The Power of Habits

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I had the opportunity last fall to hear Danton Cole, the new MSU hockey coach, speak at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce’s (LRCC) Economic Club luncheon. He told great tales of his days as a player; he also talked about being a hockey coach, and one of the things that struck me from his talk was his emphasis on the importance of good habits. I’ve read about sports coaches who say the same thing. Creating good habits helps you build that solid foundation — in sports, business and life.

So, I was talking to one of my friends about habits, and I asked him how he got back into running. He used to run years ago but between work, raising his daughter and taking care of their home, running had fallen by the wayside. He said that he realized he had become great at doing nothing — that made me laugh — so he set a goal to run three 5K races in 2017. He joined one of the Playmakers groups to get started, which inspired me to do the same.  The Playmakers coaches are welcoming, supportive and celebrate each milestone along the way to your walking or running goals.  My friend now runs every other day; it’s his new habit.

As I continued to think about habits and routines, my coach-friend Beki mentioned a book: “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.”  Of course, I immediately went to my favorite local bookstore to pick up a copy. The author, Charles Duhigg, is an award-winning business reporter who looks to brain science to shed light on how habits work. The book is divided into three parts: the habits of individuals, the habits of successful organizations and the habits of societies.

In the book, Duhigg offers the following framework when looking to change a habit:

  • Identify the routine – what are the components of your routine?
  • Experiment with rewards – what are the actual cravings driving your behavior?
  • Isolate the cue – is it location, time of day, your emotional state, other people or an action immediately preceding that is the trigger for the habit?
  • Have a plan – once your habit loop is figured out, you can begin to shift the behavior

The author gives an example of getting a cookie in the cafeteria every workday between 3 and 4 p.m.  When he gained 8 pounds with this habit, he used the formula above to alter his habit. He discovered his real craving was a temporary distraction by talking with a friend.  So, he set his watch alarm to 3:30 p.m. and used that cue to get up and find a friend to chat with for a few minutes. It’s now his new, healthier habit, and even when he lost his watch six months later, he still gets up from his desk at the same time to chat with someone.

As we look to write our New Year’s resolutions for 2018 and create new habits, check out Duhigg’s book to better understand the power of habits. Happy New Year, everyone!


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Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit SusanCombsCoaching.com or MentorRoadmap.com for more information.