Do you understand how to thrive in the new world of work?
Can you succeed in a post-Covid society which looks set to bring many changes and challenges?
In this short podcast, Tougher Minds Founder Dr. Jon Finn explains how we can use insights from behavioural science to begin building new helpful habits so we can be healthy, happy and at our best more often.
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Become a Habit Mechanic
Hi, this is Dr. Jon Finn. Welcome to another episode of the Tougher Minds podcast.
I’m out walking again. And we’ve been in a lot of work with our clients over the last month or so, really thinking about how do we help our people – or their people – to get back to their best in whatever the new world of work looks like, some people are going to be moving to more hybrid models of work, some people are really keen to get everyone back into the office.
But whatever people are doing, there will be challenges because ultimately, people have developed a lot of new habits in this lockdown period. And I think what’s emerging is that a lot of the habits people have developed are not helpful, they’re bad habits, that make being healthy, happy, and at our best more difficult.
So we need to recognise that in order to manage it and overcome it. And what we also need to recognise is that these habits are not going to necessarily be very easy to change. And in order to make the change efficiently, and effectively, we can use scientific insights.
Let’s just have a recap on the importance of habits for human beings. So we’ve been around as humans as Homo Sapiens for about 300,000 years, and from what well, for the vast majority of our time, on planet earth until pretty recently, energy has been a very scarce resource. There hasn’t always been a supermarket on the corner. So we’ve become really good at conserving energy. And that’s why our brain turns everything into a habit. So what neuroscience has shown is that most of what we’re doing is a habit. It’s automatic, or semi automatic behaviour, or what we call mindless behaviour. So we’re not really thinking about what we do, it is just ticking away in the background if you like, we have a tiny bit of consciousness.
And we can use our consciousness to be more self aware of what we call intelligent self watching. And we can use that consciousness in the form of Willamina power, or Willpower – depending what you want to call it – to help us to start building new habits. And then in order to secure new habits, we need to use behavioural science. But habits are absolutely central to everything that we’re doing. So some of the habits we have are quite counterintuitive in the sense of, we don’t often think of things like worrying as being a habit or beating ourselves up as being a habit. And they are habits. They’re just as habitual as scratching your face or something like something that you might label is a more obvious bad habit. Saying, “like” a lot when you speak whatever is, eating too many chocolate biscuits, these psychological invisible thoughts that we have, that are sometimes negative, like beating ourselves up and worrying about their habits and their work like any other habit.
And the way that all habits work is the more you practice something, the better you get, because our brain is made up of about 100 billion neurons. And those neurons are like plasticine. We can change our neurons by practising….. by practising how we think by practising what we do. And that process is called neuroplasticity, which just means that the neurons in our brain, the 100 billion or so of them are like plastic or plasticine, they change. For many people, not everyone, but for many people, what’s been happening over this lockdown period is they’ve been practising lots of unhelpful habits…..from worrying too much ,from getting stressed too much, from beating themselves up too much. And they’ve been growing new wires in their brand……new neurological connections in their brain to strengthen those habits, essentially, to make them easier to do. And in order to unravel those habits, we’re going to have to practice something differently. And this is the sort of the thing we’ve been speaking to our clients about in the last month or so, as people start to think about making that transition back into what’s been termed the new normal, which will look a little bit different for everybody.
So when we think about building new habits, and I think there’s a ‘Zeitgeist’ around about habits at the moment. There are a couple of journalists who have written very popular books about how to build new habits. But I’m always sceptical of those books. Because these guys are journalists, they’re great writers. But they haven’t studied these areas, like scientists, like myself and people in my organisation have. We’ve dedicated our lives to this, they’ve maybe spent a couple of years thinking about these areas and writing a book that is easy to read.
And it does make a little bit of positive impact. But ultimately, it isn’t the encyclopaedia, it isn’t the absolute how to guide because it doesn’t include all of the things that are important from a behavioural science perspective, because, you know, these books don’t have the map, ultimately, the guide to the absolute guide to building your habits.
So let me tell you what that is. We know that, although Willpower is the spark of making a positive change, it allows us to put the brakes on, HUE, the horribly unhelpful emotion part of our brain. But that’s not enough, that’s not going to build you a new habit, it can stop you from doing the unhelpful thing, like beating yourself up, and it can start you moving in the right direction.
But Willpower is a limited resource. So what we’re actually looking to do, is use behavioural science, to help us develop something called implicit emotional regulation. This means that we become less reliant on Willpower, and the helpful habits that we want become, as we’re saying habits, become automatic. And that’s driven by implicit emotional regulation. So our habitual form of regulating our emotions, which is a seat of resisting temptation; it’s the seat of doing more things, which are helpful for our health, our happiness and our performance. And to help us behavioural science is a hugely complex field.
It’s often talked about in economics, we have different experts around the world who spent their entire life studying different elements of behavioural science. And therefore that makes it really complex to be able to get all those ideas together, and turn them into a useful application method that we can actually use in our daily lives. Because they’re developed by scientists, they use lots of difficult words and very nice words, but it’s often hard to penetrate exactly what they’re mean. Therefore it’s really difficult to interpret, how to apply what they’re talking about in your life. And that’s our job ultimately. So we spent a long time taking all this using this research, and testing and refining it, and making it work for real people in their day to day lives. And the model we’ve created or the framework we’ve created – to help people to build new habits using the best behavioural science we can understand – is the Nine Action factors model. And let me talk you through the model.
So we’ve got the mindset factor, we’ve got the habit factor, which is about keeping the changes we want to make small, or if we’re going to make change recognising, it’s going to be baby steps, tiny little steps. We’ve got the personal motivation factor, we’ve got the personal knowledge and skills factor. We’ve got the community knowledge and skills factor. We’ve got the social influence factor. And we’ve got, we’ve got the external, digital and physical triggers factor. We’ve got the rewards and penalties factor. And we’ve got the brain state factor.
And there’s a different set of research behind each of those areas. That shows that they’re really important in us being able to build new habits and change our behaviour. But not any one of those Nine Factors explains everything, which is why we need to use them in combination. And to help people to start building new habits. Ultimately, we create what we call change aids which implicitly built into those changes are the Nine Action factors.
And they’re kind of invisible…. it means that when you fill out when you use these changes, they actually make you activate lots of the Nine Action factors. And the simplest one we’ve created is called the daily TEA plan. T stands for tiny, empowering action.
And this is something that we get people to do every single day. And you do it in two minutes. It’s really easy. You start by reflecting on how well you did your best to be your best yesterday and achieve your goals. So giving yourself a score out of 10. 10 would mean you’re perfect. One would mean you’re a failure to give yourself a score, but how well did you do your best, then you learn you select a tiny empowering action. So that could be something like, I’m not going to check the news today, I’m going to go for a five minute walk at lunchtime, I’m going to be a piece of fruit for breakfast, right? Positive reflection, at the end of the day, I’m going to go for a walk after my evening meal to just one tiny thing that you’re going to do, it’s going to make your life a little bit easier that day. And make it easier to score higher on the best doing scale. And then finally say Why? Why do you want to do that? While I might not be checking the news today, because that’s going to make it easier for me to focus and be productive.
And I go for a walk at lunchtime in order to help me to have a more….to reduce some stress and have a more productive afternoon. I might write positive reflection at the end of the day, what we call three to one reflection, or Wabba, because that’s going to help me to switch off and have a more restful evening and get to sleep more, more easily.
So that’s it and there’s lots of very sophisticated science behind it. We do it in three simple steps. You essentially do some intelligent self-watching by giving yourself a score out of 10 for how well you did your best to be your best. You then select at least one tiny empowering action that’s going to make it easier for you to be your best today. And then you say Why? Why do I want to do this? And by doing that, you’re firing up some of those mind action factors that make it easier to build new habits.
So to make this really easy for you to do, we’ve built the daily TEA plan into the Me Power resilience planner, which is absolutely free. Just go to our website, you can download it and you can get your colleagues to download it as well. And if you start to do this together, you’re then going to bring in some more of the Nine Action factors like social influence, for example. Some other some other powerful reward and penalty type type factors.
So if you want to start building new habits, if you want to start helping your people to build new habits,it’s really simple. Just go to download the free Me Power resilience planner, and start creating those daily TEA plans. I’m going to tell lots more about building new habits in further podcasts. But until then, I hope you enjoy the rest of the day.