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Build habits


Build habits .

Mike Romano was born in 1950 and raised in Milwaukee, the youngest of four brothers. His dad was a handyman who fixed plumbing and heating fixtures. His mom had a commercial art degree; she stayed at home to raise the boys, taking jobs from time to time to pay the bills. Romano had a temper. In high school, when he was 18, he got into a fight and threw a guy through a window. Afraid of what would happen in court, he enlisted in the army. He figured he was going to be drafted anyway. The court let him go. Romano eventually ended up being assigned to the 173rd Air borne Brigade in Vietnam, an elite and well-respected unit of para troopers. The soldiers of the 173rd had an open secret, however: rampant drug use. Others nicknamed them "jumping junkies." Coming into the military, Romano had no real drug experience. He tried to keep his nose clean with the jumping junkies. A few months after he arrived in Vietnam, a Claymore land mine detonated near him, and he was struck in his right hand, forearm, and foot. He was taken to a hospital in Camron Bay for recovery. That was where he first tried opium. He quickly became hooked, like so many others around him. Even when he transferred to other hospitals, his supply wasn't interrupted. He mostly smoked opium-laced joints, but it was also easy to find liquid opium and even opium chewing gum (not to mention other drugs, such as LSD and marijuana). His addiction continued to torment him throughout his thirteen-month tour of duty. Romano's fall into drug use was a typical story during the Vietnam War. The White House was so troubled by reports of drug use among soldiers that it commissioned a study to investigate the scope of the problem. The results were disturbing. Before the war, the typical soldier had only casual experience with hard drugs, and less than 1 percent had ever been addicted to narcotics. But once in Vietnam, almost half of the soldiers tried narcotics, and 20 percent became addicted. Demographics did not predict who would become drug users in Vietnam-race and class were irrelevant. The drug use started early. Twenty percent of all users started in their first week in Vietnam, 60 percent within the first three months. Oddly, drug use did not seem to be triggered by trauma. The researchers found no statistical relationship between drug use and the difficulty of soldiers' assignments, or the danger they faced, or the death of friends. Unlike most soldiers, Romano started using opium because he was injured. For most soldiers in Vietnam, drugs were simply a fact of life, a part of the culture. Government officials were terrified by what would hap pen when thousands of drug addicts began to return to America. Military and civilian leaders worried that the country's drug-treatment programs would be flooded, stretched far beyond capacity. That worried that vets might not be able to hold down jobs, that they might turn to crime. Mike Romano was one of the people the officials were worried about. When he finally boarded his flight back to the United States in 1969, headed home to Milwaukee, he smuggled back with him a stash of opium-laced joints. Then his life began to change. A week or two after his return home, he was driving with friends in town when he saw a girl he'd known in grade school. "Stop the car!" he said. He chased her down. She was working as a counter girl at a nearby drugstore. "I thought she was very beautiful," said Romano. The two started dating. She caught on fairly quickly that Ro mano was an addict, and she put pressure on him to stop. He tried to quit a few times, but each time he started to feel sick as withdrawal pains kicked in, and then he'd begin using again. Meanwhile, he started work-construction and house painting and other temporary jobs-and he started taking art classes at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. He got a job there de signing promotional posters for bands who played at the student umon. After a few quit-and-relapse cycles, he began to wean himself off opium, and within about a month he was clean. He hasn't touched opium since. What we see in Mike Romano's life seems like an almost impossible change story: an opium addict who recovered. Mike Romano was one of the lucky ones. Or was he? ?Thite House researchers continued to investigate the drug problem among returning soldiers, and a puzzle started to emerge. Following up with the troops who returned home, the investigators called them eight to twelve months after their return to ask about their ongoing drug use. During the war, 50 per cent of soldiers had been casual users, and 20 percent had become seriously addicted, meaning that they used drugs more than once a week for an extended period of time and experienced withdrawal symptoms (chills, cramps, pain) if they tried to stop. But when the investigators conducted the follow-up, what they found blew their minds. Only 1 percent of the vets were still addicted to drugs. That was essentially the same rate as existed before the war. The feared, drug-fueled social catastrophe had not occurred. What had happened? People are incredibly sensitive to the environment and the culture-to the norms and expectations of the communities they are in. We all want to wear the right clothes, to say the right things, to frequent the right places. Because we instinctively try to fit in with our peer group, behavior is contagious, sometimes in surprising ways. Imagine that your job was to design an environment that would extinguish drug addiction. You could take drug-addicted u.s. soldiers, drop them into this environment, and feel confident that the forces within it would act powerfully to help them beat their habits. Think of this environment as an antidrug theme park and assume that you can spend as much as you want to construct it. What would your theme park look like? It might look a whole lot like Romano's neighborhood in Milwaukee. You'd want to surround the former soldiers with people who love them and care about them-and who treat them as the drug free persons they once were. You'd give them interesting work to do-perhaps designing posters for rock bands-so that their minds would be distracted from the joys of opium. You'd create well-publicized sanctions against drug use. You'd keep the drug economy underground, making the former soldiers sneak around to obtain and use drugs. You'd make sure their girlfriends gave them a hard time about their drug use. You'd set up social taboos so that the soldiers would feel derelict, even pathetic, if they kept using. You'd remove the contagious drug-using behavior from the environment-no more addicted soldiers around-and replace it with contagious drug-free behavior. And you would provide rich environmental cues-sights, songs, food, clothes, and homes--that remind the former soldiers of their prewar, drug-free identities. The Milwaukee Theme Park: That's exactly why Mike Romano became a former addict. When Romano relocated to Milwaukee, his environment changed, and the new environment changed him. As the Romano story shows, one of the subtle ways in which our environment acts on us is by reinforcing (or deterring) our habits. When we think about habits, most of the time we're thinking about bad ones: biting our fingernails, procrastinating, eating sweets when we're anxious, and so on. But ofcourse we also have plenty of good habits: jogging, praying, brushing our teeth. Why are habits so important? They are, in essence, behavioral autopilot. They allow lots of good behaviors to happen without the Rider taking charge. Remember that the Rider's self-control is exhaustible, so it's a huge plus if some positive things can happen "free" on autopilot. To change yourself or other people, you've got to change habits, and what we see with Romano is that his habits shifted when his environment shifted. This makes sense-our habits are essentially stitched into our environment. Research bears this out. According to one study of people making changes in their lives, 36 percent of the successful changes were associated with a move to a new location, and only 13 percent of unsuccessful changes involved a move. Many smokers, for example, find it easier to quit when they're on vacation, because at home, every part of their environment is loaded with smoking associations. It's like trying to quit smoking inside a Camel advertisement-everywhere you look are re minders of the habit. There's that drawer in the kitchen where the lighters are stashed, the clay pot on the porch that's become an archive of ashes, the ever-present scent of smoke in the car and the closet. When a smoker goes on vacation, the environment recedes toward neutrality. That doesn't mean it's easy to quit, but it's easier. It's unrealistic, however, to think that most of us can shift our environment so dramatically. If you're trying to change your team's habits at work, then yes, relocating your office would be a big help. Good luck selling that idea. What are some: more practical ways to create a habit? The first thing to realize is that even small environmental tweaks can make a difference-that's what we saw in Chapter 8. Remember how Amanda Tucker rearranged her office to make it easier for her to listen to her employees? That was the first step in establishing a new habit. (Environmental tweaks can even force a habit, as we saw in the Rackspace example. When the call queuing system was thrown out, the customer-service staffers quickly developed the habit of answering the phone.) But forming a habit isn't all environmental-it's also mental. It would be very difficult, for instance, to tweak the environment in a way that would compel you to learn how to play the piano. So how do you lay the mental groundwork for a new habit? Say that you've been putting off going to the gym. So you resolve to yourself: Tomorrow morning, right after I drop off Anna at school, I'll head straight to the gym. Let's call this mental plan an "action trigger:' You've made the decision to execute a certain action (working out) when you encounter a certain situational trig ger (the school circle, tomorrow morning). Peter Gollwitzer, a psychologist at New York University, is the pioneer of work in this area. He and colleague Veronika Brand starter found that action triggers are quite effective in motivating action. In one study, they tracked college students who had the option to earn extra credit in a class by writing a paper about how they spent Christmas Eve. But there was a catch: To earn the credit, they had to submit the paper by December 26. Most students had good intentions of writing the paper, but only 33 per cent of them got around to writing and submitting it. Other students in the study were required to set action triggers-to note, in advance, exactly when and where they intended to write the report (for example, ''I'll write this report in my dad's office on Christmas morning before everyone gets up"). A whopping 75 percent of those students wrote the report. That's a pretty astonishing result for such a small mental in vestment. Does this mean that simply by imagining a time and place where you'll do something, you increase the likelihood that you'll actually do it? Yes and no. Action triggers won't get you (or any one else) to do something you truly don't want to do. An action trigger never would have convinced college students to participate in an online calculus camp on Christmas Day. But, as the extra credit study demonstrates, action triggers can have a profound power to motivate people to do the things they know they need to do. Peter Gollwitzer argues that the value of action triggers re sides in the fact that we are preloading a decision. Dropping off Anna at school triggers the next action, going to the gym. There's no cycle of conscious deliberation. By preloading the decision, we conserve the Rider's self-control. The concept of preloading is easier to see with an example. Imagine that you are one of the college students in Gollwitzer's study. It's Christmastime, and you're at home. Your parents are doting on you, and your siblings are having an interesting con versation. The TV is on, the Christmas tree is lit up, and your elderly Chihuahua Fredo is staring at you adoringly. Let's not for get the food-turkey and dressing, pecan pie, chocolate truffies and Guitar Hero, and naps, and the calls you're getting from old high school friends. Distractions are everywhere. So if you walk into this buffet line of stimuli and you haven't preloaded a decision about your extra-credit report-if you haven't told yourself, ''I'll do this report in my dad's office on Christmas morning before everyone gets up" -you are sunk. That's why action triggers have unexpected value. Gollwitzer says that when people predecide, they "pass the control of their behavior on to the environment." Gollwitzer says that action triggers "protect goals from tempting distractions, bad habits, or competing goals." There are countless ways to use action triggers at work. If your salespeople are more motivated to close new business than to cultivate existing relationships, give them a "coffee and call" trigger. Tell them that whenever they pour their nest cup of coffee, they are to place a check-in call to one of their most important customers. Or think about your employees who will be attending an industry conference. By the time they get back to the of face, their e-mail will be so backed up that they won't be in the mood to share their learnings. So give them an action trigger suggest that during the flight home, whenever the "OK to use electronics" announcement is made, they type up some reflections for everyone on the team. Action triggers simply have to be specific enough and visible enough to interrupt people's normal stream of consciousness. A trigger to "praise your employees when they do something great" is too vague to be useful. Gollwitzer has shown that action triggers are most useful in the most difficult situations-the ones that are most draining to the Rider's self-control. One study analyzed people's success in accomplishing "easy" goals or "hard" goals. With easy goals, the use of action triggers increased success only slightly, from 78 to 84 percent. But with hard goals, action triggers almost tripled the chance of success-goal completion skyrocketed from 22 to 62 percent. To see how action triggers can aid people in difficult times, consider a study of patients recovering from hip- or knee-re placement surgery. On average, the patients were 68 years old, and they had been in pain for about a year and a half before the surgery. The surgeries initially make things even worse; they take such a toll on the body that the patients require assistance with the basic tasks of daily life, such as bathing, getting into bed, and even standing up. The road to recovery can be long and painful. All patients aspired to get back on their feet as soon as possible, of course. But patients in one group were asked to set action triggers-for instance, "If you are going to go for a walk this week, please write down when and where you plan to walk." The results of the study were dramatic. On average, action trigger patients were bathing themselves without assistance in 3 weeks. Other patients took 7 weeks. Action-trigger patients were standing up in 3.5 weeks. The others took 7.7 weeks. In just over 1 month, the action-trigger patients were getting in and out of a car on their own. The others took 2.5 months. Gollwitzer says that, in essence, what action triggers do is create an "instant habit." Habits are behavioral autopilot, and that's exactly what action triggers are setting up. Here's the proof of the "instant habit" concept: One study showed that the single biggest predictor of whether women gave themselves a monthly breast examination was if they had a habit of doing so. When another group of women who didn't have such a habit were asked to set action triggers, they ended up doing just as well as the women with long-time habits. By preloading a decision, they created an instant habit. Action triggers are not fo oilproof, of course. Teens with a se rious smoking habit, for example, did not reap any benefit from setting action triggers to quit smoking. Their nicotine-enhanced habit was simply too strong. But even though action triggers aren't perfect, it's hard to imagine an easier way to make an immediate change more likely. A recent meta-study that analyzed 8,155 participants across 85 studies found that the typical person who set an action trigger did better than 74 percent of people on the same task who didn't set one. Instant habits. This is a rare point of intersection between the aspirations of self-help and the reality of science. And you can't get much more practical. The next time your team resolves to act in a new way, challenge team members to take it further. Have them specify when and where they're going to put the plan in motion. Get them to set an action trigger. (Then set another one for yourself.)

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In order to change something, one must first understand the process of how change happens. In the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain that change is hard because people are often stuck in their ways and have a difficult time breaking old habits. To overcome this, the authors suggest building habits as a way to make change easier.

One of the key concepts in building habits is to make the desired behavior as easy as possible. This can be achieved by creating an environment that supports the desired behavior. For example, if one wants to start exercising regularly, it would be helpful to have workout clothes and shoes readily available, or to have a gym membership close to home. By making the desired behavior easy to do, it becomes more likely that the person will continue to do it.

Another important aspect of building habits is to make the desired behavior more appealing. This can be done by attaching a reward to the behavior or by making the behavior more enjoyable. For example, if one wants to start reading more, they could make a habit of reading before going to bed and reward themselves with a piece of chocolate after finishing a chapter.

It's also important to understand the power of cues. Cues are things that trigger a behavior, such as a specific time of day or a specific location. By identifying the cues that trigger a behavior, one can use them to their advantage by linking the desired behavior to a specific cue. For example, if one wants to start drinking more water, they could make a habit of drinking a glass of water every time they walk into the kitchen.

Finally, building habits also involve being persistent. It takes time to build a habit, and it's important to stick with it even if progress is slow. It's important to be patient and not give up if the desired behavior isn't achieved right away.

In summary, building habits is an effective way to change things when change is hard. To build a habit, one must make the desired behavior as easy as possible, make it more appealing, understand the power of cues and be persistent. By following these steps, one can make change happen in a more manageable and sustainable way.

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