Habits: How to Sustain Them

Written by: David McClaskey

Want to stay better?

Now that you know what habits are (see my blog on Habits: A Key to Sustainable Change) and how to change them (see my blog on Habits: How to Change Them), let’s discuss some key ideas on how to sustain the beneficial habits you have started for a long period of time. A habit is sustained if every time a cue or trigger of the habit occurs, the desired behavior takes place that leads to the reward.

This list is a collection of ideas on how to sustain habits from different sources. Some ideas come from Charles Duhigg’s book: The Power Of Habit (whose key concepts I captured in my two earlier blogs on habits: Habits: A Key to Sustainable Change; and Habits: How to Change Them); while some ideas come from other books and articles, such as The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr; discussions with Thom Crosby, President and CEO of Pal’s Sudden Service and other thought leaders; discussions with Pal’s Business Excellence Institute clients who are changing their personal leadership habits to create more extraordinary organizations; and from personal experience. While this list is a useful collection from many sources, it is not meant to be a complete list. Hopefully, you will add to this list by responding to the blog with key ideas that have help you sustain habits.

Some Key Ideas to Sustain a Habit

  1. Be relentless and persistent. In the workplace, as well as in life in general, it usually takes between 21 to 60 days of continual practice to establish a habit. It can take even longer if the cue does not happen at least multiple times per week.
  2. Develop a craving for the reward. As Duhigg writes in his book The Power of Habit, a habit is not sustainable until you have a craving for the reward that occurs as soon as you experience a cue. As reference, a craving is a desire for the reward that you start to feel as soon as the cue occurs. Once you have a craving for the reward, when you hear the cue and don’t get the reward, it causes you to be irritable or at least unsettled.
  3. Be part of a group that helps support your new habit. Studies have shown that having a support group can significantly help you both obtain the initial behavior and sustain that behavior. A support group could be just one person.
  4. Get a mentor. Mentors can play a key role in helping you to establish and sustain a habit; you don’t have to do it alone.
  5. Make the habit part of your identity. Carry out the desired behavior each and every time the cue occurs. The more consistently you carry out the behavior, the more it will become part of your identity. Thom Crosby summarizes this hint as: “Behavior your way into a new way of believing.”
  6. Have a personal feedback and correction loop. Observe if you carried out the desired behavior each and every time the cue occurs. Correct each time you detect that the cue occurred but the desired behavior did not. Usually only you are there to observe every occurrence and you need to notice if indeed the behavior occurred or did not occur.
  7. Build in a process for systematic maintenance of the habit. Thom Crosby notes that if a habit is to be sustained, it requires some systematic maintenance on your part and others. Crosby has developed the following process for sustaining beneficial habits within Pal’s Sudden Service:
    1. plan how to maintain the habit
    2. establish and carry out a recalibration cycle (this will periodically assure you are fully carrying out the behaviors every time the cue occurs)
    3. standardize the habit
    4. be on the leaders’ consistent dialogue
    5. have some way to verify
    6. when critical, have a measure

Developing the skill of being able to establish, change, and sustain the beneficial habits is a key life skill that will help you proactively achieve success in both your work and life overall. Duhigg notes that almost half of all the things we do in the course of a day are the result of habits rather than deliberate decisions. Since what we are going to accomplish at work or in life is dependent on our daily choices that can lead to behaviors we do every day, habits can play a critical role in our success or lack thereof.

At Pal’s BEI, in our Achieving World-Class Results class, we teach how Pal’s Sudden Service has established the habits in each and every one of its employees that make Pal’s operationally excellent. Operational excellence is Pal’s Sudden Service’s key to 400% greater repeat business and being highly financial success for over 50 years.