How many bad habits do you have? I’m probably just shy of 100. I’m kidding, but we all do have a lot of bad habits, and they are hard to break! They don’t just show up in our personal lives; they show up in our business lives, too. What’s more, sometimes, they are group habits that root themselves in our day-to-day activities and decrease our ability to think outside the box and be comfortable with flexibility. As a result, they reduce productivity.

If we don’t change the habits that we want changed, we won’t see the results that we want to see. Enter two-a-days. Remember your coach smiling to herself when she talked about two-a-day practices to start a season? Football in the heat of the day – in full pads! And volleyball in the stifling gym with not a breath of fresh air, not to mention being up and running circles before dawn. Did the coach’s Grinch-like grin appear out of wicked intent? No. She was excited because she knew the amount of work the team put in would pay off. The same goes for nasty habits.

In order to change a habit, you have to understand where it comes from. You do a root cause analysis, and then you have to work hard to get the desired results. Why do people seem to leave early on Fridays? Is there a pattern in the way your people operate that reduces productivity? Do I roll my eyes every time a certain individual speaks up in a meeting and distracts others? Of course – but why are these things happening? By doing a root cause analysis, you can first think about why you do what you do, and then you can think about how to change those behaviors and the satisfaction that comes out of that change.

A habit is a loop. First something causes the reaction – it triggers your brain to think it should do a certain thing. Then, that “certain thing” happens. Next comes the satisfaction associated with that thing. For example, whenever John talks about how things work in the processing department, I roll my eyes and say to myself, “Here we go again.” I then feel justified in telling myself that every time John talks about the processing department, I can check out. In this scenario, the “root” event is John talking about the process department. The action is my eye roll. Lastly, what’s satisfying is the fact that I think that John is a social dunce and I am acutely socially aware – and that I don’t have to listen to him. In this example, I am using an eye roll to justify my ego.

Before my root cause analysis, I’ll first want to remember the Mad Hatter Principle. In the 19th century, hatters used a mercury-based solution to cure hats, which made them a little nutty, cranky and eccentric. Those hatters weren’t nefarious on purpose; there was another element affecting their behavior. Whenever someone does something that annoys you, frustrates you, or evokes an eye roll or a grimace, remember that they are not making your day worse on purpose. Each person has his or her own challenges and perspectives. Keep yourself in check, and you’ll be doing yourself a big favor.

Now, on to the root cause analysis: What’s my deal? Why can’t I bring myself to listen to John for five minutes? John is talking about something that I likely don’t understand or need to understand. How do I reverse this habit? I don’t want John to think that I think he’s an idiot. I want him to think that I hold his opinion and expertise in high regard, and I certainly don’t want to create a silo between us. Instead, I can listen for the bits that are interesting to me and think about how I can help. We are a team, after all.

Operation: Eliminate Distracting Eye-Roll

  1. Every time John starts talking, I should direct my attention toward him.
  2. I should pick up a pen and take some notes.
  3. I can ask questions later to better understand the topic. If I want to take it a step further, I can address John one-on-one and learn more.
  4. The new validation and satisfaction that I experience is knowing that John and I can work together from completely different perspectives and still reach the same goal.

Sounds easy, right? Absolutely not! That’s why we call this concept two-a-days. Just like preparing to play a sport, it takes a concerted and consistent amount of effort to change habits, especially if they are rooted in opinions about others or your environment. The good news is that it is possible to change those habits. We have to make sure that we understand the underlying cause of those habits, why they happen, why we want to change them, what the result will be and how it will positively impact our life in the organization.