Why We Do What We Do

How many of us brush their teeth every morning?
Ewww!  (to those who said NO)

I venture to guess that most or nearly all of us would answer, YES to this question. But why?
– Because our dentist lectured us?
– Our Mommy and Daddy taught us to do it when we were only 3?
– Our cubicle mate sent us paper airplanes with little notes saying, your breath is killing me?

Have you ever thought about… Why it is we do the things we do?

In 1920 Claude Hopkins (father of advertising) was asked to help a little upstart company called Pepsodent to sell their toothpaste. Hopkins had already made Shlitz the #1 beer in America as well as Quaker Oats, Goodyear, Palmolive, Van De Kamps and a score of other household names.

Now in those days less than 7% of the population used toothpaste and even less bothered to brush their teeth so Hopkins had his work cut out for him. He spent many hours researching the product (which was typical for him) and he discovered that a protective film called “muncin plaque” formed on the teeth. He used this in his advertising touting consumers to… “Run your tongue over your teeth and feel that sticky yellow film. Then brush with Pepsodent and feel the tingly freshness.”

Hopkins identified a way to get consumers to adopt a new habit by creating a CUE to motivate a change (sticky yellow film on the teeth), a ROUTINE (brushing with Pepsodent) and a REWARD  (tingly freshness) as a result of the habit. It worked and in less than three years more than 70% of the population were brushing their teeth!

Habits work the same way today. We are likely unaware of them but every habit contains “cues, routines and rewards.” The movie theater produces a cue (the smell of popcorn), we engage in the routine (waiting on line to buy snacks at double the price). Our reward is a more satisfying time at the theater.

When we think about habits we think about smoking, eating, grooming and a variety of undesirable personal practices. Yet habits encompass positive practices and are relevant to how we conduct ourselves in business and leadership settings.

Some business leaders have a habit of shooting from the hip, others may respond to a cue that causes paralysis by analysis. Many are so involved in responding to daily cues that they are stuck in just maintaining the status-quo or “working IN the business” and may never have an opportunity to work ON their business, thereby facilitating growth. Still others are perpetuating a minimal level of innovation, engagement and teamwork through subtle communication or behavioral cues. The sad thing is that they are utterly blind to these. Few of their associates can even see the cues and even less know how to change them.

Think about your work habits now. What “cues” are you responding to?  What routines are they triggering?  What are the rewards you might unwittingly be creating for yourself?

This is the time of year that many people are making new year’s resolutions. Statistics show that by March less than 5% of those resolutions will even be acted upon. Habits are so strongly ingrained that people would rather fail or even die than give them up.

The upside to all this is that we can change our habits by changing the cues, creating new routines and modifying the rewards. What habits might you need to re-evaluate?  What new habits can you create to replace them?  What might be keeping you from experiencing that breakthrough success that a habit change could bring?

This is the work I do with executives in our coaching sessions. It is so rewarding to see business leaders finally make the changes they have always been wanting to make.

What I often hear is… “I didn’t know it was so easy.” It is. About as easy as brushing your teeth every morning.

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