It was time for my first hire. I had no HR skills, and I was ter­ri­fied. A leap of faith lat­er, I had hired an Assis­tant for 15 hours a week, $10 an hour, or $150 a week!  At the time this was an enor­mous amount of mon­ey.  I spent more than one night toss­ing and turn­ing, wor­ried I had made the wrong deci­sion.  I quick­ly came to see that my finan­cial invest­ment in this hire was the least of my wor­ries.  My biggest prob­lem was me!  I had a few habits to change.

Diane, my new assis­tant, worked 3 days a week, 5 hours a day.  I would get up ear­ly the days she came in and hur­ry to the office (locat­ed in my walk out base­ment) to put away the fil­ing before she came to work.  My the­o­ry (habit of think­ing) was that you can’t ask any­one to do some­thing you aren’t will­ing to do as well.  My fear (habit of think­ing) was that she wouldn’t enjoy fil­ing, resent me for giv­ing her this nasty work, and leave my employ.

Two weeks into our work togeth­er Diane came into my office and asked me a very sim­ple ques­tion, “Why was I doing her job?”  “You hired me to do the fil­ing, but it is always done before I get to work.”

Stunned, I replied, “So you are OK with fil­ing?”  Well of course she replied, “It is one of the things you hired me to do.  Now quit doing my job!”

In dis­cus­sions with entre­pre­neurs over the years, I have heard many repeat my old belief that no one wants to do a job that you aren’t will­ing to do too.  Just because a belief, or habit of think­ing is com­mon, doesn’t mean it is use­ful.

The chal­lenge, with any habit, whether it is a habit of think­ing, which we call a belief, or a habit of behav­ior, is twofold.  One is to rec­og­nize that is it a habit and noth­ing more. Two, if it isn’t a habit that is serv­ing you, change it.

Any of us who have had “bad habits” know how hard it is to change.

At the age of 26, I had been smok­ing for ten years.  I was ready to quit, but the habit was pow­er­ful, and as I now know, cig­a­rettes are by their very nature, addic­tive.  I had been in the process of quit­ting for at least five years, hav­ing quit for six months, an hour, three days, you get the idea.   It just had nev­er stuck.  Now, I was deter­mined to make it stick, but how?

I stepped back and looked as an observ­er at my behav­ior.  When did I first have a cig­a­rette in the morn­ing?  When did I smoke the most?  What I learned was that I didn’t know how to drink cof­fee with­out hav­ing a cig­a­rette.  These were the days when you could smoke in the office.  The con­nec­tion was so pow­er­ful, I decid­ed to give up cof­fee.  Soon, my biggest chal­lenge became stay­ing awake!  With­out caf­feine or nico­tine, I didn’t have a lot of ener­gy.  My body was use to all that stim­u­lus.  So I slept a lot, which was good, since I nev­er smoked in my sleep!  Even­tu­al­ly my body relearned how to be alert on its own.  It would be years before I drank cof­fee again.  But… I nev­er smoked anoth­er cig­a­rette.

Habits help us stay sane.  When you study how the brain works, you find that habits are the brains way of con­serv­ing ener­gy.  The brain is an ener­gy hog.  Life is mul­ti-faceted, with lots of things demand­ing your atten­tion.  When you try to attend to them all, it is exhaust­ing.  To cope, your brain devel­ops rou­tines, habits, path­ways that become like ruts in the pave­ment in your brain.  These path­ways are the rea­son you can dri­ve a car and arrive safe­ly at your des­ti­na­tion while think­ing about your most press­ing chal­lenge at home or work.

As such, habits are our sav­iors, but they are also our cross to bear.  The ruts get deep and can appear impos­si­ble to change.  Habits can keep us from being the best entre­pre­neur, spouse or par­ent we know we can be.  Habits can help us grow our wealth or keep us in pover­ty.  Habits can keep us healthy, or unhealthy.

My expe­ri­ence is that chang­ing a habit requires five crit­i­cal steps:

  1. You have to notice that you have a habit of thought or behav­ior.  This step is hard­er than it sounds.  Habits oper­ate in the back­ground just like back­ground noise.  As such they help the brain con­serve ener­gy while at the same time become unno­tice­able.
  2. Own it. Rec­on­cile your­self to the idea that this is your habit and if you want to change it, it is total­ly your respon­si­bil­i­ty.
  3. Let go. Judg­ment isn’t your friend.  Self-crit­i­cism helps hold a habit in place and can make you crazy.  Don’t judge, just accept. Like the Bea­t­les song, Let it be.
  4. Be curi­ous. Step out­side your habit and inves­ti­gate it.
  5. Once you know the cue, rou­tine and reward for your habit, explore dif­fer­ent options (with­out judge­ment) on how you might change all or part of this sequence.

The book, The Pow­er of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, is very use­ful in under­stand­ing ho
w we devel­op and change habits as indi­vid­u­als, com­pa­nies and soci­eties.

My book, The Inter­sec­tion of Joy and Mon­ey, helps you under­stand your habits of think­ing and behav­ior espe­cial­ly around mon­ey and wealth.  It is full of exer­cis­es and tools to help you uncov­er self-lim­it­ing habits.

If there is some­thing in your life or your com­pa­ny that you would like to be dif­fer­ent, there is no time like the present to make a new choice. Take a step back and see what habits are inside of you that are sup­port­ing a result you no longer want or need in your life.  Make a new choice to get curi­ous, to explore and to cre­ate new habits.  Re-pat­tern the ruts in your brain and cre­ate the life or busi­ness you have always want­ed.  This is your one life. Make it a pros­per­ous one.

In joy,

Mack­ey