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How to Change a Habit

This is the ninth and final post in a series on maximizing performance through managing energy based on the work of Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their book, The Power of Full Engagement.

Did you know that up to 95% of what we do during the day is done automatically? Our brains work hard to create habits because it takes a lot less energy to function that way. As we know intuitively, exercising self control is much more draining! Since so much of our behavior is habitual, the more our habits serve our deepest values and our life’s purpose, the more satisfied and fulfilled we’ll be.

I wrote earlier about the importance of creating new habits if you want to manage your energy more effectively. Today, I’d like to expand on that a bit. Creating a new habit is hard, but the sooner the new behavior becomes automatic and effortless, the more likely it will become permanent.

Many of us have negative energy habits, automatic behaviors that drain us of the energy we need to perform at our best. Here are some examples of common ones:
• Skipping lunch or other meals
• Checking e-mail throughout the day
• Working long hours without a break
• Staying up late and then relying on caffeinated beverages to get us going

You will be most successful in changing your negative energy habits if you create a positive habit to replace it. And you will be more successful in creating and maintaining a positive habit if you:

• Make sure the new habit is precise and specific—that is, you decide on a specific time of day and a very clear behavior. For example, when I wanted to change my eating habits to maintain my energy, my dietitian recommended I eat small meals or snacks at 6:00 a.m., 8:00 am, 10:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m. 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eating at those specific times (or close to them) kept me from getting hungry and kept me on track. A couple trying to find time to talk about their deepest thoughts to each other were unsuccessful until they agreed to start at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.

• Make the sure the new habit you create is about something you want to do rather than about something you don’t want to do. One of my clients found that checking e-mail all day long was interfering with her concentration. She made her day much more productive by scheduling 3 times a day when she responded to e-mail. Because she created a new habit for checking e-mail, she was able to let go of checking it constantly.

• Revisit the reason you’re creating the new habit regularly and occasionally change it up so it doesn’t get boring.

• Make your changes incremental. You can overwhelm yourself with too many changes at once. Try one or two, gain some success, and then try something else. One of my clients felt she was unproductive because she didn’t get enough sleep. She was a night owl and sometimes stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and then got up at 7:00 a.m. She first created a bedtime ritual that would end at midnight and then gradually moved it backwards until she was able to go to sleep regularly at 11:00.

• Monitor your progress. It’s important that you know how well you’re doing. Many people find using a simple tick sheet or a brief journal entry at night is enough to track progress. After all, although it’s great to know what you want to do, it’s much better if you’re actually doing it! Monitoring yourself is not about beating yourself up if you’re falling short of your goal. It’s about looking for hidden barriers to your success. Perhaps your goal was too ambitious and you need to scale back. Perhaps the new behavior isn’t tied to what’s truly important to you. Or perhaps the old behavior has benefits you don’t want to let go of. In any case, recording your progress is intended to be instructive.

The goal of creating a new habit is the embodiment of what you hold most dear. Cultivating the habits you want is key to a satisfying life.

For more ideas on small changes you can make to increase your performance:
contact Plum for a free brainstorming session: plum@vedereconsulting.com or 804-261-6483.
read The Power of Full Engagement, http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+power+of+full+engagement+

For a free or an inexpensive Full Engagement Profile, see: http://www.lgeperformance.com/assessment_diagnostic.html

For more information about the authors of The Power of Full Engagement and their work, see:
Jim Loehr is the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of the Human Performance Institute, http://www.lgeperformance.com/index.html .
Tony Schwartz is Founder and President of The Energy Project, http://www.theenergyproject.com/home.html .

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