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3 Ways to Build Good Work Habits That Actually Stick

It doesn’t have to be a pain

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BY Marishka M. Cabrera - 23 Feb 2018

3 Ways to Build Good Work Habits That Actually Stick

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Our work habits, such as drafting a plan before starting every new project or aiming to submit reports one day before the deadline, contribute to productivity and overall job satisfaction. And when you know that your tasks are done well and on time, you lessen the stress that you have to deal with on a daily basis.

But you must first begin with building the right habits.

For Gretchen Rubin, author of “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives,” knowing what motivates you can help you form successful habits.

“I realized that all of us differ dramatically in our attitude towards habits, and our aptitude for forming them,” Rubin writes in her 2015 article in Harvard Business Review.

To make good habits stick, here are three ways:

1. Know your tendencies

In her research on habit, Rubin observed that most people fall into one of four distinct groups: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Upholders are self-directed and have little trouble meeting commitments and keeping resolutions, but may struggle when expectations aren’t clear. Questioners will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified and resist doing anything that lacks sound purpose. Obligers excel at meeting external demands, but it’s difficult for them to self-motivate. Rebels resist all expectations — internal or external — and work toward their own goals.

Knowing one’s tendencies can help in counterbalancing its negative aspects. For instance, an Upholder may resist his or her inclination to automatically meet an expectation and instead stop and question the reasonableness of the expectation in the first place. Or a Questioner may have to be more self-aware if his or her appetite for information is already causing analysis paralysis.

“The happiest and most successful people are those who have figured out ways to exploit their tendency to their benefit and, just as important, ways to offset its limitations,” Rubin writes.

2. Stack habits

One of the quickest ways to build a new habit is to stack it on top of a current habit, according to author James Clear who writes about habits and human performance.

In his blog, Clear writes, “[Y]our brain builds a strong network of neurons to support your current behaviors. The more you do something, the stronger and more efficient the connection becomes.”

Clear says you can take advantage of the strong connections to build new habits.

“Because the current habit is strongly wired into your brain already, you can add a new habit into this fast and efficient network of neurons more quickly than if you tried to build a new path from scratch,” Clear suggests.

So the next time you get your afternoon snack or coffee, stack on the habit of going for a quick walk. This will help clear your mind in time for the last push before the workday ends.

3. Focus on the reward

The habit won’t stick if you constantly beat yourself up over not meeting your goals. Remember that building a better habit should not feel like a burden. In fact, rewarding yourself every time you’re able to complete the habit makes the change more effective.

As New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg posits in his book, “The Power of Habit,” the key to achieving success is understanding how habits work. His approach hinges on a three-part cycle: the cue (what triggers the habit), the routine, and the reward.

By understanding what kind of rewards you crave — whether it’s socializing with colleagues or getting extra time for yourself after work — you’ll be able to see which habits can bring about these rewards.

“We know that a habit cannot be eradicated — it must, instead, be replaced. And we know that habits are most malleable when the Golden Rule of habit change is applied: If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted,” Duhigg writes.

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