Habits fascinate and frustrate me. Habit creation or alteration is doing intentional work at a micro level that then impacts you on a macro level. Habits can be freeing or destructive depending on how their long term affect on our life over time. There are so many great studies on the topic that can help guide us in their mystery. One book that I reference often in coaching is “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. In his book, Duhigg explains the concept of the Habit Loop. Here’s is a quick summary and how to best apply it to your life.

The Habit Loop
All habits have a Trigger, a Habit and a Reward/Consequence. If we affect the Trigger or Reward/Consequence we can affect the habit. How does this work in real life?

I have a client who was always behind on her notes from her client’s annual review meetings. She would have an engaging conversation that would provoke a laundry list of to do items and follow ups. In the meeting, she would have all the enthusiasm in the world to promptly complete the summary notes and disperse them to her team to work down the list. Once the meetings commenced, she would hug the client goodbye, thank them for coming in and let them know she would be in touch shortly with x, y, and z that they had just discussed.

And then… it would happen. Her unintentional negative habit loop would begin. She would turn to her voicemail and email, check the messages and quickly get sucked into responding to the question or request at hand. Thirty minutes would pass and her next meeting would arrive. She joyfully invited them into her office, closed the door and the process would repeat itself. At the end of the day, she would have had four great meetings and leave the office with the four client files stacked on her desk. She needed to get to a networking mixer so she vowed to complete the meeting summaries the next morning. But the next morning, she would have emails to check and voicemails to respond to and you know the rest of the story. At the end of the week, she would have fifteen files piled high on her desk and feel completely overwhelmed. “I need better time management” she would say, but what she hadn’t realized is that it wasn’t simply the need to manage the time, but it was the need for a new trigger to modify her habit.

We discovered that the current trigger was that she would check her voicemail and email right after the meeting. This created the habit of responding to the needs of these messages instead of completing the meeting summary. She felt the reward and satisfaction that all the urgent needs of her clients were attended to. The thirty minute buffer between meetings would quickly pass and she was on to the next. Her Habit Loop was set up to pile up the folders, not complete them. So what did we change?

We could have created a new reward like having her pay herself $20 per file completed or a new consequence like she can’t leave the office at the end of the day unless your meeting notes of done, but instead we focused on the Trigger.

We adjusted two things that changed her habit to this day.

1. We created a calendar block of 15 minutes after her meetings for her to do her meeting notes. For every meeting she booked, she needed to add in a 15 minute time block for completing notes. This would pop up on her screen to tell her “Client Meeting Summary Time”. Simple enough. This is exactly what she needed to protect the time and catch herself from diving into returning messages.

2. We created a new rule that the minute the meeting was over, she needed to pick of the phone and dial her dictation program that she had spent money on but wasn’t using. She would talk into it for 5 minutes or so to get her summary out, double check the content and add it to her CRM under the client’s name. She would assign it to her team and then…she was done! Then she could now happily open up her emails and listen to the voicemails, but the call summary was already finished.

By utilizing two new triggers, all she had to do was follow their prompts and the productive habit would take care of itself. She now successfully has a clean desk at the end of everyday, her team quickly moves to action on their assignments and she doesn’t have to feel the overwhelm of the stack of files on her desk at the end of the week. Her habit is 3 years strong and counting. The positive domino effect this has created for her clients, her team and her peace of mind is huge! It all started because of intentionally changing her triggers which in turn changed her habit.

Is there something you struggle with in your life or business? Often times there are small tweaks to our triggers or reward/consequence that can make a world of different. Focus on the management of your Habit Loop and your negative habits will fix themselves.