As a Fresh Air Fridays Facilitator, I really enjoy focusing on our monthly themes, here is a reflection I have written about the theme of ‘Habits’.

There is an urban myth that says it takes 21 days to change a habit but it is a bit of pseudo-science that actually comes from some work that Dr Maxwell Maltzs, a plastic surgeon who wrote ‘Psycho Cybernetics – a new way to get more living out of life’ in the 1950s, undertook when he identified that it took a ‘minimum of 21 days’ to change a habit and guess what, over the years the minimum has been forgotten and so 21 days has become the stated amount of time in many self-help literature!

In a study at University college London a health psychologist Phillippa Lally undertook (How habits are formed published in the European Journal of social psychology July 2009) showed that it took anywhere between 18 – 254 days to form a new habit and on average 66 days.

I am sure when we talk about habits lots of things come to mind here are some things it sparks off in my thought process for me;

  • What do I do that serves me well or what do I do that doesn’t serve me well?
  • Do I want to keep doing that habit or change, and am I motivated to?
  • If I were to make a change would it be big or a small one?
  • What drives me to create that habit?

And as I begin to think about each one of these questions lots more things came to mind, mainly as I find it such an intriguing aspect and recognise how it has an influence across so many things.

For example; ‘Can a small change or the creation of a very small new habit really make a big difference?’ this was highlighted by the focus on marginal gains by the British cycling team as they sought just a 1% improvement that eventually led to their domination of Olympic cycling. Something Matthew Syed focused on as he considered how this could be applied to business in his book Black Box Thinking  . As I consider how I personally could make a 1% improvement to whatever aspect in my life, I am reminded of the ‘Sharpening the Saw’ chapter that Stephen Covey identified as one of his 7 habits for highly successfully people.

Or maybe its about how I support and trigger my habit; I like to start my day by completing a short time of focus on a daily reading so I place the quarterly study guide I use on a book stand next to my desk top screen so it is the first thing I see every day when I sit down to work. It triggers me to  undertake that action, to the point that on the odd occasion I dive straight in and start work my eye can’t fail to see the study guide and I stop and undertake the reading before carrying on with what I am doing and I do that because I know it makes such a difference to my day, to stop and focus on something to ponder it and apply it to how I work and be in my life.

If I think about habits in another context for example in organisations, we develop cultures ‘the way we do things around here’ which become our rituals and routines, they develop into stories and are those organisational habits. Sometimes those habits need to be challenged as they are no longer serve the organisation or its people well or on the other hand sometimes that act of changing a habit can have the effect of destroying a crucial aspect which is the very essence of an organisation.

So, you can see where my pondering on habits has taken my thought process. Where does the word habit take you and your organisation and is there anything you will do as a result?