Andrew McCulloch is an adviser, investor and Non-Executive Director, based in London. 

Entrepreneurial Spirit was created as a creative outlet to share stories and lessons learnt from over a decade in investments and working with entrepreneurs. 

How to avoid bad habits

How to avoid bad habits

Habits are often talked about as being negative, but of course there are good and bad habits that can be found in any business or in individuals. Good habits such as regular exercise should be encouraged, but really it is bad habits that hold us back.

Do you have a habit that you know is a problem -  but try as you might, you keep going back to the same old thing?

People and businesses often struggle to change, particularly the older and bigger they become. Yet young people and young companies can take on new ideas and ways of operating that seems impossible to others.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
— Aristotle

To give you an example, I REALLY like coffee.... and about 5 years ago I was addicted. I was working long hours at a large bank and rushing around with meetings and drinking lots of coffee. If I had 3 meetings, I'd have 3 coffees, 5 meetings? 5 coffees, and so on..

The classic "let's meet for coffee" invitation had already planted the idea in my head. But I was also having a coffee first thing in the morning, mid-morning and in the afternoon, perhaps also coffee after dinner. This culminated in a vicious cycle of feeling tired because I couldn't sleep, drinking coffee to keep me going, which in turn meant I couldn't sleep.

I managed to break this habit by doing a few things, which are outlined below. 

Identifying the habit cycle

So what can we do to break habits and put in place new ones? I followed the process below and have added my own answers from my own experience to help:

  1. Understand what the habit is
    • Where are you when it happens? - During working hours
    • Does it occur at a certain time of day? - The main points were on arriving at work, mid-afternoon and when meeting people (business meeting, or just social)
    • How are you feeling? - Tired
    • Who's around? - When I was around other people
    • What were you doing just before? - Sedentary, probably working at my desk
  2. Try changing one of the elements to break the cycle and see how this makes you feel - I feel tired and therefore when I am around people I need caffeine to keep my energy levels up
  3. Pinpoint the trigger for starting the routine and the reward
    • Trigger - Feeling tired
    • Routine - Get coffee when meeting / socialising with others
    • Reward - Having more energy from caffeine
  4. Create tactics for changing your routine when the trigger occurs
    • I stopped suggesting coffee as a metaphor for a meeting and stopped choosing coffee when offered a drink
    • I chose water instead, which meant I reduced my caffeine intake
    • My reward was that after the first two days, I started to feel less tired
    • I was able to sleep better at night
    • I was less tired in the morning

Whatever your habit is, there is no magic formula, as everyone is different. It is therefore important to use a framework which can help. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is an excellent book on this subject and I highly recommend reading it.

Businesses can have bad habits too, habits which hold them back. Normally the processes and structures big businesses put in place encourage certain habits and this in turn creates problems. Some of the largest businesses in the world are incredibly inefficient and struggle to change - they are stuck in a rut and their management discourages its employees from trying something new and being empowered to be able to improve the way they do things. 

This is why they need to acquire smaller companies to create growth for shareholders, however, acquisitions are costly, time consuming to execute and also come laden with other risk.

If business leaders want to create value, they have to encourage staff at all levels to question processes and structures, if there is a better way of doing things, particularly when it comes to a benefit to the customer.

When that happens, only good things can follow.

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