My wife Cheryl and I love to waterski. We have loved to waterski since we first learned on Montana lakes in our teenage years.
The other day, Cheryl took me for a morning ski on calm glass water at 7.30 a.m. Suddenly, while moving at 30 miles per hour, the boat abruptly tilted on its side. The jolting tilt didn’t affect me behind the boat, but those family members in the boat were highly alarmed because someone could have been thrown out.
Thankfully no one was injured, but we were shocked that a boat running at 30 miles an hour could suddenly tilt the way it did.
As we arrived home, we found a letter in the mail telling us that the software on our boat needed an update and that its current configuration could cause the boat’s trim tab (a little underwater wing that affects the pitch of our model of boat) to tilt at high speeds, causing serious injury or harm. Yikes!
The software update was an easy fix and the boat is fine, but we consider ourselves very lucky.
Above you see pictured two trim tabs for motor boats. Compared to a massive 23-foot, 6000-pound boat, the trim tab seems inconsequential. Yet these small sheets of metal can change the whole angle and plane of a massive boat at high speeds.
When a trim tab is working effectively, it can give you the perfect angle and run for your boat, turning your wake from bumpy for waterskiing to very little wake at all. For surfing behind the boat, the trim tab adds depth and cleans up the wake so the surf looks like North Beach in Waikiki, Hawaii!
I’m amazed at how such a small lever had such a big effect on performance.
Life’s Trim Tabs
The above experience got me thinking about my research on habits, happiness, continuous improvement and productivity.
If something as small as a trim tab can have such a big effect, could there be an analogous trim tab for personal performance? What is the trim tab activity in our lives that can make the difference between a bad ride in life or a great ride?
Weekly planning is the trim tab activity for personal improvement and productivity.
A Return to Goal Setting with Weekly Planning
So many people give up on their goalsâ€”or don’t even set them anymoreâ€”because urgency often wins over importance. Moving at 30 miles per hour, people will often address urgent, in-your-face tasks first, letting non-urgent but highly important activities get swept aside in life’s wake.
Our lives are full of urgent requirementsâ€”to pay a bill, to respond to an email, attend various meetings, take kids to lessons and sports activities, and responding to phone calls. If we let every urgent task control all of our time, we’ll never get any long-term but important goals done.
Weekly planning, our trim tab, can change that.
Filling the Gap Between Short-Term and Long-Term
Weekly planning serves as a bridge between daily planning and yearly goal setting.
Spending 20-30-minutes each week to calibrate your goals will set you on a happy and fulfilling course for the week.
Weekly planning is your game plan
You would never go into a competition without a game plan. Some of the best football teams script the first 10-20 plays of the game based on their game planning.
The need for a game plan is also apparent in industrial settings, where every hour of a maintenance shutdown is extremely costly for lost production. Great Shutdowns script out the first several days activity by activity to ensure a good start to the maintenance shutdown period.
Our time is precious, so why would we start our week without a weekly game plan?
Benefits and Requirements of Weekly Game Planning
The benefits of weekly game planning include greater ability to:
Focus on and accomplish the important but non-urgent activities/goals
Avoid getting sucked into the busy trap
Prioritize activities you have wanted to do but have been procrastinating
Feel satisfied from working on your most important life items
Here are some of the key factors of success when carrying out your weekly game plan:
Have your purpose statement and yearly goals in front of you when setting up your weekly plan.
Set your weekly game plan in all areas of your life, not just work. Specifically, set goals in the following areas: Physical, Spiritual, Emotional, Family & Relationships, Work, and Financial.
Establish the same time each week to develop your plan. Sunday nights are a good time to set up your week. Train your brain with a consistent time and place to weekly game plan.
Refer to your weekly plan during your daily planning sessions.
Measure your completion percentage on weekly planning. An 80% completion percentage says you’re accomplishing a lot but maybe not setting too easy or too hard of goals for the week.
Don’t get discouraged. Treat each day and each week as a learning system.
Honor what you did well! Learn from what you didn’t get accomplished. Love the process!
Here is a sample weekly game plan:
Go to www.ci4life.org to download a weekly game plan sheet. Look for the “weekly game planning tool” menu button.
Send me your learnings and feedback to Rickh@ci4life.org
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (46.6 million) experiences mental illness in a given year.
Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. (11.2 million) experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13â€“18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8â€“15, the estimate is 13%.
Many successful and rich people aren’t happy. They have money and titles but happiness evades them.
Is happiness a product of success? I argue no. Happiness and positivity are more likely to breedproductivity and success than the other way around. In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares:
“We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors who put on a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic sales people outsell their pessimistic counterparts 56%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive”.
– Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
(BTW, I highly recommend this book. A great read.)
Insights like the above help us remember that happiness is the first goal.
But despite people’s desire to be happy, there is so much that can get in the way of this simple pursuit. One of the most common obstacles to happiness I see is over-productivityâ€”being overly busy or just busy on the wrong activities. Or even trickier, being busy on good things but not the best things.
I’ve met many people who focus on being productive to the point that they burn bridges and lose happiness. They go to sleep exhausted, not any closer to true happiness than they were when they woke up.
This raises the question: Does productivity have to come at the expense of happiness?
I am out to find the answer to being bothâ€”productive and happy.
A few months ago, I started a survey to find out who are the most productive and happy people and what habits they’ve adopted in their lives. I am after the holy grail of being productive, successful and happy. You can read more about this idea in my post about being both full and hungry (striving and content) on this blog (www.ci4life.org)
For this survey, I’m still looking for more data, so please, if you can take some time and complete the survey below, I would greatly appreciate it:
I ask about 40 questions and the survey takes approximately 8 minutes. The goal is to decode the habits of those people who rank themselves at the very highest levels of happiness and the highest levels of productivity. Then, those of us that are not at the highest levels of happiness and productivity can learn from those on high! There are several questions about your habits, such as reading, exercise, meditation, eating, financial savings, scripture study, sleeping, etc.
Early results of the first few hundred respondents around the world are very telling.
Let me summarize the top 3 habits of the people who are the very happiest and the most effective:
100% of them say they serve always or usually.
92% say they always or usually plan every day.
75% say they exercise several times per week.
Let’s dig into each of these habits.
Service Makes a Difference
Research has long determined that conscious acts of kindness help drive increased levels of happiness. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading researcher and author of The How of Happiness, has found that individuals told to complete five acts of kindness during the course of the day report feeling much happier than control groups and that the feeling lasts for many subsequent days, far after the act of kindness is over.
Daily Planning Helps You Avoid Being Busy for Busyness’ Sake
The greatest accomplishment in today’s world is not to be busy. Instead, it’s to be busy about the right things. Hard work is important, but if you’re constantly changing store-room light bulbs, you’ll never have time to polish the lobby.
I like how Henry David Thoreau summarized this idea:
Exercise as a Keystone Habit
In his book The Power of Habits, author Charles Duhigg introduces a powerful concept of the keystone habit. Keystone habits are those habits that can drive success in many areas of life. He believes (as do I) that exercise is one of those keystone habits. He says,
â€œTypically, people who exercise start eating better and become more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.)
– Charles Duhigg, Power of Habits
Service, planning and exercise are just some of the habits I hope to uncover in my survey. If you would, take some time to reflect on your own life and fill out the survey.
Fill out the survey listed above. Find out where you rank yourself.
What did you rank yourself on productivity and effectiveness out of 5? 1= low and 5=extremely productive)
What did you rank yourself on happiness? (1=very unhappy, 5=far above average)
Suggested starting point: Take 5 minutes first thing in the morning to plan your day. Include work, home and play activities. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to review your accomplishments. Try including service activities (to family, church or those less fortunate) and exercise. (Hint: Be accepting and kind to yourself on whatever you get accomplished). Do this daily for 30 days.
At the end of 30 days, share your results with a loved one. a. How would you rank your happiness and productivity now? (Use the same scale as above.) What did you learn?
Send me the results and what you learned at email@example.com
Thanks for the help!
Go to Podbean or iTunes podcast for a podcast on the topic of daily planning for teams and individuals. Search “Rick Heyland” or “Continuous Improvement 4 Life.”
A few years back, my colleague and good friend James Parnell showed me a video about a weekend cowboy named Ray Hunt.
James is a weekend cowboy himself, but as he showed me this video, I couldn’t help but wonder why in the world was I watching a cowboy video at work. But it was worth it. Thanks, James.
James wanted to share with me what Ray Hunt had learned about behavior modification and reinforcement from spending time training show horses. Ray grew up in the west and was doing OK in his training profession until he learned a better way to train.
Ray started “Turning Loose” the horses, as he called it. Turning the horses loose meant that Ray stopped using force, coercion, and punishment as his main training technique and went to a more engaging, connecting and reinforcing style of training.
In effect, he started making the right things easy and the wrong things difficult.
For example, the old cowboy way to get a young horse into a trailer was to use many chokers, ropes, and whips to force the scared colt into the travel trailerâ€”a brutal process to watch, let alone participate in. Instead, Ray figured out that he could use one rope, one small whip and never hurt or punish the colt but simply make sure the colt knew which direction was the right direction.
By working this new way, and to others’ surprise, Ray was able to train the horses in less time and the horses and trainer enjoyed the process a whole lot more. Ray went on to train several champions in his day. Many of his followers today still use his “turning loose” methods. See a short video below.
So what does this have to do with us if we aren’t horse trainers?
I suggest at least 3 application areas for continuous improvement students:
Kids are like horses: If you force a child to do something, you usually end up getting bucked off or in a fight. But when you apply the principle of making the right things easy, you end up with endless creative ideas and methods.
My wife is the perfect example of making the right things easy with raising kids. Cheryl was the master at giving our children two good choices. She would ask questions like:
“Do you want your bath with bubbles or no bubbles?” This avoided the dreaded drag-your-kid-up-to-the-tub scene.
“Do you want peanut butter and honey or peanut butter and jelly on your sandwich?” Two good choices helped make the right answer easy and avoided turning lunch time into a restaurant.
I am sure you parents can think of many other applications of these ideas.
As a leader, how can you make the right things easy and the wrong things difficult?
Let’s imagine that a few of your employees have a hard time making it into work on time. One option is to put expensive tracking systems in place. You could levy heavy discipline letters and “3 warnings and your out” letters. But that response is likely going to get you bucked and lose you valuable morale points.
How can you make the right thing easy? Instead of punishment, do a raffle at the end of each week and give out Starbucks certificates for those on-time all week. Have donuts out in the morning and put away after starting time. You get the idea.
How about for a more difficult task, like getting people to do their paperwork?
Every busy business I have ever known struggles with getting some of their employees to do timely and accurate paperwork. Whether it’s a policeman filing a report or a sales rep updating their automated lead tracker or a machine operator who has to either track or hit a button to properly code downtime, the struggle is the same.
How do we apply this principle in this situation? How do you make the right thing easy for proper paperwork?
Make it fun. You could have random giveaways at the end of the week for the best employee. Or maybe the employee gets to pick the radio station for the week. Whatever your group thinks is fun, let them win.
Inversely, how do you make the wrong thing difficult but not too painful? When you have regular rule-breakers, talk to them in private without public embarrassment. Take away some simple perks until the paperwork is done properly. Think creativelyâ€”the limits are determined by how far your imagination can stretch between the bounds of too light a response and too cruel a punishment. Start with figuring out what is fun or enjoyed by the team and either add more or take some away but don’t force too hard. You don’t want to have your employees mentally buck you off!
The same principles apply for personal habits: Make the good ones easier and make the bad ones harder!
Suppose you want to improve your exercise habits. The goal might be to work out 4 times per week for 30 minutes and do it in the morning. Currently, you might procrastinate and find reasons to sleep in or do something else that needs to be done.
To fix your problem, we need to make the right thing easy and fun. Put your work-out gear in your bathroom or the place you go immediately when you wake-up. Give yourself a little shopping reward at the end of the week if you accomplish your goal. Find an accountability friend or partner. Make it so you have to meet your partner at 6:30 a.m. so you don’t let them down. Think creatively, and you’ll see how this can apply to other areas of your life as well.
What if you want to start a savings plan? How do you make it easy or fun? Use technology to take out your 10% savings at the beginning of the month automatically.
What about if you are trying to stop a bad habit? How do you make the right thing easier and the wrong thing more difficult? Addiction management is a huge issue in our society, whether it involves over-eating, TV, sex, pornography, drugs, or spending too much money.
How can these principles apply?
Let’s look at over-eating. If you’re trying to cut down on chocolate chip cookies, you probably shouldn’t position them on the kitchen counter to greet you at every passing moment. Turning away from such a temptation is an incredible act of willpower that most of us don’t possess, so don’t have them there. Don’t even have cookies in the house.
If you are struggling with pornography, make the wrong thing difficult. Don’t have the source anywhere near you at your time of weakness. If at home under the cover of night is where you feel most vulnerable, take out the electronics and give them to a loved one.
Get an accountability partner to support you while you create your new habits or stop your bad ones. Make specific plans with that partner. Identify small rewards and punishments if you do or don’t succeed.
Bad habits are very difficult to overcome on your own, so ask for help. Get somebody to give you reinforcement when you win. Them just knowing when you fail might be enough to change.
I know people who have signed contracts with their friends or family members with rewards and fines if they won or lost on their quest to stop a bad behavior. I know many people who text or call their accountability partner daily to account for their behavior. Make the wrong thing more difficult!
I also know somebody who quit drugsâ€”one of the hardest habits to kick. How did he do it? This person had to strip his life of everybody and everything that was making the wrong thing easy and the right thing difficult. He had to make new friends. For a time, he stopped carrying cash or credit cards. Life was tough, but he was able to drop the habit. Today he is a very successful man, husband, father, and provider today.
You don’t have to be a super motivated person with incredible willpower. You just need to want to improve and then know how to make a new habit. And the way you make a new habit or stop a bad one is by making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.
Ray Hunt knew what he was talking about. The days of figuratively beating up our employees, children, or even ourselves are over. The best way to help ourselves or others change is by understanding behavior modification and habit-making. Everybody wins when you get out of the way of your ego, stop crucifying yourself, and make the right thing easy and the wrong thing more difficult.
Identify a habit you want to start for yourself, your team, or your children.
What would make this habit easier to do?
What would make this habit harder to do?
Who could be your accountability partner?
Go out and try it for 3 weeks and change your life.
Please comment below and let me know how you are doing!
Over the years I’ve met many people who
work very hard but don’t seem to get ahead.
Take my friend. This friend held a master’s degree in his chosen profession and worked three jobs to put his kids through school and university. He was successful at his goal, and I admire him for his efforts.
But could my friend have accomplished his goal of providing for his family with less work if he had worked smarter?
I can’t answer this question for him, but in many circumstances in my life I’ve answered this question for myself, where working smarter trumped just working harder.
We all need to work hard. If you can only practice one of these principles (working hard vs. working smart), then choose working hard. But, to create long-term, sustainable happiness and financial security, you need to work smart.
Lessons from a First-Year MBA Student: Working Smarter as
Thirty years ago, I was in my MBA program and struggling to keep up with older, more experienced, more intelligent peers. It was at this time that I wrote a personal mission statement focusing on my passions and future areas of strength, which I’ve discussed in previous posts.
This personal statement helped me work smarter by directing my attention towards what was most important. In addition, during this first year in my MBA program, I strengthened my understanding of a second strategy for working smart: working together as a team.
Teamwork eases the load on any one person
In my program, the professors purposely
gave us too much homework and assignments that it was impossible to do it all effectively
if we worked alone. But one of the greatest assets they gave us for completing
tasks was our team.
In sports we had to learn this lesson of teamwork. For example, recently the NBA championship has been won by the deepest team, not the team with the one best player. In MBA school this lesson was taken to a new level for me.
I remember sitting down with my MBA teammates (Jim Clark, Bob Lumley and Sharon Johnson) and they each shared the sinking yet enthusiastic feeling that I had. By ourselves we couldn’t handle the workload but together we could accomplish our collective goals.
So, we planned.
We figured out who would do the detailed research for which course based on their interest and expertise and then that person would present the findings to the team.
We built personal relationships with the professors and their tutors so we could better understand what was really important for each course. Each person had to still read each case, but I always went deeper in the cases for my assigned class in order to provide deeper insights for my team. These were valuable experiences in working smart and working hard.
To this day, thirty years later, I have fond memories of and deep feelings of gratitude for Jim, Bob, and Sharon and the important role they played in collaborating with me and working smart together to do well in our MBA program.
The same lesson applies in our careers today. Extraordinary teamwork can help you work smart and get ahead in your career. RLG International, the consultancy I have been with for thirty years (since MBA school), has this hanging in the main board room:
This acronym stands for an important lesson:
None of us is as smart as all of us.
This is a constant reminder that we are smarter together with the power of the team.
Working While You’re Not Working
We only have so many hours in the day and we
can’t do everything that needs to be done. Having our assets working for us
while we work (or play) is an important element of working smart.
This idea is obvious in personal finances. Having
your money work for you when you are asleep or on vacation is such an
incredible feeling of freedom and security. Having your debt work against you
and accruing interest while you sleep works in the opposite direction and is a
relentless task master.
The same principles that apply to money and
financial security apply to your career and life’s work. Having your key
projects move ahead while you are asleep or on vacation is a fantastic feeling.
As an entrepreneur or leader of an organization, you will feel very overwhelmed if everybody and everything is contingent on your approval. If your goal is to work smart, you should rarely put yourself in a situation where everybody is waiting on you. While being constantly needed might feel like a short-term ego rush to show how important you are, this model is not scalable or sustainable.
Figure out how to properly delegate those tasks and projects that someone can do better than you so you can stay in your sweet spot. I learned this lesson when serving as a lay ecclesiastical leader for several hundred young adults.
My three-year service as a religious leader for young adults was one of the greatest joys of my life. I oversaw weekly church services, weekly activities and the spiritual counseling for 300 young single adults. This was a monumental chore when I first started.
Thankfully I wasn’t doing it aloneâ€”I had two counselors who were also called to serve with me. Bruce Dayton, Nelson Glassett, and myself sat down from the beginning and tried to work smart. We applied two principles to work smart and effectively with these young people:
What are each others’ sweet
What can we delegate to the
young people so they can run their own program?
We determined that I was going to focus on
the spiritual counseling of the young people and Bruce and Nelson were going to
focus on the administration of the various councils, each led by a young single
The system worked great. Nelson and Bruce were terrific mentors to each council and helped them coordinate their group activities and outreach. It was a terrific experience to watch Bruce, Nelson, and those young leaders run the program. I believe it taught those young people how to lead, an experience that will bless them for the rest of their lives.
For my part, I got to focus on counselling.
I read every book I could. Beyond that, I developed one-page summaries based on
those readings, outlining issues and solutions that were real for those young
people. I probably had 15-20 counseling interviews every week for three years.
During this time I was able to make a
material impact while staying sane and still running my day job and family. All
of this was possible because others took ownership of their delegated areas of
Nelson, Bruce, and I still stay close to many of the young single adult leaders. They grew in their assignment because we worked smart!
Hire People That Help You Work Smart
At RLG International I have had some incredible executive assistants that have allowed me to work smart. The trust that my former assistant Sarah Blizzard and now current assistant Queenie Tsang and I had and have has been so helpful over the years. We communicated regularly on priorities, and I had full trust they were acting on my behalf and setting up meetings and assignments that allowed me to stay in the $500/hour zone, instead of the $20/hour zone.
The $500/Hour Zone
I once had a client, Walter Pinto, that insisted we as consultants only did $500/hour work so we could be more effective to his organization. He didn’t want his expensive consultants to be doing $20/hour consulting. Walter Pinto knew how to work smart! He hired people he could count on to work smart.
Work Is a Blessing
Work is a blessingâ€”even more so when you
I admire Tim Ferris’ book and body of work
on the 4-hour work week. Every chapter talks about how to work smart on your
small business and your job. I really like the principles.
At the same time, I’ve noticed he works more than 4 hours a week on his books, podcasts, and angel investing because he enjoys working!
Work is a blessing, no doubt about it. But
having too much work (because you’re not working smart in your sweet spot) can be
exhausting and overwhelming. Work smart and find joy in your work.
Application Idea: Create a Personal Advisory Council
Working smart is not an activity done in
RLG International and many top businesses
have experienced executives come in to advise them on future direction. These
executive advisory councils allow us to learn faster and instruct us how to be
more effective in the marketplace. They come with outside perspectives and a fresh
set of eyes to help us work smarter.
Wouldn’t that be beneficial in our personal
lives? So why don’t we have personal advisory councils?
The goal of a personal advisory council is the
same as an executive advisory council: to help us learn faster and be more
Who should be a part of your personal council?
Enlist your family or close friends and
experts to be on your personal advisory council. And don’t ask just anyoneâ€”ask true
experts who have experience in the areas of your life you’re interested in improving.
For example, to learn about finance, ask
the person you know that knows the most about finance to sit and advise you
twice per year. Take them out for lunch and ask for help. Everybody likes to
tell their story. Ask a million questions, learn a million things, and start working
Do the same thing with relationships,
physical fitness and spiritual development. Find people who you admire and are experts. Ask them for counsel. The
person doesn’t necessarily have to be a paid professional. Who lives in your
neighborhood that you admire and has done well in one of these areas? Start there.
Go ahead and build your council. That’s
Start Working Smart
There are so many application areas for working smart. I have only mentioned a few examples. To start, figure out how to apply the principles of working hard and working smart in your life. The below application questions can help:
What are my strengths? Where is
my $500/hour contribution? How can I focus my efforts on the areas where I contribute
How can I work more effectively
with my team? Can we delegate assignments so that we’re working smarter together?
What needs to change about our team meetings in order to work smarter and build
trust more effectively?
How can I more effectively
delegate tasks so nothing falls through the cracks? (The market isn’t sleeping.
The competition isn’t sleeping. You must keep your initiatives moving ahead.)
Who could I have on my advisory
Keep working hard towards your life goals. Make
sure they are balanced goals in areas of work, physical development, financial,
emotional and spiritual. But also work smart.
Never forget these two principles: Work
hard and work smart.
You don’t wake up one morning and become great. Neither do you wake up one morning and become a failure. Both success and failure are outcomes of everyday actions, habits.
If I could give one gift to my children it would be good daily habits, because, as Stephen R. Covey expressed:
“Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character.” •Stephen R. Covey
Covey wasn’t alone in emphasizing the importance of habits:
“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.” •Aristotle
“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” •John C. Maxwell
I’ll repeat what I said earlier: habits determine outcomes.
Achieving Your Goals Every Day
We each have different definitions of success based on our life objectives. Every person has something inside of them yearning to be great in their areas of interest or passion. For some it’s to be a great musician. Others a great athlete or a great writer.
What is your top goal right now?
You want to become rich? Then start with saving money every day. Spend a little less every day. Reaching your financial goals starts with your daily habits.
You want to get in the best physical shape of your life? Then start with exercising first thing in the morning. Even if you just do push-ups and sit-ups as you get out of bed. Reaching personal fitness goals starts (and ends) with your daily habits.
You want to become less stressed and less anxious? Then start with daily meditations and mindfulness for 10 minutes every morning.
For every long-term goal, there’s a daily habit you can develop to take action today towards that goal.
Of course, consistency and discipline are key to success. Try starting every day with your most important routines. Wake up before everybody else does so you can start your day with your small habits that will eventually lead you to excellence in your chosen goals.
My current favorite book on habits is by Charles Duhigg called The Power of Habit. One of my favorite insights from his book is the following:
“Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”
If that doesn’t totally jack you up for change, I’m not sure what will!
Channeling the Hype
But now that you are hyped up, how do you translate that into change? How do you start a good habit? Or, maybe more importantly, how do you stop a bad habit?
To understand that, we have to understand the basics of human psychology. Psychologists like Aubrey Daniels, BF Skinner, and many others have emphasized a basic model to understand how humans form habits.
The model is about as simple as they come, but extremely actionable. It’s called the ABCs, which stands for:
Activators,> Behaviors,> Consequences
The ABC Model Deconstructed
Let’s break this down.
An Activator is something that is a cue or trigger to suggest to the mind to start an action (a Behavior). A Consequence is a reward or something that happens after the Behavior.
Whether we are aware of the ABC model or not, we experience it on a daily basis. By recognizing how we respond to different triggers (Activators), we can both stop bad habits and create good ones.
How the ABC Model helps us stop bad habits
Recognizing the flow of the ABC model in our lives can help us abandon bad habits because we can more consciously:
Remove Activators that trigger bad habits
Change the Behavior associated with an Activator
Recognize or adjust the Consequences to discourage bad behavior
How the ABC Model helps us create good habits
Similarly, the ABC Model can help us more consciously make good decisions towards good habits, by helping us:
Create Activators to trigger good habits
Add new positive behaviors to our repertoire
Recognize or adjust the Consequences to encourage good behavior
By the way, a positive immediate consequence (PIC) is the most powerful reward, because the consequence is directly connected with the behavior. And when I say powerful, I don’t always mean good. Powerful and immediate consequences can be what makes kicking long-term development so hard.
Case in Point: The ABC Model at Work
Let’s test the model out on developing good habits or stopping bad habits.
Smoking: Kicking one of the dirtiest habits
Why do people smoke? Smokers know it’s unhealthy, yet they continue to smoke because there are many Activators.
Activators for smoking could be the smell or the time of day or seeing somebody else smoke.
There are also some positive consequences. The immediate Consequence of smoking is a relaxed feeling and even decreased appetite. I won’t go into the long-term Consequences, you’ve heard them before. Even though you and I see negative consequences to smoking, the smoker feels PICs.
So to stop smoking we need to reduce the Activators (cues or signals) and increase the PICs for not smoking. For example, don’t go hang around others at coffee break that are smoking if that was your cue. Instead, develop PICs for not smoking. Use the money you save to build your retirement savings. Or for something even more immediate, like treating someone to a shake. Your reward could be either tangible or intangible.
A not so dirty habit: Chocolate chip cookies
Let’s consider something a little less sinister: chocolate chip cookies. Who doesn’t love chocolate chip cookies? There are so many immediate and positive benefits for eating chocolate chip cookies.
But if I were going to try and stop eating chocolate chip cookies for some long-term health or weight loss goals, then I would use the ABCs.
First, remove the Activators. Don’t stroll by the Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookies on the shelf every day after lunch. Don’t have chocolate chips in your kitchen or pantry. Take away the cues.
Second, build some positive Consequences, those same PICs I’ve mentioned. Buy yourself a small reward for every day you don’t eat chocolate chip cookies. Weigh yourself every night or every morning seeing the daily benefits of not eating chocolate chip cookies.
Developing Keystone Habits
To start a new good habit, add cues (Activators) and add PIC rewards.
To stop a bad habit, take away those things that activate the behavior and create new positive immediate consequences for stopping.
Now, let’s take it one step further and discuss keystone habits.
In his book, Charles Duhigg teaches the importance of keystone habits. Keystone habits are those habits that can drive success in many areas of our life. He believes (as do I) that exercise is one of those keystone habits:
“Typically, people who exercise, start eating better and becoming more productive at work. They smoke less and show more patience with colleagues and family. They use their credit cards less frequently and say they feel less stressed. Exercise is a keystone habit that triggers widespread change.”
My own research shows that the happiest people exercise at least 2 times per week.
So how do we start a new exercise habit? Let’s look at some potential activators and PICs.
Set your running shoes by your bed at night
Set out your exercise clothes in your closet
Write yourself reminders around the house
Plan to exercise with a good friend
Weigh yourself after every run
Reward yourself with ice-cream on Friday night if you have exercised 4 times that week or more.
You get the idea. Apply these principles to any goal!
Where to start?
Â Fill out this survey to self assess where you are on developing good habits for success:.
Is it possible to be full and hungry at the same time?
Is it possible to simultaneously strive for a goal and be content with where you currently are in life?
We say yes.
We propose that it is both possible and necessary to strive for continuous improvement in our daily lives, but at the same time be content and satisfied with our best efforts.
And even more, striving for worthwhile goals and being content with the results that happen each day are the keys to personal happiness!
If somebody has all the money in the world and doesn’t have to work, this doesn’t make him any more happy, content, and satisfied with life. You only need to look at our business billionaires and movie stars to discover the truth that money does not buy happiness.
Striving for excellence and improvement is a lifelong process. It’s good for a person to have purpose and goals and to feel the satisfaction of a job well done. Having a powerful reason to get up in the morning is a blessing, not a curse. At the same time, very busy and very productive people are not necessarily happy and at peace.
One of the primary objectives of our lives is to balance the Happiness Equation, with ambition on one side and contentment on the other. While goals and good personal habits can fulfill the ambition side, the practice of mindfulness is necessary for feeling content and at peace with our lives.
Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
Much of the wisdom from the eastern hemisphere is centered around the idea of mindfulness and meditation. These teachings are available to all of us in the form of books and other materials. According Jason Gutierrez from the blog The Monk Life, here are the top 10 best mindfulness books:
Our favorite mindfulness book is number 8 on the list, called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The Power of Now is not a quick read, but is well worth investing your time. This is the type of book you may need to read over and over again. The concepts are transformative for a Western-trained mind that focuses on productivity and over-planned days.
Here are the top 20 lessons to learn from The Power of Now and becoming moremindful:
1. Say yes to life, accept challenges, and watch how lifestarts working for you.
2. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if we had chosen it. Make the present our friend, not our enemy. This will transform our lives.
3. Enlightenment is what we should seek for in life. Enlightenment is a state of wholeness, of being “at one, and therefore at peace.” Enlightenment comes when we free ourselves from the dictates of our mind. Enlightenment is not only the end of suffering and continuous conflict within (and without), it is the end of enslavement to incorrect thinking.
4. Being free (being separate from the dictates of our mind) is an important skill. Freedom and peace come with the realization that our thoughts are a separate process within us; we as individuals are not the thought generators. Our mind is a resource to us, and we can observe our thoughts. When we do this, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated, and we make better choices.
For example, if someone offends us, notice how the mind takes over and provides all sorts of negative support, such as, “I’ve never liked that person. They have the nerve to treat me like this,” and the negative ideas continue to flow. So we need to be alert that not everything our mind feeds us is for our well-being. We need to be separate from our thoughts, stand back, and observe them, rather than just accept them. We must be aware of them, and decide if they are helpful, peaceful, or if we need to let them go in order for peace and happiness to grow within us.
5. As we watch our thoughts, we can create a gap in our mindby simply redirecting our focus to the now, the present moment and what we arefeeling.
6. The single most important step toward enlightenment (wholeness) is learning to not identify with our mind. Every time we create a gap (a pause in our thinking to reflect) in the stream of ideas coming from our mind, the light of our individual consciousness becomes stronger. When wedisengage from our mind and focus on ourselves, how we are breathing and howour body is feeling, we are disengaging from our mind directing us.
*Important point: Once we achieve this state, we no longer take for granted that the content of our mind is always providing good direction, and thus our sense of self-worth does not depend upon what our mind tells us.
7. Love, joy, and peace cannot flourish until we are freedfrom mind dominance.
8. When we can look upon our mind as an observer, we can geta glimpse of true joy, true love, and a deep inner peace.
9. Cravings (like for things wrapped in chocolate) are the mind seeking fulfillment from external things, and thus they become a substitute for the joy of feeling whole.
10. Resentment, hatred, self-pity, guilt, anger, depression,jealousy, etc., even the slightest irritation are creations of the mind. Inother words, the unobserved mind can run our lives.
11. We must focus our attention on the feelings inside us.Stay present and continue to be an observer of what is happening to you. Thepower of NOW is the power of our own conscious presence of what is occurring.
12. Once we have understood the basic principle of being present in the NOW as a watcher of what happens inside usâ€”and understand it by experiencing itâ€”we have at our disposal the most potent transformational tool: we can let ideas go and not own them.
13. Anyone who is only identified with their mind is therefore disconnected from their true power and deeper self-rooted person.
14. We all have an ego mind, which is the deep-seated sense of lack, or incompleteness, of not being whole. The ego mind manifests itself as the unsettling and constant feeling of not being worthy enough or good enough. The ego mind identifies with external thingsâ€”praise, money, or position to make us feel better, instead of using our intended self-awareness or “enlightenment.
Let us share a personal experience with you illustrating this principle. I (Dale) recently resigned from a position in my church after 28 years. My mind was telling me on that last day, the Presidency will announce my release, and express their thanks or might even ask for a standing ovation (just kidding, but my expectations were high). Not a word was said, and my mind started to protect my ego. I immediately stopped the negative flow of thoughts by saying in my mind, “I know I did a good, dedicated job, and God knows I did.” Because I caught myself and separated myself from my ego mind, I have felt at peace, and even whole ever since then.
15. Stop living in the past (whether positive or negative) or looking for happiness in the future. NOW is the most precious time. NOW is athing that will take us beyond the confines of our mind.
16. Assessment is one of the keys to living in the NOW. Are we always trying to get somewhere other than where we are? Is fulfillment just around the corner or confined to short term pleasures such as food, drink, drugs, or some form of excitement? Do we believe that if we acquire more things we will become more fulfilled, good enough, or psychologically complete? Or are we waiting for someone to make us happy and complete?
17. Forget about your life situation for a while and pay attention to your life and who you are.
18. Having a problem means we are dwelling on a situation mentally without the intent or possibility of taking action now, and thus we unconsciously make it part of our sense of self. This can lead to discouragement or depression.
19. If there is not joy, ease, and lightness in what we are doing, we are covering up the present moment, and making life a burden and a struggle.
20. Pay attention to the actions you are taking. Paying attention should bring peace and happiness.
The best indicator of our level of consciousness of who we are is how we deal with life’s challenges when they come.
Go ahead and dream! Go ahead and set lofty goals for the future! But don’t be a slave to them. Accept what is. Rejoice in what you accomplish. Stay focused on the now. Don’t let the past or the future destroy your present.
The key is to train the mind to stretch and to be satisfied. Strive but be content. Being full and hungry is the key to lasting happiness!
Please share with us your feelings about this blog. How do you strive and be content at the sametime?
The purpose of the survey is to collate the habits of sustained excellence. We define sustained excellence as effectiveness, efficiency and happiness.
Please take 8 minutes to complete this 40 question survey.
We will show the results of the survey on this website; ci4life.org in 30 days
Live a Life of Continuous Improvement
Much has been written about strengths-based leadership. The theory behind it says that we should be focusing on our strengths to improve our performance.
Traditional performance evaluations help us focus on our weaknesses, or those things we need to improve in order to achieve a bonus, salary increase, or promotion.
I personally believe in the strengths-based approach. Gallup’s study on strengths- based leadership shows the following results:
BUSINESS UNITS SHOWED DECREASES OF UP TO:
-59% IN SAFETY INCIDENTS
-16 POINTS IN TURNOVER (LOW-TURNOVER ORGANIZATIONS)
-72 POINTS IN TURNOVER (HIGH-TURNOVER ORGANIZATIONS)
I suggest we take the strengths-based discussion another step, and apply the strengths-based approach, while still working on weaknesses.
Use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses!
In order for this approach to help, you have to understand your strengths and your key weaknesses.
Here is a simple way to do the analysis. Are you more “task-oriented” or “relationship-oriented”?
Usually more task-oriented people’s strengths and weaknesses are:
-Good at accomplishing things on their task list.
-Get a great deal of satisfaction from checking the box for daily tasks
-Can be relied on to get work done
-Can “run over” relationships to get things done
-Lack patience for others that don’t have the same strengths
-Sometimes need support to ensure quality work
Relationship-oriented strengths and weaknesses:
-Are good with People
-Great Team players
-Sometimes procrastinate getting things done, particularly if it may strain a relationship
-Have a hard time saying no. Don’t want to ruin a relationship
So use your strengths to overcome your weaknesses!
Task-oriented people can put relationship goals on their checklist which will help them get a great sense of accomplishment; this will happen by setting and accomplishing goals to maintain and build a relationship.
For example: Many really good task oriented people honor being on-time as a sign of respect and good self management. When others are late for commitments it can effect their relationships. Therefore, change what you write down on your checklist. Instead of writing down, be on-time for a meeting at work or church, write down: maintain a positive approach to a spouse or a key team member even if they are late. Then check mark that, rather than just focusing on being on-time!
Some relationship-oriented people may procrastinate going to exercise on their own, even though they want to. Instead, their time gets used building and maintaining relationships and pleasing others. So, go work-out with a friend. Build and invest in a relationship while doing a task you want to do.
The other learning using this mindset is in regards to the make-up of a successful team. Make sure you have a mix of strengths on the team to help offset and make up for what you lack. Normally the whole strengths package doesn’t come in an individual, but in the collective team members. On your next work team, make sure you have those who are great with people, those who are great with tasks, those who are great with quality and detail, and those who are great with vision and innovation. A great cross-functional strengths team can help make sure that the collective strengths of a team can overcome any weaknesses.
Another application of this principle is to use your strengths to accomplish an undesirable activity.
At home, who likes weeding the yard? Nobody! For more relationship oriented people, do it with a friend or family member and take time to connect while doing the undesirable task. For more task oriented people, write it down as part of your daily or weekly goals. Watch as your mind takes over to accomplish the previously undesirable task. Better yet, what about a win-win-win for a task oriented person who also has a goal to build more relationships? Turn on the music, invite somebody you want to build a relationship, have lunch ready and of course have it on your daily goal list. Boom! Done!
At work, taking time out of the daily rush to set a strategic plan is sometimes difficult to do. So to help, set it as a goal, set up a meeting time and look at it as a time to build connections, alignment and a cohesive team. Make sure you have all types of strengths on the team to help you build a comprehensive strategic plan.
Having people focus on their weaknesses and short comings is energy draining and can cause low morale and motivation. Instead, focus on using your strengths to “show your best self,” and also use those strengths to improve those weaknesses that may be holding you back from achieving your maximum potential!