As long as you have the will,
You have a powerful way to change yourself!
The power of habit

It may seem like a bit of an overstatement, but our lives are just a continuation of habits. Isn’t that why successful people often say that changing one small habit changed their lives? But changing habits isn’t hard. If we understand the principle of how habits are connected, we can see how an individual, company, or society can create bigger changes. Let’s take a look at how habits can be changed for the better.

Our lives are just a mass of small habits?

What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? Do you tie your right shoelace or left shoelace first? What do you do when you arrive at work and sit down at your desk? When you get off work, do you go jogging or do you sit in front of the TV and eat dinner?

The American psychologist William James once said, “All of our life is but a mass of small habits.” What we choose to repeat every day may seem like the result of carefully thought-out decisions, but in reality, that isn’t the case. Most of our decisions are based on our habits. According to a researcher from Duke University, “40% of the things we do every day are not a result of our decisions but of our habits.” In the end, our careless habits can greatly influence our health, productivity at work, economic stability, and happiness.

So then, why do we repeat the same actions, even though we know we will regret them later? A habit forms because our brains are constantly trying to find ways to conserve brain activity. If left alone without any stimulation, the brain tries to turn almost all of our daily, repeated actions into habits. This habit-forming activity is necessary so that the brain can invest its remaining energy into more creative work. However, if you do not consciously try to change your habits or do not find new actions to repeat, you automatically fall into habitual patterns.

Of course, there are also good habits. Our brains remember actions as both good and bad habits, but it can’t discern between which habit is good and which one is bad. That’s why, in order to change a habit, you must first understand how a habit works and then have the will to change it. You may have the habit of buying and eating a donut every time you pass a donut shop, but you can change this habit to walking 10,000 steps every day.

Make changes by understanding the connections behind your habits

MIT researchers learned that all habits follow the same simple connection of “signal → repeating action → reward.” In our brains, habits are formed based on these three steps, and the key to changing a habit lies in these connecting steps.

The first step is the signal. The signal is the stimulation that tells the brain to automatically trigger a habit. The next step, the repeating action, can be a physical action, psychological state, or emotional change. The last step is the reward. The reward is what determines if the brain will continue to remember the connected pathway. As time goes on, the “signal → repeating action → reward” pathway repeats and we develop goals and expectations related to the habit as it takes place in our lives.

For example, let’s say you’re trying to get into the habit of jogging every morning. Make sure you choose a simple signal (such as tying the shoelaces on your sneakers before breakfast or putting sportswear next to your bed) and a clear reward (the joy of jogging, the accomplishment of running a long distance, or the endorphins released by jogging). The signal should be able create a desire within you to get the reward, moving beyond just cuing a repeating action. Then you will begin to unconsciously tie your sneakers every morning to go jogging.

It’s also important to note that bad habits don’t simply disappear. They only turn into different actions. If you want to change a bad habit, like drinking alcohol every day, you need to identify the signal that incites you to drink and the reward, and then immerse yourself in a new repeating action. By stimulating a new desire, you can encourage a new habit. So, in order to change a habit, you must figure out what signal and reward incite the repeating action and then consciously work to find an alternative action. Now, let’s take a look at some individuals and corporations that have succeeded thanks to their repeating actions.

A very small habit that made Michael Phelps an Olympic legend

World-class swimmer Michael Phelps started swimming at 7 years old. His swimming coach Bob Bowman saw Phelps’s body frame and realized that he had the potential to become a world champion swimmer. However, Phelps had severe mood swings and had trouble calming down before a swim meet. So, Bowman focused on teaching Phelps the habits needed for swimming. Bowman taught Phelps a series of actions designed to help Phelps calm down and concentrate before a meet, giving Phelps an edge in a sport where 1000th of a second can win or lose a meet.

One of the repeated actions that Bowman instructed Phelps to do was to watch a “videotape” every night before going to sleep. He didn’t mean an actual videotape, but rather he told Phelps to imagine his own perfect race in detail, from start to finish, again and again, as he lay in bed. Eventually, Phelps found that he could check his movements in his head in a matter of seconds. After developing this small habit, all Coach Bowman had to say to Phelps before a swim meet was “Ready the videotape!” By adopting this habit, Phelps was able to calm himself down, helping him win out over his competitors.

Training to strengthen willpower at Starbucks

Starbucks employees must receive 40 hours of training within their first year of joining the company. They also have to spend additional time doing homework and talking with their appointed mentors. Overall, this extensive training is designed to cultivate one of the most important habits: willpower. Research has found that students with a high level of self-control have a higher chance of improving their grades than students with a high IQ who do not have self-control. The most effective way of strengthening your self-control, or willpower, is to make it a habit. Willpower is one of the most important habits that determines your future success. So, how did Starbucks cultivate willpower as a habit?

Much like the muscles in your arms and legs, your willpower gets tired if you use it often, but it also gets stronger. Employees must maintain their concentration and a high level of self-control, even at the end of an 8-hour workday, if they are to provide above-average customer service. In order to have this level of self-control, employees must strengthen their “willpower muscles.” Starbucks trains its employees to arrive at work on time, not to take their anger out on their customers, to greet all customers with a smile, and to remember customer names and orders as well as possible. However, the company also knows that employees may momentarily have a burst of anger or lose their self-control during unexpected stressful moments, and thus provide additional training for such moments.

Starbucks created the LATTE rule that helps employees create habits to increase their willpower/self-control and overcome difficult moments. LATTE means: Listen to the customer; Acknowledge the customer’s complaint; Take action to resolve the problem; Thank the customer; and Explain the reason why the problem has occurred. Based on this rule, Starbucks teaches its employees dozens of repeating actions that can be used during stressful situations, effectively cultivating willpower and making it a habit through repetition.

Writer Editorial Department