If you want to make big changes, start small.
And then, keep building on your successes.
That’s the advice of Patricia Sullivan, a training and leadership coach, who shared her expertise with members of the North Tampa Chamber of Commerce during a Lunch and Learn Zoom session.
“If we take on big chunks, or time-consuming issues — then a lot of times they fall down to lower priority,” Sullivan said. “Whereas, if we can just really start with small habits for us, I believe they lead to different changes. They lead to positive psychology.
“When we’re talking about micro-habits, we’re talking about most of our habits being subconscious and really happening without much consideration at all.
“For many of us, we created new habits during COVID.
“Our world changed and we needed to change with it.
Even beyond the global pandemic, “we create habits any time there’s a change,” she said.
Those new habits occur when we move, when we get a new job, when the kids go off to school and when we bring someone new into our world, whether it’s a new friend or significant other or grandbaby, she said.
“New habits form all of the time because of change. And, oftentimes, change is what requires us to undo habits that then have become poor habits.
“I don’t know about you, but studies are showing that we’re either exercising a lot more with the pandemic, or we’re staying home and we’re doing less.
“Studies are showing there’s a lot more alcohol being sold,” she said.
“So, you might be somebody who used to enjoy a glass of wine every couple of days. You might be drinking a half-a-bottle now, because of the COVID thing,” she said.
And, now that things are opening up, it might be a time to go back to a healthier habit.
“So, we create habits when there’s change and often in response to change,” Sullivan said.
Micro-habits are done in short bursts
“When you recognize there are some things you want to change — instead of saying ‘I’m going to change my diet.’ You could be saying, ‘I’m going to eat a vegetable three times a day.’
“Eating a vegetable at breakfast or lunch or dinner is very different than saying, ‘My whole diet needs to be different for my physical, mental, long-term health.’
“And, micro-habits are empowering because of positive psychology.
“When you do something in micro, you have a little success. And, when you have a little success, you’re more confident taking on a bigger success,” she said.
Micro-habits can move you toward where you want to be.
“It breaks the cycle of inertia,” Sullivan said.
She offered an example of one micro-habit she’s established.
She began with the idea of doing five pushups — the kind that are done while kneeling — a couple of times day, on the days when she works at home.
Over time, she’s built up the habit. She now does 10 pushups, while kneeling, seven times a day.
“I’m going to Hawaii in December,” Sullivan said.
“Defined arms by December is the longer-term goal, but five pushups to start, a couple of times a day, didn’t seem so bad.
“Micro-habits really are a catalyst for big change,” Sullivan said.
She noted the same concepts apply in organizational change.
Organizations that have a change initiative are successful just 20% of the time, she said.
That’s because of resistance to change.
Reactions to change can include flight — employees decide to get a new job; freeze — employees decide to sabotage the effort; or, fight — employees stay and stir up conflict.
“With all of that being said, fight is probably the best in organizational change, because they’re (employees) so passionate. They’re still telling you, ‘I’m going to have conflict with this. You need to get me through it,’” she said.
In such cases, “there’s an opportunity to bring them on board.”
Sullivan offered Zoom session listeners some ideas for micro-habits that might work for them.
“How about, in leadership, one positive feedback a week for somebody that works for you?”
In other words, make an effort to catch somebody performing well and give a positive shout-out. The acknowledgment can be done in an email, or handshake, or thank you note, or website posting — or some other way to let the person know you noticed.
“If you can find four positives every week, or every month, with your group of people, you’re doing some good things for organizational behavior,” she said.
Micro-habits can help change mindsets, too.
You can make a habit of being grateful, Sullivan said.
At the beginning or end of each day, list three specific things you appreciate. Change that list daily.
Other possible micro-habits include:
- Sitting in nature 5 minutes a day
- Creating a grocery list before shopping — to help you load your cart with things you really want to buy, instead of impulse buying
- Making your bed every day
- Listening to a podcast once a week
- Parking at a spot furthest from where you are shopping, to help boost your exercise
- Keeping a gratitude journal
Daily intentions can help you change habits
A daily intention could be to drink more water, in the pursuit of better health. Or reaching out to your loved ones through a text, email or phone call. Or making a commitment to do an act of service to help someone else.
Developing a micro-habit to find calm can help create physical, mental and emotional balance, she said.
She recommends using breathing exercises to change chaos to calm.
“Here is something we know is true: You can’t think your way out of stress,” Sullivan said. “You can contemplate. You can reflect on what you learned, based on stress. And, you can think and then take action, but the thinking is not going to allow stress to go away. You acting, will.
“And, when I say, taking action — I’m talking about taking planned action — not reacting in a way that you upset everybody else in the room,” she said.
Sullivan also reminded Zoom listeners to pay attention to the words they use.
“If you’re using all-or-nothing language, it does not really support reality. So, one, you’re probably not even viewed as being objective at that point of time, because rarely is it all or nothing, always or never,” Sullivan said.
So, instead of making stuff up or being emotional, seek to be objective, she said.
It’s also important to listen to learn and understand, rather than listening to prove yourself right or the other person wrong.
“If we can take control of our own habits, our own thoughts — recognizing that our thoughts actually become words, and our words become actions — then, when we’re taking care of ourselves, we’re much better to take care of the people who are counting on us, at home and in the workplace,” Sullivan said.
Revised July 21, 2021