The Power of Habit in Construction

I've been geeking out about something lately. Mostly due to the fact that I'm reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Fascinating stuff. And you can see my book report next week.

This is my second time reading the book, so it's more of a speed-read-refresher. It's amazing how a few life changes will totally change your perspective on a book. It's like watching a movie for the second time.

But enough about that. Let's chat a little about habits in construction.

It's important to note that NO ONE is exempt from this. I can even see it in my 2-year-old son. He has habits that are clear as day once you start to notice them. 

I've personally seen how habits in construction can set a contractor up for success. AND how it can lead to it's demise.

I've already posted some articles about traits of winning contractors (here, here and here). But today we're aiming at something that is core to nearly everything we've previously talked about.

Our habits guide that way we run our LIVES, not just our businesses. So first let's quickly define what constitutes a habit. You can always pick up the book a get the detailed breakdown, but, because this is just a short post, here is the bird's eye view:

CUE -> ROUTINE -> REWARD -> (REPEAT)

Example:

JUST WOKE UP -> DRINK COFFEE -> START THE DAY

What makes this a habit is that you don't have to remember every morning that you should make coffee before you start your day. You just do it. Because it's a HABIT. Get it? Okay.

This is all based on the fact that our brains are EXTREMELY efficient. They are constantly looking for ways to shortcut the thinking process and go on autopilot. So let's think about THAT for a second. How amazing is that?! Any little shortcut that can be taken, will. That's great, right?! Well, almost. It's great until we let something sneak in there that we don't want to happen. Like getting stressed and reaching for a cigarette to get that sweet relief. Before you know it, you don't even have to think about it. You just grab the cigarette. (side note: I don't smoke)

So, how does this affect your business? Let's talk safety for a minute.

The BEST safety programs are centered around creating safe HABITS. If you're the type of person who doesn't wear gloves when using a chainsaw on the weekend, its going to be tough to get them to wear gloves on the job site. Because they will have to remember to put their gloves on. And if that's something they have to remember to do, what else are they going to forget about? Are they going to forget not to jump across the 10-foot deep trench? Or remember to tie off when they're tying rebar 30 feet off the ground?

Remember how we talked about the brain being SUPER-DUPER efficient and automating tasks that are done repeatedly? We want that whole 'put your gloves on' thing to be automatic. 

So how do we start modifying these habits? While it's not a ground-breaking concept, it's not quite as simple as as we'd hope either.

There are two things we can start doing right away:

Replace a piece of the Habit Loop (Cue -> Routine -> Reward)

If you're trying to quite drinking coffee, you're going to replace that in the 'routine' part of the loop. It's going to look like this, then: WAKE UP -> DRINK JUICE -> START THE DAY.

Do it ad nauseam

You're going to do this for good now. Until you stop thinking about it (just like you didn't think about making coffee, you just DID it, because you've done it for the past 10 years). 

And I'm going to add one more thing (that's not in the book!) that we should also do on job sites if we're going to actually  try to cause better habits. 

MAKE IT EASY.

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The brain, being as efficient as it is, isn't going to automate a process that requires conscious decision making every single time. It's going to automate the easy and simple decisions. So if you have to hunt down gloves EVERY MORNING, it's going to be tough to make it a habit. Just like if you have to go buy coffee every morning to make a pot, it's going to be an uphill battle to make that a habit. 

And just one more example; losing weight. You know why McDonalds and Startbucks are so successful? Because it's SO EASY to drive through and grab a burger or coffee that we hardly even realize we're doing it. It's so convenient that it becomes part of our habit loop without even realizing it. So if you want to lose weight, have some healthy snacks around every corner. The easier it is to grab a healthy snack, the easier its going to be to replace that part of the habit loop. And if it's easy to change the habit loop, you'll be able to do it over and over again, thus creating a new healthy-eating habit.

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If you want more of all this and SO much more, go buy the book! It's a great read with TONS of case studies and examples. And keep it on your book shelf for years to come. Because as life changes, you'll pick out different pieces of the book. I bet you'll even find ways to improve your business and career, too! For $9, there's not really a reason to NOT buy it.