I know, I know. I promised I’d reveal the questions that will help you up your coaching game. And I will (patience is a virtue, as the cliché goes). But before I do, I want to tell you a little bit about creating new habits. (Bonus points if you remember that the name of the course is The Coaching Habit.)

The change of behaviour at the heart of what this course is about is this: a little more asking people questions and a little less telling people what to do.

But simple doesn’t mean easy, and theory’s no good if you don’t know how to put it into practice.

So before we look at what to change, we need to understand how to change.

A Duke University study says that at least 45 percent of our waking behaviour is habitual. Although we’d like to think we’re in charge, it turns out that we’re not so much controlling how we act with our conscious mind as we are being driven by our subconscious or unconscious mind. It’s amazing; also, it’s a little disturbing.

Happily, there has been an increase of grounded findings, based on neuroscience and behavioural economics, that have helped clear a path over the last few years. To build an effective new habit, you need five essential components: a reason, a trigger, a micro-habit, effective practice, and a plan.

1. Make a Vow

Why would you bother doing something as difficult as changing the way you work?

You need to get clear on the payoff for changing something as familiar and efficient (not the same, of course, as effective) as an old behaviour. Getting clear doesn’t mean imagining success, funnily enough. Research shows that if you spend too much time imagining the outcome, you’re less motivated to actually do the work to get there.

Leo Babauta frames a helpful way of connecting to the big picture in his book Zen Habits: Mastering the Art of Change. He talks about making a vow that’s connected to serving others. Leo gave up smoking as a commitment to his wife and newborn daughter. So think less about what your habit can do for you, and more about how this new habit will help a person or people you care about.

2. Figure Your Trigger

One key insight from reading Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, is this: if you don’t know what triggers the old behaviour, you’ll never change it because you’ll already be doing it before you know it.

The more specific you can be when defining your trigger moment, the more useful a piece of data it is. As an example, “At the team meeting” becomes more usable when it’s “When I’m asked to check in at the team meeting” and becomes even more usable when it’s “When Alice asks me for feedback on her idea in the team meeting.”

With that degree of specificity, you have the starting point for building a strong new habit.

3. Be Short & Specific

If you define your new habit in an abstract and slightly vague way, you won’t get traction. If it takes too long to do, your brain will find a way to hack your good intentions. B.J. Fogg’s work at tinyhabits.com suggests that you should define your new habit as a micro-habit that needs to take less than sixty seconds to complete. It’s about getting really clear on the first step or two that might lead to the bigger habit.

4. Practice Deeply

For his book The Talent Code, Dan Coyle researched why certain parts of the world were talent “hot spots” for certain skills. Brazil: soccer. Moscow: women’s tennis. New York: music. One key factor in each hot spot was knowing how to practice well—Coyle calls it “Deep Practice.”

The three components of Deep Practice are:

- Practicing small chunks of the bigger action (for instance, rather than practice the whole tennis serve, you practice just tossing the ball up).
- Repetition, repetition, repetition. Do it fast, do it slow, do it differently. But keep repeating the action.
- Being mindful and noticing when it goes well. When it does, celebrate success.

5. Plan How to Get Back on Track

When you stumble—and everyone stumbles—it’s easy to give up. “I may as well eat the rest of the cake, seeing as I’ve now had a slice.”

In his book Making Habits, Breaking Habits, Jeremy Dean helps us face the reality that we will not achieve perfection in our quest to build the habit. We will miss a moment, miss a day. That’s a given. What you need to know is what to do when that happens. Resilient systems build in fail-safes so that when something breaks down, the next step to recover is obvious.

Make your habit a resilient system.

Your turn:

Think about your habits now. What’s one that serves you well? What’s one that you’d like to change? What’s a new habit that you’d like to build right now?

Bonus resource:

If you want to dive deeper into the latest findings about building better habits, download a short ebook, The 71⁄2 Coaching Gurus, at boxofcrayons.biz/coaching-gurus. I get into some real detail about the latest research from authors such as Charles Duhigg, Gretchen Rubin, Dan Coyle, Leo Babauta, Jeremy Dean and a mysterious “half a guru.”

Coming up in the next Bit…
The simple three-part formula that can turn good intentions into a regular habit.