Old Habits Die Hard


Much of what we do during the day, we do by habit.

Doing “It” by habit (Whatever the “it” might be) has certain advantages, of course. It saves time because we don’t have to think, make decisions. or select options. That’s good, and it’s comfortable.

The behavior seems to take care of itself because we’re on “auto pilot.”

The cycle is clear. We do it often because it feels good, and it feels good because we do it often. That feeling is what makes breaking a habit so difficult.             A ”feeling” is hard to change because the behavior is so much a part of us. The behavior seems to define and us. However, it’s worth considering what unwanted habits can do to us.

So take a few moments to explore a habit. Do this.

Let me explain the complete exercise before you go through the steps. Here they are.

Stop reading. You’ll come back to doing it in a few moments.

Put down the paper, and fold your arms across your chest.. You’ve done this hundreds of times, so it’s easy. But this time pay attention to which arm is “on top.”

Next, open your arms and then fold them again, but this time put the other arm “on top.”

How does that feel compared to the first way? You’re probably thinking, “uncomfortable,” “strange,.” “weird,” “awkward, ” etc.

What caused the difference? Habit!

The first fold was by habit, but the second one was following a specific direction.

Which is better? Perhaps neither. Which will you do next time? Perhaps the first one. Why? Simple. It feels good. Habit wins again!

In the real world it probably makes no difference which arm is “on top”, but if you are learning a new skill, the “feel” of a behavior might create a hesitation if you resist the new feeling.

For all of us, “Habits die hard.”

We sit in the same place at meetings, eat the same foods at lunch, wear the same clothes, drive the same route to and from work, etc. We’re comfortable, because we’re operating on “auto-pilot.”

That might be OK for certain situations, but others might require alternate behaviors.

How we talk, move, write, dress, gesture, etc, when we are addressing a business group or conducting a sales call might limit us.

Specific behaviors might not be appropriate in some circumstances but perfectly fine in others. If that’s true, we can’t rely on habit. We might have to make changes.

Remember this caution: Whatever you do, do it on purpose. Don’t do something by habit, and certainly not just because it feels good.

The way we behave leaves positive or negative impressions on the people we address.

Our behavior creates the impressions we want, and it captures audience attention. We can’t risk just doing something because it “feels good!”

Anyone who has played a sport – or a musical instrument – has lived through the persistence of a “coach.” Even though the player already had achieved a level of proficiency, a coach will constantly encourage and refine the player’s behavior.

Sooner or later it’s quite commonplace to resist those interruptions wanting to do “it” the way that feels good. An attentive coach will persist until the new behavior takes root and, eventually, it “feels good” to the student.

It’s appropriate here to comment (as I have done in previous columns) on this often-quoted adage related to behaviors. “Practice makes perfect.”

It doesn’t! If anyone practices doing something the “wrong way” it never gets good! It just feels better doing it the wrong way. So what does that repetition accomplish? Nothing.!

Here’s a more appropriate adage, one that’s worth remembering.. “Practice makes permanent.”

That relates equally to both good behaviors and poor behaviors.

In coaching situations, often the first step is recognizing and “unlearning” the problem behavior by repeating the desired new behavior again and again – even if at first, it doesn’t “feel” good.

Any golfers reading this? You’re nodding your heads, aren’t you?

Habits may save time, but be sure they produce positive results.



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