So much of our lives are on automatic pilot. From the moment you get out of bed in the morning, to the time you find yourself back in that same bed, there are hundreds of routines and habit patterns we repeat that help us get us through the day. Some of these habits we may be aware of, and others are so ingrained that we may not even realize that there is an opportunity for a conscious choice to do something different.
Our habits are often the result of behaviors our brain interprets as required for our protection. It acts from information we have given it, either through actual experience or through stories we tell ourselves. In a habit-loop, when we encounter a stimulus, we have a conditioned, default response. Whether that response is appropriate or not is irrelevant when we are in automatic pilot.
To change an unproductive habit, to act in a different way, requires both awareness and choice. Developing awareness allows us to catch ourselves in the midst of a reaction. The space of recognition when we realize we are about to behave in a certain way is a magic moment. It is a moment of choice. In that moment, we give ourselves an opportunity to choose whether to respond in our conditioned manner, or to choose a different response. Awareness takes you out of automatic pilot and places you in the drivers’ seat.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Victor Frankl
There is a lot of research on how the brain forms habits. Our brains send signals along pathways to transmit messages throughout our bodies. These neural pathways are like foot trails in a forest. The more a path is followed, the more pronounced and solid the path becomes, and the more ingrained a response, or habit, can become. The good news is that the brain is always changing and every time we learn something new, or deliberately act in a new way, we forge new pathways.
There are a number of ways to gain awareness to a behavior that you want to change. The simplest is to observe and track the undesired behavior. Catching yourself in the behavior and tracking why and when it shows up will help you gain awareness to the situations that trigger you.
For more impact, add to the observation what you physically experience when the habit-loop kicks in. Does your heart begin to race, your face flush, your jaw clench, or maybe you feel butterflies in your stomach? Adding your body’s response to your awareness practice will give you a wealth of data to help you recognize and control your habit responses.
As a leader, people are always watching. They hear what you say, and more importantly, watch what you do. They are constantly creating, then adding to their own story about their experience of you. They are creating response paths to your behavior. Even the greatest leaders have habits that can detract from their effectiveness.
What unproductive habits do you see in your workplace?
BenchStrength Coaching works with leaders to increase self-awareness and produce lasting, transformational change to take their leadership to another level. To find out how we can help you or your organization, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article written by Dawn Rowley, PCC
Photograph by Jens Lelie