Serious Habit Building


This morning as I was starting my morning routine, I had an insight about habit building. The conventional wisdom states that you have to do something for 21 or 28 or 30 days before it becomes a habit. I agree with that concept, but wonder if it is enough. A book I’m working my way through at the moment says 21 days, but the habits must be associated with an action. It can’t be mindless continuation of something you aren’t doing in a conscious way.

Now I have a new insight that comes to me after doing my habit building for nearly 4 weeks. It isn’t enough to do the thing on consecutive days. You need to add another factor into the equation.

Back in 2004, I went to a “thinking expedition” with Rolf Smith down in Houston. It was a huge eye-opener and taught me a lot about myself. It also helped a bit at work but didn’t help me keep my job. But I did learn about the 7 Levels of Change and my MBTI as well as my KAI. Those acronyms won’t mean much to most people but my results confirmed I was an innovative guy.

The problem was that I was working in a very adaptive company. Innovators were tolerated but not nurtured. Over the years, I had developed coping behaviors to get along and get things done. But my natural tendency was to go places no one else had gone before, simply because the routine stuff they wanted me to do was a little boring because it was so easy.

When I retired nearly four years ago, I knew I wanted to do more with some of the ideas that had fallen flat earlier. But I quickly realized my ideas were going to fall flat pretty much everywhere. I was looking for a new paradigm that I could share with people, not just use myself.

What I have now come to realize is that building a habit isn’t just about doing the right things (Level 1). Once I’m doing the right things, I need to do them the right way (Level 2), and then do them better (Level 3). That means I’ll start to notice things I can do away with (Level 4), which makes it easier to see things that other people are doing (Level 5), which makes the things that haven’t been done (Level 6) that much more obvious, because they stand out. Then the interesting things can start, the things that can’t be done (Level 7).

So for me, my tool has just changed again. It isn’t just about doing a habit or routine for 21 days in a row. I need to do it at or above the level of change (LOC) I currently aspire to for 21 days in a row. Once that happens, I need to aspire to a higher LOC. Sometimes that will not make sense, because the habit was just a daily routine like taking my blood pressure medicine. But if I lost weight and exercised more, maybe I wouldn’t need my BP medicines at all, and I could do away with them.

What habits are you trying to build? Do you just want to do the right things, or are you ready to do those things the right way? I didn’t realize what was possible until I asked myself that question this morning.

Now I have to watch what is going on and see how I can make it all better.

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One Response to “Serious Habit Building”

  1. Rolf Says:

    VERY nice application of the 7 Levels of Change. I will turn it into a series of PPT slides and integrate them into a session we will be running in Houston in August. I really like the concept of “aspiring” to a hgher LoC than the one you are aspiring to habitutuate.

    LoC – my new acronym for the day and something I will have to start using when I reference them.

    As I recall, the actual research emphssizes that it takes 21 days (3 weeks) to REPLACE an old habit with a new one. That’s a much stronger concept than just adapting a new habit.

    Late last year I was putting up a new barbed wire fence with two of my neighbors help. Definitely some new habits: Lots of Level 2, 3, 4 and 5 stuff. The Big Level 4 Change (that immediately became a Level 3 on reflection) was that i had lost 8 lbs. I used that to start some new habits after visiting with my doctor’s partner: But I oootched into them, got more serious once there were clear results. It was all about Level 2 combined with Level 4 to create a whole new habit: No more sugar, carbs (bread, pasta, potatoes), and no alcohol. For 60 days – quite a bit more than 21 days. When I started I was at 211 lbs. This morning I was at 170 and have been bobbing back and forth between 173-177 for a couple of weeks. And… I’m eating bread, rice, potatoes with prudence and am enjoying wine again. Fits perfectly with Kerr’s Law.

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