Why Do We Behave The Way We Do?

How do we build new habits and change old ones? How do we eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live happier healthier lives? What are the habits of successful individuals as well as companies and organizations? What are the habits of societies? How do we break free from habits that do not continue to serve us well and learn new ways? Habits can be changed if we understand their patterns and how they work. According to Charles Duhigg in his fascinating new book, The Power of Habit, our brains use a three-step process loop. The first is the cue or trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode helping it identify which habit to use. Then there is a routine, which can be physical, mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.   Managing one’s habits, and the habits in an organization, is essential for powerful collaboration.

Duhigg talks about “all of what we do in life” is a mass of habits. Many of the choices we make each day may feel like well considered decisions but they’re not. They are habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to each other, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise, and the way we organize our thoughts and routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, relationships and happiness.

If you identify the cues and rewards, you can change the routine. Here is one story from the book about organizational habits and how they were changed with amazing results:

After becoming head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996, Tony Dungy said to his team, “here are the reasons everyone thinks we can’t win,” – The teams management was messed up, their new coach was untested, the players were spoiled, the city didn’t care, key players were injured, and they didn’t have the talent.  “Those are the supposed reasons,” Dungy said. “Now here is a fact: Nobody is going to outwork us.” Dungy’s strategy was to shift the team’s behaviours until their performances were automatic. He didn’t believe the Buccaneers needed the thickest playbook or needed to memorize hundreds of formations. “Every play in football, every play – someone messes up,” said Herm Edwards, one of Dungy’s assistant coaches. “Most of the time, it’s not physical. It’s mental.” Players mess up when they start thinking too much or second-guessing their plays. What Dungy wanted was to take all the decision making out of their game. Dungy’s goal was to free the players mind from all that analysis. He gave them different routines that, eventually, occurred automatically. In Dungy’s second season as coach, the Bucs won their first five games and went to the play-offs for the first time in fifteen years. In 1999, they won the division championship. Dungy’s coaching style started drawing national attention. In 2000, the Bucs made it to the play-offs again and then again in 2001. The lessons from this book are humbling and profound.  Every leader should be familiar with the principles Charles describes.


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