty if I don’t answer my email straight away’

Is guilt healthy or unhealthy?

Guilt can be healthy. Feelings of guilt can motivate you to live according to your values, which, in turn, can improve your relationships with others, since you’re more likely to treat them as you would wish to be treated. However, unnecessary feelings of guilt can be unhelpful or even harmful to your quality of working life.

If the thought of working different hours or taking naps in your working day sparks feelings of guilt keep reading. Below are some tips to help you tackle these feelings. It will take practice and deliberate re-thinking to change entrenched patterns of guilt. Be patient with yourself and your team. Remember flexible working is here to stay and for it to be a happy and productive experience the best time to tackle any guilt about working flexibly is now.

Be direct and get more information. Ask your colleagues and manager whether it matters when you work. If you’re part of a team it’s important to agree and communicate when your working hours are. Good use of an out of office responder or a line in your email signature to let people know when you’re there and when you’re not can help manage expectations too.

Napping has been proven to increase productivity. Rather than pushing yourself through the brain fog, a better use of your time is to take a nap and return refreshed and more alert. It will make you more productive. Have a go at reframing a nap as a productivity hack.

Challenge your expectations of yourself Consider whether you have a tendency to expect too much from yourself. Then, think about how an outside observer would view the situation. What would an outsider say?

Think how you’d see things if the roles were reversed. What would you think if your colleague said they were going to nap between 2 and 3 each day and work an hour more at the start or the end of the day? We often find it easy to be compassionate and understanding with others but are too harsh on ourselves. By deliberately taking the other person’s perspective, you’ll likely see your situation in a more objective light.

Look for the evidence. If you feel guilty not working the conventional 9-5 because you’re feeling that you’re ‘not doing enough’ or feel that others will think you’re not doing enough, list all the things that you’ve delivered on at work. Will working different hours make any impact on your ability to deliver?

Give yourself permission. Or if you manage a team, explicitly give your team permission (or you could even set it as a task) to figure out when they are most productive, when they are least productive and when a nap would be beneficial. Experiment to find the working patterns that work best for you. Agree them with your team and ensure everyone knows. This manages expectations and reduces feelings of guilt.

Working flexibly is here to stay. It’s a big shift in mind-set for everyone. It’s important that we look after ourselves and each other. Rest when we’re tired, work when we’re at our best and nap when we need to.

If you’d like help to ensure that your team is happy, productive and guilt free in their flexible working life, drop me a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.

Is it time to pay attention to your leaky bucket?

leaky bucket

When did the standard response of ‘fine thanks’ get replaced by ‘busy’ or ‘really busy’ or soooo busy’? If you don’t say that you’re busy do people think you’re lazy? Or boring? Or both?!

Everyone is busy. It’s like a rite of passage. But why? Hasn’t life got easier, more automated? What are we all so busy doing?

Are we busy photographing our lunch for social media? Or multi-tasking across multiple apps and web platforms to stay up to date with the latest news and trends? Or are we just expected to live at a faster pace – to achieve more?

Where are you on your ‘to-do’ list? Is it growing rather than shrinking? You are not alone. In the Lucidity Innovation Leadership Launchpad report, the top reasons that people didn’t do ‘innovation’, or any kind of strategic thinking was because they were too busy, too stressed and they just don’t have enough time.

Is stress catching?

If everyone you surround yourself with is in a state of stress it becomes a problem. It begins to self-perpetuate, we start to feel that we have to be busier or achieving more than our stressed-out friend’s family and colleagues.

Tim Ferris author of The 4-hour work week claims that, ‘you are the average of the 5 people you most associate with’. Think about who those 5 people are. If what Tim says is true, what does this mean for you stress levels?

The problem is, if we spend our time being too busy to look after ourselves our stress levels increase to such a level that we reach burn out. A physician called Hans Selye defined a three-stage reaction to stress called General Adaption Syndrome or GAS. In stage three he said:

The body’s resistance to the stress may gradually be reduced, or may collapse quickly. Generally, this means the immune system, and the body’s ability to resist disease, may be almost totally eliminated. Patients who experience long-term stress may succumb to heart attacks or severe infection due to their reduced immunity.’

This is serious stuff. To live healthy lives, we must learn to reduce our levels of stress and build our resilience. When we are striving to do our best, to deliver work for other people, to look after our family and to climb a career ladder we often forget that to do all these things we must be OK.

I heard a quote recently ‘You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm’

To get the results we want, it’s important to take a step back and recharge, otherwise we’re just like a leaky bucket, constantly on the go, our energy draining out through the holes. We need to do two things:

  1. Plug the holes – get the root cause of the stress
  2. Refill the bucket – replenish our energy.

Tips to help you keep your bucket full

  • Reframe your thinking – stop telling people you’re busy as your default. When you tell people you’re busy, it often makes you feel more stressed.
  • Take time every day to prioritise. It might just be 10 minutes, for example, at the end of the day to plan your priorities for the following day.
  • Take time every day to list and then reflect on what you’ve achieved that day. Write them down.
  • Get a mentor or a coach; a trusted person to help you focus on what’s important and make progress and help you to manage the feelings of being really busy.
  • Start to notice what triggers your stress, is it a person, a situation? What physically happens to you when you are experiencing stress? Feeling hot or cold, like you can’t think straight, agitated? Start to notice your stress triggers and your response.
  • Next time you feel your stress triggered, try and manage it, for example, go for a walk or phone a friend.
  • Say ‘no’ more often. If you are really busy and taking on something else is too much, then say so. You could offer a different solution, e.g. is there someone else that could help, or negotiate deadlines, could it be done next month when you have more time rather than immediately?
  • Make time to do the things that you love, whether that’s spending time with friends and family, the movies, theatre, reading a book or going for a run. All these things are your fuel – they refill your bucket. Don’t wait until your bucket is empty before you do them. Do them regularly and keep your bucket full.

Let me know how you get on.

If you’d like some help with making time to think, upping your productivity, and reclaiming your ‘me-time’ you might benefit from joining Charly White and me for a one-day online resilience training on Tuesday 9 February 2021 (9.30 am – 4 pm UK time). Learn practical tips to lower your stress and build your resilience in order to think clearly, combined with practical tools to help you think creatively to solve problems.

Resilience and creativity workshop

At the end of this one-day training you’ll have:

  • A toolkit of techniques to help you notice your stress and anxiety triggers
  • Practical tips and tools to lower your feelings of stress and anxiety, and help the people around you with this too and avoid the fight, flight, freeze state.
  • A set of tools to help you think clearly and creatively to solve problems
  • Confidence to put your learning into action and keep momentum even on the tough days.

This Resilience and Creativity training webinar is for anyone who is responsible for leading and motivating a team, and who would like to build their resilience and creative problem-solving skills. Book your place today!

 

Do you have a ‘ta-da’ list?

Do you ever look at your ‘to-do’ list and think that it’s an impossible task? Are there things on it that have been transferred from week to week to week for years? (My GCSE plant project for example) Are there things on it that you secretly know you’ll never be bothered to do?

From a productivity perspective (and especially when working from home) I’m a fan of a ‘to do’ list and working through it in priority order and ticking things off it.

However sometimes when the list is too long and unmanageable it can feel overwhelming, demotivating and more of a blocker than an enabler.

To-do or ta-da?

That’s why its also important to have a ‘ta da’ list. The list of the stuff you have done – regardless how big or small. The stuff that you can give yourself a pat on the back for. Some days just getting up and dressed is a ‘ta-da’.  To acknowledge that you have achieved something despite what’s happening in the world and how that’s making you feel can be helpful. Some days a ‘ta-da’ can be about your positive approach to something (regardless of how it turned out), or making a start as well as finishing something and ticking it off the list.  Noting your ‘ta-das’ can make you feel good, appreciate that you are making progress and spur you on to keep going.

I run a membership club called The Lucidity Network. It’s for anyone who want’s to make progress towards their work goals. We’re a cheering squad, a shoulder to cry on and the friend that says ‘enough now, pull yourself together – you can do this’

Every week we encourage Lucidity Network members to share their ‘ta-das’ – the small steps, the things they did without acknowledging, the things they’ve been putting off – it’s different for everyone and there’s no judgement that one persons ‘ta-da’ is better than another persons.  It makes us feel good, it helps us focus on what’s next and it helps to inspire others too. It’s little nudges like these that contribute to us achieving our big picture goals.

Sometimes we don’t feel like sharing ‘ta-das’.

Sometimes we don’t feel we’ve done anything worth of a ‘ta-da’. Sometimes we have to dig deep – and you know what, those are the times that its even more important to share – because that’s when you need to appreciate what you’ve achieved and the progress you’ve made the most.

Sometimes we don’t feel like acknowledging other people’s ‘ta-das‘ because we’re not feeling very ‘ta-dah-ish‘ (that is now a word). I get that. Sometimes when we feel like we’re struggling and everyone around us is happy, successful and achieving a lot, we don’t want to open up. But guess what? Those are the times that it’s even more important to share, because often it helps us realise that despite what it might look like on the outside, others are struggling, and being there to support other people can make us feel more positive too.

I heard an expression recently, ‘we are all in the same storm – and we are all in different boats.’ It can be so easy to assume everyone is feeling great apart from you. It can be easy to compare ourselves to others. We’re all facing much uncertainty and it’s not easy for anyone – regardless of the boat we are navigating the storm in. That’s why ‘ta-das’ are even more important right now.

One of the values of the Lucidity Network is supporting others so that we can all make progress. If you’d like to learn more and join us, then check out the Lucidity Network here.

In the meantime, what have been your ‘ta-das’ today? Feel free to share them in the comments.

With thanks to Ellen Fineran for being an inspiration and consistently highlighting the value of ‘ta-das‘.

My top 3 tips to help you be happy and successful at work

For the vast majority of people, being successful and happy at work relies on the strength of the relationships with our colleagues, managers, clients and customers. Research shows that we get results faster when we know, like and trust people. We can’t fake that. We earn it. Whether we work in the same location or are working virtually here’s my 3 tips to build strong relationships.

Ask open questions

Ask people about them (what’s your favourite topic? Yep – you got it ‘you’). Listen carefully to their response. Ask them more open questions about their answers. Listen again. Find things in common. Sounds obvious I know, but when we’re busy or stressed out, simple things like asking and listening can easily get forgotten.

For example, a great taste in shoes, knowledge of a local area, a football club. It doesn’t have to be work related; you’re looking for any topic where there’s a common interest.

We get results faster when we know, like and trust other people. And building genuine rapport about common interests builds trust.

Have a give first attitude

Whether it’s online or face to face, go to your meeting or networking event with the mindset of helping others; how can you add value to conversations? Can you help to unpick other people’s problems and be a go-to person when others need help?

Be the person that gives first, invests in relationships, asks and receives and builds on others ideas and conversations. Make ‘How can I help?’ one of your most used questions.

Take an improv class

I’ve saved my most valuable (and scary) tip for the last in this list.

I took improv classes a few years ago, because I wanted to challenge myself to step outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to be better at thinking in the moment when I was presenting. I didn’t want to be afraid of being asked something that I couldn’t answer. It was scary and also one of the best things I’ve ever done. I use so much of the rules of improv in my working life.

We’re all guilty of over thinking and over complicating things. Many awkward or fractious work situations involve some over thinking or over complication at some point. This overthinking is often the result of fear. Improv forces you to be in the moment. Instead of thinking about yourself, you have to spend all your energy on listening, building on what others have said and making sure the other people on stage with you look good. And in turn, they do the same for you.

You can’t prepare or overthink because it all happens in the moment. If it all goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. No one is judging. You get to laugh at yourself.

The only failure in improv is not stepping up and giving it a go. You could argue that is also true of life and work.

What are you not giving a go because of fear?

A couple of years ago I set up the Lucidity Network – it’s a place to get training, support and connections. It’s a safe space to build your confidence and overcome the fears that are holding you back. It’s a network designed  to help you be happy and successful at work.

If you’d like more success and happiness at work, then  join a network of friendly, non judgmental, successful people who are not afraid to reach out for help or admit that they don’t know what to do, or feel in control 100% of the time. Check out the Lucidity Network today.