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The Secret to Changing Habits Successfully

The Secret to Changing Habits Successfully

I bet you have some harmful habits that you would love to change. What are some of the things you wish you didn’t do? We all have habits that limit us, things we just can’t help doing and we swear we will never do again.  Nobody is perfect and everybody has limiting habits—some more than others—but we generally notice our harmful habits once they are already limiting us in some way and we find ourselves saying things like “I wish I could just be more…” or “I wish I didn’t always do that”, and then we simply move onto the next thought, and it is forgotten.

Have you considered how much of an influence your habits have on your life right now? Half your day consists of habits, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. Did you know that almost 40% of the actions you take every day are habitual? Meaning, you act automatically without really making active decisions; you just do. This happens because your brain needs to form habits in order to free up space for other important things. Imagine if you had to learn how to drive and brush your teeth every day; it wouldn’t be much fun would it?

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Over the years, you have likely picked up and developed many different habits, some good and some bad, and your habits lead to the results you have in your life right now. Are you happy with them? It is much easier to work towards changing your limiting habits now than to live with the consequences of them later. If you don’t change your habits, you keep reinforcing them, which makes it more difficult to change at a later stage.  To effectively change a habit, you need to understand how you are forming them and what makes a habit, a habit.

Let’s focus on habits that are the most difficult to change, like quitting cigarettes.

Studies have shown that there is a habit loop that we follow, which consists of the trigger, the habit and the reward. Studies have also shown us that after some time, the trigger and the reward become so closely associated that it causes uncontrollable cravings. Your body is immediately anticipating the reward the moment there is a trigger and this is why you might get highly irritated when you want a cigarette and you cannot have one.

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The habit loop:

1.     Trigger: This is what sets off the behavior; the habit as such. It can be anything from something emotional, to situational, or even environmental. For example, wanting a cigarette after a stressful situation, or whenever you have a drink in your hand, or being with a certain friend. We all have different triggers, some obvious and some less obvious.

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2.     Habit: This is the way you behave, the set of actions you take, and can be emotional or physical. In this example, we have used smoking, but habitual behavior can relate to anything from the way you think, to what you do, to how you would feel.

3.     Reward: Of course, this relates to the benefits, the satisfaction you get, there is always a reward. Sometimes the reward might not be obvious to us when the negative consequences of the habit are very apparent, however, there is always a reward., otherwise you wouldn’t do what you do.

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Research has also revealed that the best and most effective way to change a habit is to change the routine. Most of us try to change the trigger, but this has proven not to be as successful. For smokers, it is too hard to avoid certain friends, situations or ignore the craving after a meal. Instead, changing the behavior for one which gives the same rewards is key.

  • First you must identify the triggers and the rewards.
  • Then think about what else can you do (the habit) to give you the same reward? For example, imagine the reward is that you feel lighter, less full after eating or that smoking calms you down when you are angry. Think about other things that can give you the same effect. You will need to test your new routine, think about what will give you the same reward and try it, if it doesn’t work, think of something else.
  • Keep doing this until you find the “new habit/behavior” that gives you the same reward.

To do this, you need to invest your time in identifying these triggers and rewards. The point or extent to which you identify the rewards and triggers correctly, will actually determine the extent of your success in changing this.

Here are some helpful tools to assist with change:

  1. You must believe that change is possible. Having belief in only those things that you can see, is not belief.
  2. Take consistent action, don’t give up after one attempt, then try again a month later—consistency is key.
  3. Focus on the reasons why you are doing this and don’t stay focused on how hard and difficult it is to change.
  4. Be aware of homeostasis, this is your subconscious natural resistance to change. We all have a natural tendency to want to go back to balance and away from change. Our bodies perceive change as threatening, even if it completely the opposite.
  5. Listen to your own excuses and dispute them. To dispute them, argue with yourself rationally.
  6. Keep it simple, don’t try to change more than one habit at a time. Rather put your energy on changing one habit successfully and then moving onto the next one. When you are able to change one habit, you will feel more confident in your ability to change more.
  7. Be aware of your potential obstacles and challenges and prepare for them. We all know what normally gets in our way when changing a habit. Perhaps procrastination, distractions or lack of motivation. Whatever it is, you will be more successful in overcoming your obstacles when you have a plan of how you will do it.
  8. Put structures up. Structures are reminders to help you to remember to take action on what is important. Structures will only be effective if they are visible. Examples are putting up motivational post its or wearing a string around your wrist, to putting reminders on your email with notifications to leaving a chair in front of your door as a reminder. Whatever works best for you.

If our habits make up such a big part of our life, then what we most often do, shapes our reality and our world. You have the ability to create the life that you want, to get the results you desire. Always finding excuses why your life isn’t the way you want it, might be the first habit you need to break!

 “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

More by this author

Kirstin O´Donovan

Certified Life and Productivity Coach, Founder and CEO of TopResultsCoaching

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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