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Yesterday evening I stumbled upon a wonderful short video about how we 1. It’s really short (under 3 minutes) but if you don’t want to watch it  that’s fine – I’m going to give a summary here as part of my post (…but you should watch the video, it’s good). form habits. You can view it here: 1

In essence, when we think about (typically bad) habits we focus on trying to eliminate the behavior without understanding its cause.

In practice, habits can be broken down into three components:

The video uses cigarettes as an example.

The video uses cigarettes as an example.

1. The trigger / cue (i.e. after a long day at work, one drives by the bakery / liquor store / fast food restaurant etc.)

2. The behavior (i.e. one buys and consume the fattening food / alcoholic beverage / unhealthy meal etc.)

3. A positive feeling is elicited from taking part in the behavior.

Once one sees habits through this lens, life begins to make a lot more sense.

I’ve tried to develop dozens of good habits over the years, and the habits I’ve failed to pick up have all lacked component number three (elicitation of a positive emotion following completion of the behavior).

The key to adopting a good (but difficult) habit is to reward yourself in some way for doing the behavior component.

To this point, one of the reasons I’ve been able to effectively blog everyday is because I’ve (accidentally) built all three components of a habit into my blogging routine:

1. (Trigger / Cue) I feel anguish about:

A. Having not learned anything new in a given day

B. Not shipping

2. (Behavior) I either learn a new concept or skill, or else think more deeply about something I already know. I then write about it.

3. (Reward) I feel good about having relieved the stress associated with not learning something new / failing to ship.

…Now how can we apply this to HR?

For me, it starts with coaching and skill development. I want to incentivize both my direct reports and everyone in my client group to continuously improve their performance and develop new skills.

To do this, there are all sorts of triggers I can put in place to elicit the behaviors I’d like to see – before ultimately rewarding them. The rewards I can 2. Various forms of praise, developmental opportunities, and recommendations (the latter of which may directly lead to extrinsic reward) are just a few of the things in my toolkit. give are mostly intrinsic 2 (resources are finite and the idea is to encourage the entire population), but used properly they can serve as powerful motivators.

What do you think? If this a viable strategy for skill development? In what ways can you use this knowledge in your own life (personal and professional)?

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



If you have questions about something you’ve read here (or simply want to connect) you can reach me at any of the following addresses: 

SomethingDifferentHR@gmail.com OR rorytrotter86@gmail.com