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Understanding the power of habits

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Do you know why you do what you do? Knowing whether you’re doing something out of habit or conscious decision-making could be a powerful tool for your business.

Here’s one illustration of that power.

A small city in Iraq had been struggling with city riots for a year. An Army major postulated that if he removed the kabob sellers from the city’s plazas, the riots might not happen. People would eventually grow hungry and be forced to go home to find food.

It worked. The riots stopped. The simple, new habit of looking for food led to different behaviors.

A study by Wendy Wood at Duke Uni­­versity found that 45% of students’ be­­havior during an average day was habit.

Could the same be said of the average employee? If you were able to better understand people’s habits, would you be better able to predict their future behavior, in the same way that the Army major understood the connection between habit and future behavior?

Start by better understanding the way habits form, neurologically. Every habit is comprised of three parts, called the “habit loop.” First there’s a cue or trigger for the behavior. Then the behavior itself. Finally, there’s a reward for the behavior, which is how your brain decides whether it’s worth remembering the habit.

Once the cue and reward become neurologically connected, a person is likely to crave the behavior.

Lesson: Look for the cues and rewards that explain behavior—particularly un­­productive behavior—within your team.

— Adapted from “Habits vs. decisions: Why you do what you do,” Doris Nhan, SmartBlog on Leadership.

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