The Golden Rule of Habit Change: Use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and the reward stay the same. But to change an old habit, you must address an old craving. You have to keep the same cues and rewards as before, and feed the craving by inserting a new routine.
Asking patients to describe what triggers their habitual behavior is called awareness training and it’s the first step in habit reversal training. It seems ridiculously simple, but once you’re aware of how your habit works, once you recognize the cues and rewards, you’re halfway to changing it. The brain can be reprogrammed. You just have to be deliberate about it.
If you identify the cues and rewards you can change the routine, at least, most of the time. For some habits, however, there’s one other ingredient that’s necessary. Belief.
The precise mechanisms of belief are still little understood. But we do know that for habits to permanently change, people must believe that change is feasible. This process makes AA so effective. Belief is also easier when it occurs within a community. A community can be as few as two people.
The Habits of Successful Organizations—Keystone Habits:
Paul O’Neil—1987 became CEO of Aluminum Company of American, Alcoa. His opening address to Wall Street, “I want to talk to you about worker safety.”
So how did O’Neill make one of the largest, stodgiest and most potentially dangerous companies into a profit machine and a bastion of safety? By attacking one habit and then watching the changes ripple through the organization.
O’Neil figured his top priority would have to be something that everybody—unions and executives—could agree was important. He needed a focus that would bring people together that would give him leverage to change how people worked and communicated.
O’Neil believed that some habits have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through an organization. Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “Keystone Habits,” and they can influence how people work, eat, play. Live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. Keystone habits say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers. The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.
If you focus on changing or cultivating Keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. However, identifying Keystone habits is tricky. To find the, you have to know where to look. Detecting Keystone habits means searching out certain characteristics. Keystone habits offer what is know within academic literature as small wins. They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious. On an individual basis, exercise can be a Keystone habit.
Small Wins are a steady application of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favors another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging advantages into patters that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.
Small wins do not combine in a neat, linear, serial form, with each step being demonstrable step closer to some predetermined goal. More common is the circumstance where small wins are scattered.