Even after you have used some new behaviors to meet your collaboration goals, it can be challenging to maintain those behaviors as habit over the long term. If this is the case, you aren’t alone! Luckily, there are strategies that you can use to truly turn your best behaviors into long-term habits:
Rewards are critical to habit formation. In the lab, researchers use food rewards to motivate rats, dogs and monkeys to learn new behaviors. Human beings are no different from other animals when it comes to habit formation.
In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg describes the habit-formation process as a three-step loop. “First there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is a routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.”
To sustain your new behaviors, you should consistently reward yourself. Unlike the lab rats, your reward doesn’t have to be a hit of sugar water each time you behave a certain way, and your health will probably thank you if you pick a different treat. Luckily, humans have more options. Here are a few examples using the behavior of “declining a meeting that does not include an agenda”:
- Raise your arms in victory every time you say no to a meeting. Do this because the body has a primitive and direct link to the mind. This illustrates what Harvard professor and author Amy Cuddy calls a “body-mind nudge” -- a specific kind of “self-nudge,” a message to your body language and mind-set that can produce psychological and behavioral improvements in the moment.
- Listen to a song from a special, high-energy “I just declined a meeting” playlist.
- Take the time you save from the meeting and put it towards something you will enjoy, like scheduling a lunch date with a friendly colleague (Can’t find time on their calendar? Refer them to your habit playbook!)
As you seek the reward that works best for you, be creative and be flexible. Just as you experiment to find the right behaviors to help you meet your goal, you might also need to experiment to find the right reward. Sometimes when you are struggling to make a new habit stick, it’s not because the habit is the wrong one for you, but because you haven’t paired it with the right reward.
Often, the best rewards are ones that you look forward to with anticipation. Once you create an association between the behavior and its reward, that anticipation will carry over to the behavior, too. Whenever you engage in your new behavior, take a moment to think about the reward - for example, picture yourself enjoying great food and conversation with a favorite colleague while you decline that meeting. Especially if the reward is not something you will get to enjoy immediately, this practice will reinforce the association between the reward and the behavior.
When we attempt to change our habits, we often focus exclusively on ways to motivate ourselves. But no matter how good the reward is going to be, if you need to drive 30 minutes out of your way to get to a gym, it will probably be a struggle to make gym-going a long-term habit.
Just as important as picking the right reward is identifying the barriers to change and removing them. Consider everything that needs to happen to accomplish a behavior. For example, you might plan to improve your focus at work by only answering emails twice a day in batches. To make this work, you’ll need to ignore email alerts as they come in, dedicate specific blocks of time to responses, and manage expectations with your collaborators. Two potential barriers are clear: you might be tempted to respond to email alerts immediately, or you might feel obligated to immediately follow up on commitments you make during meetings.
Having identified potential barriers, you can find solutions. Turn off email alerts and close your email client. If you have frequent meetings, use the block of time immediately after a meeting for responding to emails. If you only meet infrequently, you can email your collaborators, “I’ll follow up by end of day tomorrow,” to acknowledge the email and ensure you’ll be able to use a dedicated email time block for that purpose.
Without some upfront conversations about what you are trying to achieve, even well-meaning teammates can sabotage your efforts to reclaim your time. Tell your manager and closest collaborators about the new habits you are trying to develop and why. Use this conversation to manage their expectations. For example, if your goal is to work more efficiently, and you are committed to avoid sending emails after the end of the work day, then your coworkers should know to call you in an emergency but otherwise wait until morning for your responses.
Creating boundaries around how you collaborate can feel uncomfortable, especially when you are setting those boundaries with a manager. Many people want their peers and supervisor to see them as team players, willing to do whatever it takes. Remember: setting boundaries on collaboration does not mean you aren’t a team player. Too much collaboration increases stress, lowers productivity, and impedes creativity, and often with little additional benefit.
If you are worried about having these conversations with your colleagues, prepare by writing down the ways in which you anticipate that improving your collaboration balance will allow you to improve the quality of your work and be a better teammate. You may find that these notes end up being unnecessary. People typically respond positively when you set boundaries with them, and they quickly adapt to new ways of working when it becomes evident that your performance – and theirs – won’t suffer as a result. As a bonus, when you take the time to communicate your boundaries and explain your approach to change, you can inspire others to make the change as well.
Work as a team
Human behaviors are heavily influenced by social norms, which are the values, actions and expectations of a group. If you and a few others on your team adopt a behavior and make it visible, it can spread across your entire team and establish a new norm.
Professor Sandy Pentland, who directs the MIT Connection Science and Human Dynamics labs, says collective intelligence builds when one person shows enthusiasm, recruits others and the group begins to work together. “Just hearing something said rarely results in change in behavior. They’re just words. When we see people in our peer group play with an idea, our behavior changes.” (The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle).
Here are some suggestions for how to use MyAnalytics to change habits as a team:
- Select a few Habit playbooks and do them together. Turn it into a friendly competition. For example, schedule a quick team check-in for the end of the month, and hand out prizes to anyone who can show that they spent zero hours multitasking in meetings during that month.
- Share the Learning modules with the full team and carve out time during team meetings to discuss them. These discussions can help you identify habits to experiment with and select new team collaboration norms.
- Try the MyAnalytics Team Behavior Change Program.