Habits and microchoices for leaders
The Oxford Group
13 January 2022
How to serve yourself so that you can serve your people
Think of it in terms of valuing and protecting your assets. Imagine you had a superb asset, which delivered tremendous value to you. This asset not only delivers high value but it does so consistently over time. You treasure it, right? You keep an eye on it, adjust if it looks like it’s wobbling, notice how it’s doing.
Let’s think about what you don’t do with an asset. Ignore it. Fail to maintain it. Allow it to be stolen.
So, you as a leader, are one of your team’s most precious assets. Let’s get practical about some ways you can maximise the value you bring to them.
Leaders can put themselves in even better condition to lead by taking a focused look at their habits and making many, very small positive choices (microchoices) throughout each day.
Habits – what we do most often defines the results we get
We’d recommend James Clear’s fantastic work on habits as a great guide in making good habits ‘stick’. Using his 4 laws will help you make your desired habit ‘obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying’.
To make it obvious, make sure that whatever you want your habit to be, the cues to do it are hard to ignore. Use invites or holds in your calendar, use phone alerts. If you want to read a book, put it on top of your pillow or laptop. Make it impossible to miss it! Also, name the habit you’re going to do and get very specific. Saying ‘I will do (behaviour) at (time) in (location)’ makes you twice as likely to do it as someone who does not write it down.
Making it attractive could mean tying it to something you already do. ‘I need to walk the dog everyday so I can use that as a cue to listen to a podcast that gives me some great current content’. Or you could make it a ritual e.g. have your favourite morning coffee before you plan out your day.
To make it easy, the environment is key. If you want to learn the guitar, place the guitar in a place you can’t miss it. Start small; just 2 minutes’ worth of a new action makes a difference. Often, we struggle to make changes because we give ourselves too big a challenge. Focus on the practice of embedding the habit, then build on it. Reading for 2 minutes can easily become reading for 10 minutes.
Key to making a habit satisfying is to reward yourself. Choose a reward that satisfies or motivates you. That’s different for each of us. Whatever it is, make sure it’s aligned with (not opposed to!) your goals. Maybe having an ice cream reward every time you run isn’t such a good idea.
And lastly you could invest in a habit tracker/journal to record your progress or use a free habit tracking app. What we track tends to stick more firmly when it comes to habit formation.
It’s good knowing all of this, but then we often find there can be a gap between what we know and what we do! Sometimes that gap happens because we don’t know how to make the habit practical and we’re too busy to figure it out. So let’s look at a couple of practical examples. What could you do at the level of everyday microchoices?
The habit: respect your team member’s time
Make it obvious – your cue could be that you’re ready for your first coffee of the working day as a trigger. Right before you make the coffee, take 5 minutes to message your team to check in on when they might have 15 minutes to connect with you.
Make it attractive – you’ve done something first thing that shows your team you respect their time.
Make it easy – it’s going to take you less than 5 minutes.
Make it satisfying – you get your coffee straight after!
The habit: showing genuine appreciation
Make it obvious – a great cue here could be you’re about to close your work down for the day.
Make it attractive – just choose 1 person, choose 1 thing they’ve done that deserves your recognition. It doesn’t have to be huge but it does have to be genuine.
Make it easy – pop a quick message to them. Or even call them.
Make it satisfying – you know how much difference genuine recognition makes to your team.
Microchoices – small opportunities to make a big impact
Why are our microchoices so powerful? They feel good. They happen a lot. We have some control over them.
Positive experiences help humans thrive and to recover when necessary. Especially when they are experiences that are rewarding, frequent and autonomous. We tend to overestimate the big stuff, though, and underestimate the small. Maybe you find yourself thinking you could be a better leader if you had more time, more resources, a different mindset or a clearer strategy. While you’re waiting for those goodies to show up, try this! It will help. You’ll be glad you did. So will your team.
To generate more sustainable personal fuel to keep you thriving, build more positive, pleasurable, meaningful microchoices into your everyday life. They are super easy. They may be small, but they make a big impact.
Microchoices are the tiny decisions we make all day long: tea or coffee, TV or podcast, drive or train, walk or run, cereal or eggs for breakfast, favourite mug or random choice, what to wear?
Choosing what pleases you at this micro level gives you mini bursts of enjoyment which operate like tiny holidays for your brain and body. This helps maintain and restore your energy levels. That means you show up more alive, more alert and more positive with your team.
Here are 5 ways you can make great microchoices:
Go small – we make hundreds of microchoices every day, so the more of them you can find and the more positive you can make them, the greater the impact.
Build daily habits – and use the 4 laws to make them stick!
Choose what you actually like – in these small choices, it’s easy to please yourself
Stop ‘saving it for best’ – make every day as rewarding as you can and see the benefits
Trust yourself – listen to the wisdom of your body and mind and respect it in your choices.