In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven R. Covey, points out that
Breaking deeply imbedded habitual tendencies such as procrastination, impatience, criticalness, or selfishness that violate basic principles of human effectiveness involves more than a little willpower and a few minor changes in our lives
and goes on to define a habit as
an intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire…And desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three (Covey, 1989).
Not all habits are bad. The StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment developed by the Gallup organization is a wonderful example of how our habits can actually be our greatest strengths. In order to accurately assess which of the 34 talents a person possesses, the assessment requires an
instinctual, top-of-mind response.
The science behind this reasoning is
…that core personality traits are relatively stable throughout adulthood, as are our passions and interests (Rath, 2007).
In a sense, the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment identifies our habitual responses and puts those responses into one of the 34 talent categories they have identified.
How the Brain Develops New Habits
A neuron is a nerve cell in our brain that processes and transmits information. Neurons reach out strands called axons and when they successfully connect to other neurons a synapse is formed. Our brain is constantly growing new synapses to connect the neurons so information can be carried from neuron to neuron creating a network in our brain. When you repeatedly do something you are reinforcing these synaptic connections. The resulting network can be compared to a super-highway (Buckingham, 2007).
Since taking your brain’s super-highway is easier than taking the back roads, it is far easier, and much more efficient, for your brain to create new synaptic connections in areas of the brain where you already have strong connections. It is for this reason you are going to grow the most where you are already strong. Using your brain’s existing super-highway is easier than building a new one. Consequently,
…you will grow the most in your areas of greatest strength (Buckingham, 2007).
In order to learn a new habit, you have to create new synapses. This can be done through repeated practice, but it takes time and effort for the brain to do this. Many believe you can create a new habit (or break an old one) in 21 days, but this can depend on how long it takes to build new synapses. It also can depend on how many times you resort to your old habit and way of doing things, which reinforces the synapse you are trying to weaken instead of strengthening the newly created synapses.
Change Processes and Models
The Weakness Mountain (Corbett & Colemon)
In The Sherpa Guide: Process-Driven Executive Coaching the reader is encouraged to look at overcoming weakness by following these (summarized) steps:
- The first step in the process is to acknowledge your weaknesses. You can’t begin to improve if you are not aware of them.
- Notice when your weakness shows itself.
- Identify ‘Why it matters’ that we change our behavior. Once we’ve identified a meaningful motive, we constantly bring it back to mind as we break our habits.
- Commitment – does it matter enough for you to make the change?
- Modeling – The best way to make a change is to be a role model for yourself.
- Look at the new ways you are dealing with your weakness.
- Expect some lapses.
- Celebrate your victories.
- Don’t give up as you build new habits” (Corbett & Colemon 2006).
Stages of Change Model
(Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente)
[This] approach is designed to match people’s self-change efforts at each and every step of the change. It is designed to work in harmony with how people change naturally.
The stages of change are:
- Not yet acknowledging that there is a problem behavior that needs to be changed
- Acknowledging that there is a problem but not yet ready or sure of wanting to make a change
- Getting ready to change
- Changing behavior
- Maintaining the behavior change
- Returning to older behaviors and abandoning the new changes (Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente, 1994).
The “ADKAR” Model – a model for change management (Hiatt)
1. Awareness of the need for change.
2. Desire to make the change happen.
3. Knowledge about how to change.
4. Ability to implement new skills and behaviors.
5. Reinforcement to retain the change once it has been made.
Comparing the Models
Each of the above change models shares the following three steps:
- Awareness – Since one cannot fix something that they do not know about, awareness is an important first step in making a change.
- Desire – A commitment to making the change.
- Action – Change cannot happen without action.
- Maintenance – Maintaining, practicing, and reinforcing the action to create change.
Only two of the models, The Weakness Mountain (Corbett & Colemon) and the Stages of Change Model (Prochaska, Norcross & DiClemente), address Lapses in behavior.
The Weakness Mountain model (Corbett & Colemon) is the only model that has Celebrating as one of the steps.