Habits dominate our daily actions. Some say 75% of our actions are habits. We succeed where we have good habits. We struggle where we have bad habits. If you want to build good habits, you need to understand how to trigger action. The post We Win or ...


We Win or Lose with our Habits and more...

We Win or Lose with our Habits

Habits dominate our daily actions. Habits are actions we take without thinking. Some say 75% of our daily actions are habits.

Mostly a Good Thing

Where life is easy or we consistently succeed, we have good habits.

Where we struggle or fail, we have bad habits.

If you want to deliberately create habits, it helps to understand how specific situations or actions lead to and eventually trigger habits.

Habits are Automatic — No thinking required

The trigger wins nearly every timeHow do we take action automatically?

Automatic / habitual actions are directed by a part of our brain called the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia isn’t controlled consciously. Nor does it “think.”

Our basal ganglia is designed to recognize behavior we repeat in certain situations and hardwire that behavior to that situation. We don’t really use our basal ganglia. It  uses us.

Triggers → Habits → Success

If you want to deliberately create habits, one way or another, you’ll want to repeat certain behaviors in the situations where you want to execute those behaviors. It’s easier to do if you understand triggers.

The “trigger” is the thing our basal ganglia recognizes comes before we repeatedly take some action. Your brain connects the trigger and the action and builds a habit. A trigger can be:

  1. Location
  2. Time
  3. Emotional State
  4. Other People
  5. An immediately preceding action

In his TEDx talk, Forget big change, start with a tiny habitStanford professor BJ Fogg shares how he created the habit of doing 50-70 pushups every day by turning one action into a trigger for a new habit.

The trigger he chose was peeing.

Fogg’s plan was to do a couple of pushups after using the restroom. For months, Fogg deliberately, consciously did two pushups each time he peed. With each repetition of the trigger (pee) action (pushups), Fogg’s basal ganglia got more involved. Somewhere along the way, Fogg stopped thinking about pushups. He just did them. His basal ganglia took over the pushup project.

Keep a Firm Grip on your Habits

A couple of years ago, I heard some strength building genius say that an important key to being physically stronger is to increase your grip strength.

I wanted to be stronger. So I bought a Captains of Crush gripper, put it in my car, and figured I’d exercise while driving. My trigger would be driving.

While considering this post, I realized my plan had failed. My trigger (exercise while driving) was not working. I didn’t intend to do grip exercise the whole time I was driving, so whenever I drove and didn’t exercise, my trigger got weaker.

In my new experiment, I still have the gripper in the car, but the trigger is new. The trigger is turning. When I turn my car left, I do reps with my left hand. When I turn right, I use my right.

Powerful habits...powerful gripIs it working? As you can see from the photo (right), this guy is super buff thanks to his exercise habits.

OK, that’s not me. But I am doing the wrist exercises.

Your Experiment

  1. What result would you like to produce?
  2. What habit could help you produce it?
  3. What situation or action could you create as the trigger for your new habit?
  4. Are you willing to spend 45 days connecting that trigger to the habit you want?
    If not, consider what result are you committed to producing and go back to question #2.

It’s a new day. Go for it.

Jim's signature




Bonus: The chart below came from this site.

Natural Trigger Actions

Wake UpSit down to workPick up your kids
Get out of BedCheck emailPark the Car
Brush TeethSnackWalk in the door
ShowerEat LunchChange Clothes
Make CoffeeAttend MeetingEat Dinner
Get DressedMake a CallBrush Teeth
Eat BreakfastFinish WorkPrep for Bed
Walk the DogLeave the OfficeGet into Bed
Drive to WorkDrive HomeTurn off the Light

The post We Win or Lose with our Habits appeared first on Trailblazer Coaching.


The Dunbar Number

Here’s a factoid for you:  Brain capacity in social animals  depends on how much relationship information they need to manage.  “Relationship information” includes:

  • remembering your cousin’s names
  • who is dating who
  • whose kid is graduating, getting married, having a baby…
  • who owes you $20
  • who supported you in a recent office conflict
  • who helped you paint your house
  • who visited you in the hospital
  • who lied to you
  • who lied to a coworker

If you were a chimp, the list would include who groomed you the longest yesterday and who gave you some yummy leaves.  If you were a bat, it would include who shared a meal with you when you couldn’t find anything to eat.

A British anthropologist, Robin Dunbar, developed a theory about the cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can manage stable social relationships.  Thus, the Dunbar Number suggests the maximum number of people we can stay connected to.  That number is generally placed around 150.

I understand lots of people misunderstand Dunbar’s work, and I’m no expert to say the number is 150 or 203.  I mention it just to acknowledge that even the most committed networker has a limit to the number of relationships he/she can support.

Robin Dunbar

Professor Robin Dunbar

The other day I mentioned Jeff Olson’s book The Slight Edge.  In it, Olson emphasizes the power of compound effort.  He writes that if you read 10 pages of a book every day, at the end of a year, you’ll have read a dozen or more books.  I suggest the same perspective on building trusted relationships.  Decide how much time, on average, you want to devote to it daily.  If you pick 10 minutes, that comes out to over 40 hours annually, even just doing it on “work” days (10 min * 5 days * 50 weeks = 2500 min / 60 min = 41.67 hr).

If you spent all that networking time meeting people for coffee, and the average time investment to meet someone were an hour, and if you wanted to connect twice annually with your most important contacts, then you could support 20 relationships that way.

My point? I thought my point was that it looks like 10 minutes daily isn’t enough.  But thinking about it, 20 trusted relationships with 20 great people might be enough to change the world.

I guess my point is to do at least a bit of something regularly.

Your thoughts?

 # # #

[Sep 22, 2010]

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Making Prioritizing a Priority

Your-brain-at-work    While enjoying the power outage vacationing in Bayfield, WI over the July 4th holiday a few years ago, I was able to finish reading David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work.  I first heard of Rock through his famous article The Neuroscience of Leadership.

Rock got my attention in the book’s opening “scene.”  Emily is one of the book’s two main characters.  She’s in the first day of a new job after a major promotion.  Having arrived at work early, she sits down to prioritize her day, but finds it so daunting she is easily distracted when her computer alerts her that she has 100 new email.  Intimidated by the challenge of prioritizing amidst all the new and unknown of her promotion, she’s seduced into slogging through the email.

An hour and 40-email later, Emily realizes she needs to hustle off to her first meeting.  Emily and we readers quickly realize that first day isn’t going to go well because she’s not recognized her priority tasks.

Rock pauses his narrative to explain that prioritizing is among the hardest jobs our brains are asked to do because it requires remembering tasks and promises, contemplating the future, comparing and contrasting the importance of tasks and reviewing our motivations and those of others.  One point is that it’s human nature to dodge such a challenging task.  The larger point is, if you start your day by working on email or any other thinking-task, you’re likely to burn off the metabolic resources you need to prioritize.  Think of it this way:  If you needed every single “ounce” of your attention, creativity, courage and wit to ask your boss for a raise and you started your day using all of your self-control in arguing with your teen ager about the car, you may end up deciding to wait until tomorrow to ask for that raise.

In Rock’s book, having started her day with email, Emily had blown her chance to bring her best thinking to the task of prioritizing.

This explains why I’ve never been able to take that 10 minutes at the end of the day, when I’m tired and burned out, to identify the top priorities for my tomorrow.

This morning, I started my day by reviewing my tasks and projects.  I’ve decided to emphasize writing this week. Writing also takes lots of my brain power.  I’m done with this piece. It’s now 6:53 am.

 # # #

[Jul 11, 2011]

The post Making Prioritizing a Priority appeared first on Trailblazer Coaching.


Your Goal + Images + Your Brain =

About a decade ago, I trained with Maria Nemeth at her Academy Coaching for Excellence.  I still remember a class that went until almost 2:00 am one night.  Our assignment was to develop an important goal (or three?), write our goal statement and then scour through her collection of magazines hunting for images that resonated with our goal and with us.

Amidst the scissors and glue sticks, the 40 participants sifted, cut and pasted our way to our collages.  Maria assured us that there was lots of evidence that building such a collage and having it around to see would be a persistent force supporting our progress towards our goals.

It worked.  Even though my collages were taken down after some time, a year or two later I found them and noted that I’d accomplished everything.

Since then I ran into collages as a tool for change when doing Landmark Education’s Wisdom course.  Then I saw my friend Dan Demuth using them in his golf school.  Finally and most recently, I’ve run into them again in working with Maryanne O’Brien while piloting her Live Dynamite program with my clients.

You’d think I might have become a life-long magazine clipper and collage maker, but no.  That hasn’t happened.  We don’t subscribe to magazines and I only take the hours the process seems to take if I’ve paid someone a couple of thousand bucks to make me do it.

That has changed.

Thanks to the availability of images from your own photos, or those on the Internet or in DVD collections of magazines like the National Geographic, it’s easy to grab an image.  Thanks to a now ancient $30 program, Microsoft Research Auto Collage 2008, it is unbelievably easy to assemble the images into a collage.  And thanks to photo sources like Costco, it’s cheap and easy to have your collage blown up to 20 x 30 inches.

When I’m most committed to getting things done, I create a “visual to-do list” in the form of a collage. If I’m starting with zero images, it might take me 40 minutes. Sometimes it takes me 10 minutes.  The sample below should mean nothing to you while the images speak to my subconscious mind. It’s the connection to my sub-conscious that matters.
Wow Collage 2

The thing about connecting to your sub-conscious goes back to the notion that a picture is worth 1000 words. That’s because while words are abstract, pictures are concrette. Words need to be translated to have meaning. Images do not require translating. Images show the thing.

Since it’s said our brain’s conscious resources are roughly equivalent to the cash we have in our pockets while our sub-conscious resources are roughly equivalent to the total wealth of everyone in the USA, we win when we can engage our sub-conscious.

That’s all folks.  Go forth and create.

# # #

[May 4, 2011]

The post Your Goal + Images + Your Brain = appeared first on Trailblazer Coaching.


“If you’re willing to ask 1000 people, you can have anything” (including trust)

I’m told we can thank Byron Katie for the quote above.  Since my friend Steve Chandler is a big Katie fan, making requests is center stage on my daily dashboard.  To put this notion in context, consider that I once told a friend, I said “I don’t ask others for much,” to which my friend replied “you never ask anyone for anything.”

Those words landed with a thud.  It can’t be a good thing to NEVER ask for anything1. Right?

So I’m working on making one request each day.  One request, no big deal, right?  For me, it’s brutal.

If I make one daily, I know I’ve got neuroscience on my side as I’ve learned about taking small steps from The Kaizen Way and even The Slight Edge. If I even just think about making one request daily, I’m starting to build the habit of thinking about it. That will eventually lead to the habit of making requests and that could lead to something amazing.

So today I’m going to look for simple, little requests I can make that will help me build my “request” muscle.

# # #

1I’ve learned that one of the best ways to build trust is to ask others for help.  Asking for help makes me a little vulnerable, which shows my trust in you. Getting your help has me owe you a favor which also makes me vulnerable and also gives me the opportunity to pay you back which builds trust.

[Aug 3, 2010]

The post “If you’re willing to ask 1000 people, you can have anything” (including trust) appeared first on Trailblazer Coaching.


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