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,