Posts Tagged ‘Habits’

Line Of CattleThis post is the third is a five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana.  As a reminder, the values are:

I’ve also written about the helpfulness of using these values in decision making.

Today’s subject: Rethink Routine – what does it mean to live out this value personally and professionally?  What are some challenges in doing so?

Most of us are creatures of habit.  When we find something that works for us, we tend to stay with it.  We have our favorite places to eat and our favorite meals at those places.  We purchase our preferred brands of clothing while stocking our kitchens, garages, closets and bookshelves with the familiar.  We drive the same path to work.  We go to the same places for fun over and over.  We carry out the same routines in our schedule from when we get up to the order in which we get ready for work in the morning to where we relax in our favorite places before going to sleep on the same side of the bed facing the same direction every night.

For those of us who are largely task-oriented, driven by checking things off our to-do lists, it can be difficult letting go of well-worn paths for the uncertainty of new trails.  An image from my years growing up on a farm comes to mind here – the image of a line of cattle following a beaten, narrow path of dirt to their destination when wide open acres of green pasture are all around them.

At work the story is no different.  We follow processes and procedures whose origins and reasons for being we can’t begin to explain.  We can’t explain them because we’ve probably never openly questioned or challenged them.  Consequently, we allow ourselves to be boxed in and hindered by ineffective, inefficient, time-consuming, costly and ultimately unjustifiable processes and routines that keep the business from moving forward at the speed of life necessary to have a competitive advantage.

Whether at home, living in our communities, or at work, we are creatures of habit and breaking those routines is not easy.  Of course, it isn’t necessary to change every routine in our lives just for the sake of change.  Not all change turns out well.  However, we must encourage the thinking and creativity that asks, “Is there a better way to do this?”

A few decades ago I worked in a bookstore and I recall seeing a book title that I thought was brilliant.  It has stayed with me for 30+ years.  The title was The Seven Last Words of the Church: We’ve Never Tried It That Way Before.  If I was to write a book for businesses today, the title might just change the word “church” to “business.”  How many times have you heard some variation of the statement “We’ve never done it that way before?”  Have you said it or thought it yourself when presented with new ideas from others?  You probably have.  I know I have, although I try to catch the words before they roll off my tongue.  New ideas are not necessarily bad any more than old ideas are necessarily good.  Each has to be evaluated to determine its appropriateness for the present and future.

In my personal life, I’m sure I’ll hang on to some routines, especially those which flow from the core of who I am as a person and from the values nearest and dearest to me.  But there are other routines that I ought to call into question because they just don’t bring real value any more.  They should probably be replaced by new activities and ways of doing things that might bring a freshness, excitement, and enthusiasm along with the change of pace.

At work, it may be time to join with others and pick one routine, process, procedure, policy or tradition and take the time to talk about how we can change things for the better.  We don’t have to try to change the whole corporate culture overnight; that won’t happen, anyway.  But each of us can have influence over at least one thing at a time if we are willing to listen to others and speak ourselves of new ways of getting from where we are to where we want to be.

I love the fact that the enterprise social network I manage (called Buzz) sees many posts and suggestions every day about what we can do to improve.  So many people at all levels of the org chart have fresh ideas they share daily that can help us improve our products, services, and processes, both for ourselves as employees and for the consumers we serve.  Not all ideas get implemented, but some do.  Simply having the courage to put the ideas out there, engage in discussion with others about them, and massage them into a form worth implementing is a valuable endeavor that we must continue to do as we rethink routine.

Obviously, not everyone gets excited about rethinking routine, especially when it’s someone else trying to change our routine rather than a self-initiated effort.  I have witnessed several occasions where the candor about dissatisfaction with policies and processes is met with great resistance rather than helpful dialogue.  I recall an email recently, for example, when someone partially responsible for a process that is frustratingly long and convoluted replied to the criticism on Buzz about that process in an email chain with an email that simply said “I hate Buzz.”  Really?  That’s your response to repeated frustration with your broken and unreasonable process – to criticize the channel of communication by which those frustrations are made known instead of addressing the concerns expressed?  That isn’t rethinking routine.  That’s guarding your perceived turf without regard for the good of the business.  We can’t afford that kind of thinking and attitude.  The thinking that got us here won’t get us there.

On the flip side, however, I love what I’m hearing lately from leadership at my company in this regard, from my manager to our new Chief Consumerism Officer whom I heard in person for the first time yesterday, to our President/CEO.  The message is clear, consistent and encouraging: To get to a new place requires that we be open to doing new things as well as to doing old things in new ways.

Whether in my personal or professional life, I don’t want the aerial view to look like me being in a long line of cattle following a well-worn path to the same ol’ destination day in and day out.  There is a lot of green pasture out there to explore.

Rethink routine.

I met a 33-year-old man today who has made a lot of wrong choices in his life.  He’s spent a lot of time doing drugs and hurting the very people he loved the most – his wife and two kids – along the way.  He recently got out of jail for his latest drug offenses and is now in a program for several months to help him ease back into public life in a constructive way.  On Tuesday he’ll start looking for a job.

We talked a long while as he told me his story, what he’s doing to change his life’s direction, and his plans to do what is right so as not to put himself or his family in that situation again.  He seems genuine and I hope that he continues to make the right choices in the weeks, months and years ahead.  If he keeps coming to the weekly class I teach, perhaps I can have a small, positive impact in helping that happen.

When I talk with people who have gone down similar paths but who are at a crossroads and who now want to change, I am always impressed with the humility it takes to get to that point.  There is no room for pride on that road to growth and change.  They must admit their mistakes to themselves and to others, suffer significant legal and social consequences for their actions, and embark on a daily – sometimes hourly – struggle to keep from reverting back to old habits.  Some make it – some don’t.

While the man today was suffering the consequences of actions that neither I nor most readers of this blog have personally done, many of us have reached points where we either hit bottom or close to it before we decided to make that important change in direction.  It’s hard to convince people that life is much easier if they don’t wait until they hit bottom to change, but stubbornness and self-interest – not to mention addiction – doesn’t always listen to reason.

Still, for those who will hear, leap year lesson #288 is Don’t wait to hit bottom before you decide to change.

I did it.  Twenty-one days after setting a goal to lose nine pounds, I have lost ten.  I’m lower than the weight goal I set which is the weight I hovered at for years prior to a big jump at the end of last year around the holidays.  It feels good to be here again.

Now that I’m on this side of the goal, what next?  Where do I go from here?

Well, I could lose a couple more pounds just to be on the safe side for those times when I eat out with friends or family and inevitably add a pound or two in a day.  That seems reasonable.  But beyond that, the need is for a consistent lifestyle that doesn’t result in being five, ten, then fifteen pounds overweight again.  It needs to be nipped in the bud on a daily basis.

It is my habit to weigh every morning before stepping into the shower.  I know people tell you not to weigh every day because of the little fluctuations that people experience.  For me, though, it works to weigh daily because that is what determines what I eat or don’t eat for the day.  I can’t do what I want for a week and then exclaim “Oh, look, I’m five pounds over!”  No – that has to be known when I’m one pound over so that my behavior is appropriate that day.

The more general lesson in this is that all of our goals need incremental milestones and checkpoints along the way in order for us to know where we stand and to increase the likelihood of reaching them.  Going too long without a checkpoint allows you to veer off course too easily, making the return path long and tedious.

Don’t set annual goals without more frequent checkpoints.  Don’t only do annual performance reviews for employees without very frequent checkpoints along the way (mine are every two weeks with my manager).  Don’t think that you will succeed just by setting a New Year’s resolution without some accountability from others as well as from yourself at least monthly throughout the year.

Leap year lesson #196 is Reaching goals happens in baby steps.

People cite different figures when discussing how many days it takes to develop a new habit.  Some claim 21 days while other research shows the figure to be more like 66 days.  Your mileage may vary.

Regardless of how many days it takes, the purpose of this post is to reassure you that developing new habits can be done with diligent effort over time.  It isn’t easy, especially when the habit we are trying to form competes with the little red guy holding a pitchfork on one shoulder who constantly tells us to do what is easier, feels better, brings more pleasure, etc.

On June 4, my company began a 100 Day Dash campaign to get employees to increase the number of steps we take daily.  We’ve already taken over 2 billion steps on our cumulative goal to at least 5 billion by the end of the 100 days.

In a June 26 post I shared my goal to go from my then-current weight of 159 pounds down to 150.  I’ve had to change a few habits since then in order to move in the right direction.  For example,

  • the peanut butter ice cream in the freezer continues to sit there;
  • I’ve eaten no fast food since then;
  • my portion sizes have shrunk considerably;
  • my choice of foods is healthier;
  • I continue to get in at least 15,000 steps per day (about 7.5 miles).

It was not easy going to one of my favorite burger joints with my work team yesterday and ordering a salad to go so that my meal could be half a salad, saving the other half for later.  It is not easy walking past a great fish restaurant a block from my house whenever I walk my dog, smelling the great aromas, without returning after the walk.  But with only 1-2 pounds left to reach my goal, it is the reward of reaching the goal (and staying there once achieved) that overrides previously strong impulses.

The Dash has only been going on for five weeks and my goal was only set two weeks ago, but I already sense the growth of new habits with better rewards.  I promise to succeed.

Leap year lesson #194 is You can develop new habits if you try.

For some strange reason, the song All My Exes Live in Texas has been stuck in my head for days.  Some people refer to that as an earworm.  I’d wake up in the morning humming it and find myself doing so throughout the day.  Maybe it’s because one TV commercial running now plays that song.  It’s a good thing that a friend posted Ray Charles singing America the Beautiful today on Facebook, because I’ve been humming that far better and more appropriate tune since then.

It wasn’t enough to want to get rid of the first song.  It took replacing it with something else to get it out of my head.

As I ponder this simple experience, I am reminded of the similar truth when it comes to changing behavior or breaking bad habits.  It is not enough to want to change something about yourself.  It is not enough to tell yourself for the millionth time that you are going to stop doing something you don’t think you should do.  You must replace it with something else.  Otherwise, the old is still hovering around and all too ready and able to take root again.

I’ve heard several pastors make this point in reference to a gospel story from Matthew 12 where unclean spirits are cast out but find the original home empty and return with more unclean spirits to make the condition worse than it was originally.

Whether it be the simple matter of what song you are humming, or a weightier matter of breaking a bad habit, changing some business process, or even a very heavy spiritual issue, be mindful of leap year lesson #183 – Replace – don’t just stop – what needs to change.