They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks--but can you? Much of our work is made up of habits. In fact, one study found that habits account for 40 percent of our daily behavior. Some of these are good ones that keep you productive and efficient, but others, well, they can be time killers and energy drainers.

Everyone strives to improve how they work and conduct business, but so often executing positive change through new habits can feel like a daunting task. The reason is that too often  people focus on the end result--what the habit will accomplish--rather than how to execute it.

We often repeat behavioral habits in different situations at work. Many times, we look outward and blame others, but what if we took the time to look inward and determine what we could change on our end? What type of lasting impact for our business could we influence?

No matter what new habits you'd like to embrace--whether it's the desire to improve your communication skills to create better team collaboration, exercise every day to keep your mind and body sharp, or cut down on office banter in an effort to save valuable time--you need to, in essence, follow certain guidelines to ensure success in creating a new habit.

There are many step-by-step methods available on how to create a new habit, but before you begin, make sure to follow these three strategies.

1. Do it early.

I have found that my energy has been higher or lower at different points in the day. At this point in my career, my highest energy has shifted to the beginning of the day. Rather than fighting it, I work with it. It turns out this is also when the brain is ripe to learn something new. One study says the morning is when levels of the stress hormone cortisol are highest, and cortisol plays a role in learning and memory, especially as is related to forming new habits.  

2. Make it small.

A habit that is too ambitious is too hard to maintain. Keep the large goal in mind, but practice smaller behaviors that are easy to do and set timeframes for accomplishing each, so you can achieve the longer-term goal.

For example, if your new habit is to make more monthly sales calls that close deals, focus on only making one new call a day and record it. It is tough to listen to a recording of yourself, but as you go back and listen, you will find where you missed an opportunity during the call that would have led to a better result. As you do this, you will gain more confidence, little by little, each day rather than biting off too much at once.

3. Take your time.

It takes time before a new habit sticks. Forget the "21 days to form a new habit" guideline. The actual timeframe can vary a lot.

One study had 96 people choose a new habit for 12 weeks and reported daily on whether practicing the habit made it feel more automatic. The habits ranged from drinking a bottle of water with lunch to running 15 minutes before dinner.

How long did it take for these new habits to take hold? The average length was 66 days, but it ranged from 18 days to 254 days depending on the person and the habit. So, don't expect fast results and make sure to devote enough time to your habit and don't give up too soon.

I have found that journaling my results each day, and observing what worked and what didn't work, helps me see my progress. There is no judgment; instead, you observe yourself, how you respond, and what you can change to create a better result.

When we run businesses, we often get so caught up in the numbers, that we lose sight of how we can continually improve ourselves, which in turn improves the bottom line. Creating new habits in business is necessary for continued growth and sets a great example for your team, too. Yet, to ensure success, you need to be vigilant and ensure you have the right structure in place to keep yourself accountable.

Published on: Nov 30, 2017