I hope your summer is off to a great start. Our summer started with a project in South Africa. We traveled to Johannesburg to work with a team of software developers. Our work focused around how to better manage the human side of management and leadership, as they continue with high growth and new project launches. As we taught them how to scale their leadership capabilities, they taught us how to experience life in a way that I truly admired: work hard and be strong, enjoy relationships and time with your family and friends, and admire and enjoy the beauty surrounding you.
South Africa is a magical place, a modern day paradise, and the most beautiful country I have ever experienced. There were times I felt that I was on the movie set of Out of Africa, minus Robert Redford, unfortunately. It was difficult to process in my brain that somewhere in the world, as I am sitting in my office in the city, there are lions laying in the sun resting after a big meal, and elephants peacefully wandering about eating tree roots and leaves, without a care in the world. The South African people changed me. I now want to slow down and be more present in my day, to recognize the beauty around me, and to enjoy my life that is happening right now. Oh, and continue to work hard + be strong.
As I traveled to Africa, I read the June 2014 issue of Scientific American on the airplane. The cover article was about how researches have discovered how habits are formed, and how they are an automated brain function. I have always been by why humans do things that don’t help us, yet we still do them. This article explained that at first, when we do something, in the beginning it requires effort, so our brain fires and works hard to learn the behavior. As we master it, or repeat the behavior, at some point in order to create efficiencies the brain automates the function, and it then operates out of a different location in the brain, and operates automatically. Once it moves over to this “automation engine” it is considered a habit. The brain does not know the difference between forming a good and bad habit, yet it unfortunately does know the difference between French fries and carrot sticks. As the habit becomes automated, we operate almost unconsciously around this behavior. In many cases, we don’t even remember how we originally formed the behavior because it was formed so long ago.
To illustrate what I mean, answer these questions:
- When you put on your shoes, do you put on your right shoe or left shoe first?
- When you wake up in the morning, do you hit the snooze button or jump out of bed?
- Do you shave in the shower, or in front of the bathroom mirror?
- Do you remember your drive to work this morning?
- How do you organize your day in the office? Do you sit down and start with email, or do you walk over and check in with your team first?
The realization that I thought I was controlling my everyday behavior, when in reality, I am operating off a certain percentage of automation, was enlightening to me. It caused me to stop and notice how I was doing things, and why I was doing them a certain way, and if it is really the best for me today. It made me wonder if I developed a habit in a past decade that is outdated for my current life. As we evolve, are we evolving our habits to stay current? Or to be most effective today?
In the past, it was really important for me to work very hard because I was working to establish a positive and secure life for myself. I was also trying to grow a new company and gain clients and street cred. Today, I am still working as hard, but do I really have to? Africa caused me to reflect on this question and to consider how I can evaluate my day to include some breaks or fun interactions with friends. In other words, the habit I am working on changing is my propensity to work all of the time, to rush through my day, rush through life. I want to replace this outdated habit with the habit of taking more time to relax and enjoy my family and friends, and to experience the beauty all around me.
In order to change a habit, we must replace it with a new habit. So if I want to stop hitting my snooze button on my alarm and use that time to workout, I should put the alarm across the room, and place my running shoes on my nightstand so my hand hits them instead. After a while, just as I have so successfully established the habit of hitting snooze, I will wake up, put on my clothes, lace up my shoes, and head out for a run, before ever thinking about it. In other words, this will become automatic.
As we work through the second half of this year, my question is, will you join me in evaluating your current habits. Will you look for opportunities to replace habits that are outdated, inefficient, or not helpful with others which are more beneficial? If you are today exactly where you want to be in every aspect of your life, I guess this is not necessary. If not, I suggest selecting the big one. Select the big habit that if you change it will be a home run, and will change other aspects of your life. Researchers call these “anchor habits” because once people change this one anchor habit, other areas of their lives improve in succession. I think they are anchor habits because they keep us anchored down in life.
I don’t want to be anchored down in life. I want to be free like the 14 giraffes we saw running alongside our car as we left Kruger National Park.
All the best,