Choices, Habits, and Impact

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, it is clearer today than ever before that we are all connected, that each person has a powerful impact on everyone around them, and that our power resides in our choices.

We are being bombarded daily with choices about social distance, masks, relatives, travel, work, childcare, shopping, eating, hand-washing—the list goes on.

The choices on everyone’s mind today are key to keeping us, and those around us, healthy. And the impact of these choices is broad and wide.

But in the weeks and months ahead when the daily bombardment subsides, our individual impact will remain high, but the key to our future success will shift from the choices we make to the habits we build.

Having spent a career focused on simple actions that enable people to maximize their impact, I believe strongly in the power of choices and habits. And while building good habits is also a choice, it’s not a simple one.

The truth is, creating new habits can be challenging, but a breakthrough book by researcher Wendy Wood titled Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick offers a great resource to those of us who want to get better at it.

Wendy starts by describing the challenge all humans face: our senses give us a never-ending set of stimuli to react to throughout each day, and we are faced with too many decisions. To make life manageable, we build habits. Research indicates we spend a shocking 43% of our day doing things without thinking about them!

Wendy offers a great toolkit of ideas on how to get rid of old bad habits and how to create better ones by understanding the three bases of habit formation:

  • Context – the external forces that either drive or restrain your actions. Woods points out that the easiest context to manipulate is proximity. Lesson: if you want to remember to wash your hands frequently, ensure there’s a large soap dispenser next to every faucet in your home.
  • Repetition – habits are formed when they can be repeated—often. Contrary to the popular idea that it takes 21 days to form a habit, research shows it actually takes 65 days on average of repeating a simple health behavior to become automatic. The good news is that you can miss a day or two and not go back to zero. Lesson: go easy on yourself if you fall short of your goal on any particular day because you are still on course!
  • Rewards – small “prizes” that immediately follow good behavior are important because they release dopamine, often called the “feel-good chemical,” that promotes habit-learning. Intrinsic rewards such as feeling pleased or satisfied are the most effective. Lesson: set yourself up for success by rewarding yourself regularly as you work towards any new goal.

Good Habits, Bad Habits also includes important lessons about timing, “habit-stacking,” and misunderstandings about willpower and self-control. The key takeaway is that you don’t need to be Superwoman or Superman to build great habits.

So what’s the message? It is clear that we are all connected, and that by making good choices and building good habits we can make our best and biggest impact, now and in the future.

Why not choose to build good habits NOW?

You may also be interested in the newly-released second edition of my book Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title. It offers simple tips and tools to help you understand, measure, increase, and spread your true power and impact—defined as clarity, energy, influence, and confidence. 100% of my book proceeds go to Easterseals to support the amazing impact they make for others.