According to a 2006 research by Duke University, approximately 45% of your everyday actions aren’t actual decisions but habits. This means that many of the things you do each day are behaviors that have been conditioned through repetition.

Meaning, habits form your life far more than you realize.

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, aptly states that habits “cause our brains to cling to them at the exclusion of all else, including common sense”. They grow stronger and more automatic over time. This is why you must develop those habits that will be beneficial to you, especially at work.

Adopting new good routines may seem overwhelming but possible. What you need to do first is understand how they are structured and leverage them to your advantage.

What Are the Three Components of Habits?

Duhigg explains that all habits are broken down into three components:

The Cue

This is the part of the loop wherein you’re pushed to take some sort of action through a sign in your external or internal environment. It may be a feeling, a person, a time of day, a location or anything else. The sound of your alarm might be what prompts you to stand up and stretch, for instance.

These are why it’s harder to exercise during the weekends, despite having more time to do so. Your usual cue is missing. You need to make a conscious decision to perform which requires mental effort you may not be willing to expend.

If you’re trying to break a bad habit, identify the cue then replace the behavior with a good one. For instance, instead of checking social media the moment you wake up, prepare breakfast or go for a jog around the block. Simply going cold turkey isn’t going to work.

The Action

This is the good or bad routine that’s become second nature to you. See to it that they’re initiated because they satisfy or interest you, rather than being knee-jerk. Being mindful in the creation of these routines ensures that they’re effective.

In doing so, your habits will become useful tools for accomplishing goals.

Examples include secluding yourself when sadness sets in, working out at the gym, consuming copious amounts of liquor, and watching television shows. You’ll notice that they’re easier to replace than triggers so they’re a good place to start when trying to change habits too.

The Reward

This is the most misunderstood component of the loop as it’s where your brain receives a reward for taking action. As it satisfies a need or craving, your brain quickly learns to repeat activities that generate rewards. The brain connects it to the cue so you anticipate the reward as soon as the routine is triggered.

However, rewards shouldn’t be used to motivate any type of behavior. This is because the most destructive or addictive habits, e.g. smoking and drinking, are those that have built-in reward systems with minimal input from you. Rewards should be used to reinforce good routines that you enjoy.

Also, rewards are not meant to be given a week or a month after doing the action as this will make you less motivated. Rewards must occur immediately after and should be small. It can be something as simple as drinking milk tea after completing a business proposal for a client, for instance.

How Can You Build Strong Work Habits?

Now that you know how the habit loop is structured, you may already have ideas on how you can use it to your advantage for work. We share some tips for building new habits or making existing routines stronger with higher chances of success.

Take tiny steps

Diving into the deep isn’t advisable when you’re trying to change your behavior. It’s a smarter idea to start with small tasks that are easy to perform.

An example is doing ten minutes of reading a day instead of attempting to finish that thick book in a week.

Increase slowly

As mentioned above, you should keep habits as reasonable as possible but you have to set your sights on bigger goals too.

Improve yourself by at least 1% a day. Write 50 extra words for that e-book. Read five more slides on the training manual. Send five more emails to prospective customers.

Break things down

With your objectives constantly increasing in size or amount, you’ll plateau in which case you should break it into chunks.

Example: dedicate an hour to learning a new skill related to your industry, but divide it into four 15-minute chunks for you to complete throughout your work day.

Go at it again

There will be a time when you’ll slip up on your habits, so don’t be too hard on yourself when you do. Simply make sure that you don’t mess up twice.

Like if you missed listening to a podcast this week, don’t miss next week. Set an alarm or reminder so you won’t forget again.

Set a suitable pace

There’s no need to rush. While it’s good to be passionate about improving yourself, you must realize that building exceptional habits will take time and effort.

Learn to be patient and go at a reasonable pace. Think of it as warming up your body then jogging before going for a high-intensity run.

Where Can You Work on This Growth?

By taking the time to understand what habits are on a structural level, you’ll have the foundational knowledge for developing strong work habits. The best part is that this will not only break bad behaviors or create good ones, it does both simultaneously.

Regardless what routines you want to change or remove from your life, it’s nice to be in an environment conducive towards improvement. Working for someone who will support you in becoming a better version of yourself greatly increases your chances of success.

Are you unsure as to where you’re able to find an employer who sees the value in personal and professional development? Remote Workmate is here to the rescue. We’re connected to reputable clients who are searching for virtual professionals like you.

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