Build better habits – effortlessly!

Your computer has ‘default’ settings – actions it takes automatically, without instruction. And you can change those default settings to suit your personal tastes. Set them – and forget them.

We have default settings, too. They’re called habits. They’re actions we take without conscious instruction. Some of them help us. Some of them harm us.

If you want to build helpful habits effortlessly, here’s how.

Let’s use the good old standby of losing weight as an example. (Do you know that 63.4% of Australians are overweight?) There are countless actions you could take to build habits that would help you lose weight effortlessly. For instance, you could walk for 12 minutes every day. That would lose you 5 kilos over 12 months. The first few days might be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier still. Build it into your routine by walking for 12 minutes before lunch, whatever the weather, and it won’t take long to build a habit. That 12-minute lunchtime walk becomes nearly as automatic as breathing.

Repetition builds habits. You could cut back your portions by 20% at every meal and not even notice it. That would lose you 12 kilos over 12 months. The first few days might be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier. By the end of the month, you’ve got a habit.

Rules can build habits, too.chocoholics could eat chocolate only on odd-numbered days. That would lose them about 9 kilos a year. The first few days may be hard; the next few easier, then easier and easier. Before you know it, you’ve got a habit.

Little actions add up and they all become effortless, once they’re a habit. Those three actions could lose you 26 kilos in 12 months – that’s 4 dress sizes from 3 easy actions.

Ah, I hear you say. That’s all very well, but one needs willpower.

You know what? Willpower is like a muscle and like a muscle, you can strengthen it with regular exercise. Ask Mark Muraven from the University at Albany in New York. His research shows that regularly working your willpower muscle pays off. Start with simple actions that need only a little self-control, little things that aren’t a big deal.

Sweet tooth? Give up sweets for a month, even if you don’t want to lose weight. Hate exercise? Do 5 or 6 push-ups first thing in the forming, even if you don’t want puffy pects. Do you slouch? Make a point of sitting up straight every time you’re in a car, on a train or in a bus, at the computer, or eating a meal, even if you don’t want to improve your posture or look 5 kilos slimmer.

As you practice self-control, you strengthen your willpower muscles. Then, when push comes to shove, you have the willpower you need to do that difficult or stressful task that requires a lot of self-control.

I’m off for a 12-minute walk.

Time to get motivated

 Ok, it’s March and time to get serious about getting back into the routine. But it’s still hot and you’re still in holiday mode, right? Motivation can be pretty elusive in the aftermath of Christmas, New Year, Australia Day, the Tour Down under, the Melbourne Cup, Lunar New Year – summer is one endless festival. And it’s even worse here in South Australia, where Mad March is about to commence, with Writer’s Week, The Festival, The Fringe, the Clipsal 500 … How anyone gets anything done is anyone’s guess.
But if you really need to get something done, you’re going to want to dredge up a bit of motivation from somewhere or other. Here are some tricks to try:
Fake it till you make it. You can’t be motivated unless you look and act motivated. Look and act motivated and the motivation will follow.
Set a schedule and stick to it. That prevents indecision and procrastination.
Know your ‘why?’. When you have a good reason to do what you need to do, you find inspiration and motivation.
See and feel the result when you’ve done what you need to do. More inspiration and motivation.
Decide what your first three steps need to be and make a start. After you’ve taken that first step, it gets easier.
Say ‘I want to’, not ‘I have to’. Motivation come from inside – your inside. No one else can motivate you. They can maybe force you with a carrot or a stick, but that isn’t motivation. (Although you could bribe yourself with your own carrot, some little treat as a reward for completing whatever it is you need to complete. That might help you find your ‘want to’ and with it, your own motivation.
Enough of this summer festival nonsense. Get on with it!

The silent language

Well, hopefully last week, you got straight into perfecting your work space. And now you’re sitting in it, and you know what? You’re sending a clear message that you’ve got your act together – you’re in control and you’re reliable. So that’s good.
You know what they say – actions speak louder than words. Every single thing you do (and don’t do) communicates. You positively brim with unspoken messages, mostly unintentional and unconscious.
Those message reflect your innermost self, your skills and your confidence. They highlight or hide your talents and accomplishments and tell others how much appreciation and respect you give yourself and expect others to give you.
That, in turn, influences your friendships, promotions, pay rises and career paths. It influences how much support and help you receive from others, how much help and support others seek from you and whether they accept your ideas or ignore them.
So here’s a quick tour of how to radiate confidence, trustworthiness and professionalism. Pick one or two to work on until they’ve become a firm habit. Then pick another, then another and before you know it – the world is your oyster. Whatever that means.
First of all, pay attention to the way you sit and stand. Does it tell people you’re interested in them or involved in what you’re doing? Does your upright posture signal you’re calm, composed, confident and competent, or do you constantly jiggle, shuffle or pace to and fro, signalling that you’re nervous, ill at ease and discombobulated? Or maybe your body drips, oozes and sprawls, so you look like you don’t have the energy or attitude to even sit up, walk or stand, never mind think anything sensible?
Do you detract from your image by sucking on a pen, fiddling with a paper clip, your hair or your tie? Do you weaken your influence by constantly clearing your throat or tapping your foot? Or are you relaxed and calm and your movements open, which says ‘I’m in control; you can trust me’?
How about your voice? When more than 30 per cent of your sentences end as if you’re asking a question rather than making a statement, you sound unsure of yourself and people discount what you’re saying and switch off. You sound more credible and confidant when you lower your voice and you sound more thoughtful and serious when you slow down a bit – but not so slow people can fall asleep between your words. You can speed up to show your energy and enthusiasm, but no so fast people can’t understand your words and follow what you’re saying.
So there you have it. A few quick ways to convey less of what you don’t want and more of what you do want so that people are more apt to like you, believe you and trust you.

The perfect work space

Christmas is over. New Year is over. Lunar New Year is over. I bet you’re back at work and trying to get into the rhythm once again.
Often at this time of year, there’s actually not all that much going on. And sometimes you just want to procrastinate a bit before getting on with the real work. Whichever it is, I have answer. It won’t take long and it will be a good job well done that will save you a lot of time, over and over, for the rest of the year.
Here it is: Spend a few minutes adjusting your work space so it’s perfect. Everything flows more easily and more quickly when you’re working in an orderly way.
I have a really good filing system that makes it easy to find what I need. Or easy-ish. I plan to re-vamp it when I’ve finished the 7th edition of Management so it’s even easier to file things away and find them again. My system is by topic and subtopic, but different systems suit different people; some file by date, others by customer, for instance. A good, workable filing system is a must have.
 Then you make it work for you by keeping your most often-used files close to hand – unless you’re struggling to reach your 10,000 daily steps, in which case, you can put your most-used files far, far away, but that becomes a bit of a pain. I know because I tried it!
My desk drawers are really tidy, too. I know which one to open and where to put my hand to grab whatever it is I want. I don’t even have to look. When I’ve used it, it goes straight back, so I know where to find it next time I need it. Voila! A clear work area, which relaxes the brain so it can get to work.
Now set up your space. Face at right angles to walkways or the door. This makes it harder for passers-by to catch your eye and stop for a chat and it means people can’t see your computer screen and what you’re working on. The light should come over your left shoulder if you’re right-handed and right shoulder if you’re left-handed so you don’t work in your shadow. Put reference books, manuals, stationery etc. where you can reach them easily.
Next, spend some time setting up your desk chair so it’s the right height. Professor Google can tell you how and it doesn’t take much time at all.
The key is to have minimal pressure on the backs of your knees and lower thighs and to support your back. You want the chair seat to be at a height that puts your knees at right angles, your thighs horizontal and your lower legs vertical when your feet are on the floor. And of course, no dangling feet or crossed legs. You want your computer screen to be at a height that you can look directly at it so your back and shoulders don’t get stiff. Position your keyboard so you bend your elbows at right angles and your forearms are parallel to the floor.
Your back will thank you and you’ll find you work a lot more easily, too, because when you’re sitting properly, you breathe properly and that’s good for your brain, too.
Go ahead – set up your perfect work space it now!

How to prevent people from lying to you

People lie. Some people tell the odd white lie; some lie so they don’t have to tell a difficult truth (to themselves or someone else); some people lie habitually.

Most people don’t become habitual liars because telling a lie, at least for personal gain, causes the amygdala, which lies (no pun intended) deep in the brain, makes them feel bad about the lie. But the more lies a person tells, the more the ‘feel-bad-about-the-lie’ response fades. As that response fades, it becomes easier, and easier, and easier, to lie. And the bigger the lies become.

Lying is a slippery slope. Habitual liars become habitual liars because they lie a lot.

You may know an habitual liar. It might someone you work with, someone you negotiate with, someone you ‘meet’ on the Internet, a neighbour or even a friend.

You probably can’t do much to stop a chronic liar lying to you. But you may be able to head off other people’s lies.

Here are two easy ways:

  • Tell the truth yourself. Since people tend to respond in kind, truth-telling encourages truth-telling.
  • Get to know people, because people are less likely to lie to someone they know, like and trust than they are to a stranger.

Here are three slightly more complicated, but also effective, ways to ward off lies:

  • When you make an assumptive statement or ask an assumptive question, put a negative, or pessimistic, spin on it. When the spin goes against the interests of the other person, they’ll disagree with it. When it’s the truth, they’re like to agree with it rather than tell an outright lie by contradicting it.The reason this works is that people tend to agree with assumptions and assumptive questions, which means they’ll agree with an incorrect assumption when it’s in their interests to do so. But when the assumption is incorrect and goes against their interests, people are willing to disagree with it and set the record straight.
  • Don’t let spin and articulate avoidance fool you. Inarticulate honesty is always preferable to articulate lies and confuscations.
  • When you as a question or make an assumptive statement, make sure the question is answered and the assumption isn’t artfully avoided.Bamboozling people with eloquence and avoiding answering questions are two other ways people skirt the truth. To make sure that doesn’t happen to you, remember your assumptive comments and questions and make sure they’re addressed. Write them down if you need to and don’t move on until you have your answer.

Encouraging the truth isn’t only in your own best interests. It also helps others by making the slippery slope of lying harder to slip down.

The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.