Staying ahead in an increasingly competitive business climate requires individuals to consistently innovate, grow, change, and adapt. Yet statistics show that well over 75 percent of the population is to some degree change-resistant, sometimes even refusing to change their habitual and preferred way of doing things and being (Everett Rogers, “Diffusion of Innovation”). What causes people to be so change-resistant?
The key is understanding how habits work. The science of habit formation shows why most living beings get entrenched in habits: habits are comfortable, they create more ease than pain, and there is some emotional tie to why people do things the way they do. More concerning are the neuroscience studies that reveal that brain stagnation, emotional and cognitive disengagement, neural atrophy, and fatigue are associated with engaging in too many routine activities. While our “routine” saves time and increases efficiency, these habits can create great pain when it comes to change, innovation, and development.
There are three vital yet simple measures individuals can take to reverse the negative effects of unregulated habits:
Awareness– Commit to becoming aware of all the habits one does automatically and unconsciously (e.g., same get-ready-for-work routine, same route to work, the same processes upon arrival at work, drive home, store purchases, placement of items on/in the workspace, etc.)
Pick One Thing to Change– Research shows that by committing to changing just one habit, either personally or professionally, the brain necessarily begins to adapt its neural networks to make space for this new way of doing things. This can increase one’s capacity and ability to deal with changes that are often “outside of our control.”
Seek and Offer Patience and Support– As people begin to (and commit to) change a habit, things become awkward, uncomfortable and tiresome. It takes time for the brain to re-wire, and this process can cause increased stress and fatigue.
Learning more about habit formation can be a doorway for organizations to find effective ways to navigate employees through the change process and into new ways of doing business without the discontent that often results. Two popular resources on this topic are “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business” by Charles Duhigg and “You Are Not Your Brain” by Jeffrey Schwartz.