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Debunking the myths about habits

Look to science for the truth about habits – then excel!

It’s the bad advice that’s repeated around the world and across generations. Want to create a habit? Just do something for 21 days and, voila, it will become natural.

But truth be told, if you’re really looking to kick those bad habits and create new ones – habits that supercharge your professional and personal lives – what you really need to do is look to science and to new methods of habit creation based in psychology and successful practice.

Because this is such an important topic for our clients, we collaborated with psychologist and executive coach Ali Navidi, Psy.D., to write a white paper that highlights the current science on the topic and features an effective approach he developed for forming habits that stick.

“Much of what we frequently hear about habits are in fact longstanding myths,” explains Marialane Schultz, CEO of Innovative Outcomes Consulting Inc. (IOCI). “And yet people believe these myths and act on them, which leads them to continue to struggle with establishing and maintaining beneficial habits. We see it all the time with our clients.”

In an effort to debunk the myths around habits – and replace them with what we know from science – we sat down with Navidi to explore successful habit formation.

What are a couple of the leading myths about habits that you’d like to shut down right away?

There are quite a few out there, but here are the top three myths about creating new habits, and  my “reality checks” that speak to reality.

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

Reality check: Nah. Missing a day makes no difference, according to the results of a groundbreaking study at University College London last decade. Get back on the bicycle and keep moving!

Myth: You’re too old to change now.

Reality check: Keep blowing out candles on your cake and making new year’s resolutions at the same time. Your brain retains the flexibility to form and break habits throughout your lifetime.

Myth: It’s a matter of willpower.

Reality check: It’s a matter of routine. Even better: scientists say the easier and simpler you make each step, the better the results.

So why is it that, even with the best intentions, people fail at changing bad habits or establishing new ones?

When it comes to habits, people focus on the wrong thing –  that fickle friend called motivation.

They think all they need to do is get motivated to adopt a new habit. Intuitively this makes sense. Of course, wanting to do something is going to help make it a habit. However, what people don’t think about is that motivation is fickle.Motivation goes up and down based on a bunch of different things such as blood sugar, amount of sleep, mood, stress levels and many other [factors]. If your goal is consistency, motivation isn’t the answer.

If the issue isn’t proper motivation, what is it?

The necessary ingredient is the capacity to establish habits – something I call the Habit Mindset. I developed this model of change based on what I saw over several years working with clients

I’ve found this model to be an important foundational component for anyone interested in assessing and building the Habit Mindset for themselves. And I’ve also found it works!

Can you give us a quick introduction to the Habit Mindset?

The Habit Mindset is your ability to form new habits and stick to them independent of your motivation level. Consider it your escape from the motivation roller coaster. People with a strong Habit Mindset get things done whether they feel like it or not. When people with a strong Habit Mindset get knocked off their routine habit, they get right back on it. When their life changes and they need new habits, they adapt quickly and easily.

The good news is, a strong Habit Mindset is a very learnable skill. It just takes a bit of knowledge and some practice.

Well that is great news! What are the components of the Habit Mindset?

In addition to the Habit Mindset, you’ve developed something you call the RIM™ Model. Can you share a bit about that model?

When you have trouble implementing an individual habit, it is best to analyze the problem based on the RIM™ model for habit implementation. RIM™ stands for remember, initiate and maintain.

  • Remember: How good are you at remembering to do the habit at the right time and place?
  • Initiate: When you do remember, how good are you at getting yourself to do the habit?
  • Maintain: How good are you at maintaining the habit over time? Also, if you get knocked out of the habit, how good are you at restarting?

We delve deeper into the Habit Mindset and the RIM™ model and how to use them to form habits in our latest white paper, so this is just a brief definition of these two concepts.

One thing we know can get in the way of habit formation is anxiety. What should people do if they are having a hard time getting started on a project because they’re feeling anxious?

The next time you notice yourself delaying on a task because of anxiety just take a breath and then dive in:

  • Identify when a task is making you even a little anxious.
  • Take in a slow, deep breath through your nose.
  • Hold that breath for one second.
  • Slowly breathe out through your nose.
  • Focus on releasing tension as you breathe out.
  • Repeat one to five cycles until feel more relaxed.

What’s the first thing people who are seeking to create new habits do?

I would say that the most important thing that people can do is, instead of just diving into the new habit, they need to slow down and setup a system, a system that will allow them to see the progress they are making and deal with difficulties when they come up. – Ali Navidi, Psy.D.

Without a system, starting a new habit is like walking a high wire without a net, you only get to make one mistake. With a system, when you make a mistake the system (net) will cushion your fall and you get to try again. I really like the Habit Mindset system and I use it myself, but any system will be better than nothing.

Learn more about successful habit formation with IOCI’s white paper that features Navidi’s RIM™ (Remember, Initiate, Maintain) Model and get on the right path to adopting and maintaining new habits.

The science behind habit formation is just one issue that can be addressed with executive coaching. IOCI can also help with issues like resilience, productivity and leading through adversity. Contact IOCI to learn more. 

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