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Alert: New science on habit formation makes for successful leaders

Which trait makes the difference between a successful leader and one who struggles in that position?

The answer will likely surprise you, because it’s not the decision-making, empathetic, educated, listening focus you’ve been introduced to in the past 20 years.

It’s the ability to form a habit.

Yes, we know you didn’t see that one coming. But there’s a rub, which no doubt didn’t catch you off guard. After all, forming a habit is as easy as doing something for so many days, right?

Unfortunately, no, because that oft-quoted pop psychology is a giant myth. Forming good habits relies on a special control over three functions, according to Ali Navidi, Psy.D., which he outlines in IOCI’s white paper, “The Habit Mindset: The art and science behind habits that stick:”

The Habit Mindset consists of three disciplines: attitude, awareness, analysis.
The Habit Mindset consists of three disciplines: attitude, awareness, analysis.

The good news, however, is that forming habits is a very learnable skill. But to get started, you need to dump these other common misunderstandings about changing your brain’s wiring:

You can’t miss a day on this new focus or you’ll wipe out all of your gains.

Thankfully, there isn’t a lick of truth in this statement. And that’s a good thing, because a large majority of us grew tired of playing Candyland and Chutes and Ladders after we graduated kindergarten. Who finds it motivating to start back at the beginning after every mishap?

The reality is, missing a day makes no difference, according to the results of a groundbreaking study at University College London. So you don’t have to wait for the perfect starting point – after vacation, after Christmas, after your next dentist visit, after the annual board meeting, that review, the merger.

You are too old to change now.

Pffft. Keep blowing out those candles. The idea that age is a barrier to change is baloney. Your brain cells retain the flexibility to form and break habits throughout the decades, whether you’re in your first or your eightieth.

Forming a habit is a matter of willpower.

Powering through is for sports drink commercials, not the reality of changing aspects of your life. Habit formation is a matter of routine, and even then, scientists urge you to break the process into easy, simple steps to achieve. You don’t have to go cold turkey, as they say, and force yourself to become a new person by the end of the week.

For more guidance on exactly how to get started forming a new approach to leadership, download a free copy of “The Habit Mindset,” complements of IOCI. 

For other related IOCI Insights, check out our other posts on habit formation and The Habit Mindset. Also, stay in the know by subscribing to IOCI Insights for a bi-monthly email digest, including our most popular posts and the release of our latest tools and white papers in the IOCI Learning Center.

Marialane Schultz

Marialane Schultz is the founder of IOCI. She helps individuals and organizations perform at their best, do meaningful work and be impactful through customized coaching and consulting engagements.

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