“Practice isn’t the thing you do when you’re good.
It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

― Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

In a recent blog post, I talked about how making lasting change is difficult. A common mistake we often make when we’ve decided to change is to do too much at once.

We know from scientific research that it takes approximately a month to make a new behavior stick, and depending on the change you want to make, it could take longer. In his book The Power of Full Engagement, author Tony Schwartz says “incremental change is better than ambitious failure.”  Real change happens when we follow-up on our ideas with new behaviors.

Establishing rituals increases productivity and creativity.  The number of rituals we decide to implement at one time depends on our individual needs and personality. If we want to introduce lasting change in our lives, it’s virtually impossible to do so without changing our behavior. When we introduce a new ritual it takes self-discipline. Introducing a maximum of one or two and a time will ensure that we don’t get overwhelmed.

A reason that behavioral changes have a powerful effect on attitude has to do with what psychologists call self-perception theory. We form perceptions about ourselves in much the same way we form opinions of others. People determine their own attitudes and feelings from watching themselves behave in various situations. If I stand in front of an audience and imagine myself to be self-assured, I will see myself as confident. If I eat fruit for dessert on a regular basis instead of cake, I will believe in my ability to lose weight.

Recent neuroscience has also proven that the brain is changeable. Thoughts like “I can’t do that, ”I’m not smart enough,” etc. are the result of patterns of thinking that have taken hold over a long period of time. In his book The Brain That Changes Itself,” Dr. Norman Doidge gives powerful examples of people who have overcome debilitating conditions through repeated behaviors and changes in thinking.

According to author and psychologist, Tal Ben Shahar, real change only comes, when along with a change in attitude, comes a behavioral change. Reading a book about dieting or exercise may motivate us to take action, but that alone will not result in us losing weight or getting stronger. Great athletes and musicians know this. When we see Venus and Serena Williams play tennis, we think that they were blessed with unique gifts, and that’s true. Nevertheless, it’s practice that has enabled them to rise to the level of world champions.

A great time to start making a change is right after you’ve been inspired by a great lecture, book or training session.  But, waiting too long after feeling inspired, will cause that motivation to wane quickly. If you want to be happier in your work and your life, what changes can you put into place right away?

Exercise: Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist who is often called the father of self-esteem suggests a ritual called sentence endings.  For each sentence stem, some up with at least 6 answers as quickly as possible. By answering quickly, you are tapping your unconscious and don’t have time to belittle your thoughts.

Answer the questions below daily for one week. Look for patterns that emerge that offer clues to changes you want to make. At the end of the week, Branden suggests you say to yourself “I’m beginning to see that…”

  • To be 5% happier at work, I will….
  • If I take more responsibility for my choices and actions today, I will….
  • If I pay more attention to how I deal with people, I will…