Changing your Habits: How badly do you want to?

Doing some blog reading today, I notice that an essay called Installing a new habit and breaking an old one written by Stephanie Burns is getting some attention.

I first saw it in the Slacker Manager’s Hot Links Column (which is a goldmine you should check into regularly: it’s in the left column of Bren’s blog) and then on Bert Webb’s Open Loops blog with some commentary in a post called The Secret of Changing Habits.

Some good stuff, but the reading mostly made me want to be Covey-authentic again. I may be thoroughly brainwashed, but when it comes to any discussion of habits I continue to turn to the guy I consider the master.

At some point, this is the key which got locked into my memory after I heard a Covey trainer say it during my Ritz-Carlton days:

Creating better habits of effectiveness is about repetition, pure and simple. When you get the knowledge about something (what to do, and why to do it), and you learn the skill associated with it (how to do it), get your attitude in gear (you gotta want to do it) and commit to doing it over and over again. After about 21-28 repetitions (some proven statistic) it’ll kick in for you.

That’s my recollection, not a quote, but here’s another quote from some of those old Covey class notes, circa 1995:
(Remember, the 7 Habits of Effectiveness are called that because they are about timeless principles.)

“All successful people have the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either, necessarily, but their dislike is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

— Albert E. Gray in his essay The Common Denominator of Success

Within Gray’s quote is this other critical component to my way of thinking: liking something. If you like it, and it’s a good thing which builds a good habit (i.e. it will be character-building for you) you’re already way ahead of the game. In my mind, it’s like work: if you don’t love it, don’t do it. Find the work you will love, and do that instead. (Ho‘ohana) So much easier. So much healthier for you.

I also like the thought that attitude is about wanting. You know it’s true.

Perhaps this is why I’m so drawn to GTD right now too: Pure and simple, it appeals to me. I like the stuff, and I want to do it. Makes the habit building pretty sweet.

Related posts:
Why GTD reminds me of the 7 Habits. The 7 Habits are listed here.

A Riddle for you today: Who am I? Habits are powerful factors in our lives; they express our character and produce our effectiveness — or our ineffectiveness.

The instinctive, natural selection of wanting


  1. says

    Most habits are not simply based on repetition. This would make us into creatures like Pavlov’s Dogs who do things only because they’ve done them many times before.
    Habits (at least the important ones) come ultimately from our core values: what we believe, deep down, to be right and true. We form habits around actions that we value or which have worked for us in the past to increase or improve something we value.
    Self-destructive habits occur because in the situation there’s always something we value more than the bad stuff — maybe some sense of satisfaction or ability to feel hard done by.
    Covey wrote about the habits of successful people. He should perhaps have written about their values.

  2. says

    Habits …or Values?

    The Talking Story blog this morning drew my attention to an article by Stephanie Burns called “Installing a new habit and breaking an old one.”

  3. says

    Adrian, I am in complete agreement with you, thus my book, Managing with Aloha, built on the 19 universal — and very personal — values that I believe create better habits in people who aspire to be truly great managers. For a quick summary, you can look at this page:
    Thank you so much for your comment here, and for how you took the time to build on it on your own blog this morning. I just spent some time there at your Coyote Within, and we seem to be pretty like-minded when it comes to values, and the greater need for our awareness of them as our positive catalysts for growth and change. Welcome to our Ho‘ohana Community!

  4. says

    Changing Your Habits

    No one ever formed a habit around something that didn’t work for them. If you do something and it fails, you don’t do it again. But if it gives you a good result, you store that away in your mind and maybe try it again sometime. If it works that time …