This past Saturday the Wall Street Journal ran an article called, "How Habits Hold Us," by Jonah Lehrer. It had some great data about habits, including this terrific William James quote:
"Ninety-nine hundredths of our activity is purely automatic…All of our life is nothing but a mass of habits."
The article goes on to describe how the product Fabreze became a best-seller by creating an advertising campaign that taught homekeepers a new habit, and associated that new habit with a smile and great smell. It then goes on to discuss some fascinating research about how certain genes seem to help us form habits.
At the same time, habits can be hard to break. Many managers, executives, and leaders have habits that serve them well. They also have habits that may have served a useful purpose in the past, but now are holding them back. Some of these habits include limiting perceptions, such as:
– I can't trust my people.
– I need perfection at all times.
– I need to get credit.
– I would rather be right or look good than get lasting results.
The top executive coaches have a process and methodology to uncover these habits and limiting beliefs, and work with clients to develop new ways of perceiving and behaving.
At the Center for Executive Coaching, we teach both behavioral and perceptual coaching methodologies to help our clients break free from behaviors and beliefs that no longer serve them. Sometimes it makes sense to stick to behaviors only, while other times we need to weave together both behavioral and perceptual coaching.
It takes a long time to make a new belief or behavior a habit. The cliche that it takes 21 days to break and form a new habit is not accurate. That's taken from addiction/recovery medicine, and is the usual time for a rehab program to create an opening and get the patient clean. After that time, the addict has to work every day, often heroically, to put new behaviors and thoughts to work.
The same is true for executives, managers, and leaders in their work. New habits take a long time to form. The coach helps by creating a structure — what we call "nowhere-to-hide-coaching" — that supports the client in making change and getting back on track after setbacks.
This type of coaching is only a piece of what we teach. We also go into the top challenges that leaders face, and how to address them. We do this by providing coaching frameworks and tools that you and your clients can apply as soon as you recognize the situation.
Even here, the foundation of solid coaching is the ability to identify, and shift, limiting beliefs and behaviors.