When it rains, it pours; most people are familiar with this phrase. It’s what we use to describe the inertia of negative circumstances building and snowballing. Can you think of the equivalent phrase used to describe the opposite, the experience of positive inertia? “Just look at the bright side,” “turn lemons into lemonade,” or “there’s a light at the end of the tunnel” might come to mind, but those all build on turning a negative into a positive. What about turning a positive into even more positives? Why is that not more commonplace? If momentum can swing us one way or the other on the pendulum of professional success, how can we keep the dichotomy of inertia positioned in a positive direction?
Let’s start with a common misnomer – that it takes 21 days to create a habit. If we want to focus on replicating positive momentum, we must start with an understanding of what it takes to get into a consistent pattern. The origination of the 21-day theory stems from plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz. In the 1960s, Maltz released the best-selling book Psycho-Cybernetics. In it, he shares that a unique pattern occurred in his surgery patients; when the surgery resulted in an altered appearance, it took the patient around 21 days to get used to seeing their altered complexion. He also observed this in patients who had lost a limb; it would take them around the same amount of time to not feel the phantom limb before adjusting to their new situation.
Maltz’s book focused on a mind and body connection and the power of self-affirmation and mental visualization techniques. Many of his findings and the book itself were absorbed into areas of personal development in which some of the very trainers and motivational speakers focus who we know today: Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy and Tony Robbins. However, this theory morphed from the idea that it takes 21 days to create a habit. It’s like that game of telephone; the end story has become somewhat distorted.
In 2009 Phillippa Lally, a psychology researcher at University College London, published a study on how habits are formed. She sought out to identify how long it takes to form a habit in the real world and by doing everyday tasks. The study looked at simple acts that people could incorporate into their daily lives such as drinking a bottle of water at lunch or running for 15 minutes before dinner.
Her findings? On average it took more than two months before a new behavior became automatic; 66 days to be exact. Her study went on to say that it could be anywhere between 18 to 254 days – upwards of 8 months to start and stick with a new habit!
The punchline? It takes a much longer period of time for a new habit to become your new normal.
Why is that critical to this topic? We must not regard any of the following suggestions as quick-fixes, but rather as a journey to create a completely different mindset associated with maintaining a perpetually positive inertia. Although this analysis of the dichotomy of inertia can span all facets of life, this article will focus on the professional opportunities that exist for emphasis on the positive.
Within the workplace, it is common to diagnose negative circumstances. A key employee left the organization, a prospective client was lost, or the department failed to hit quarterly targets are all examples of situations in which individuals will convene to discuss what was missed, what could have been done differently, and how to avoid replicating in the future.
Have you ever done an autopsy on something that didn’t die?
How much time is dedicated to discussing what has kept individuals at your firm? Brainstorming on what unique differentiators you have that allowed you to land a key account? Not just celebrating the achievement of a quarterly target, but breaking down at a granular level what each team member did to contribute to the success of the department? Although mistakes are our teachers, a great deal can be done to learn from success. If you want to create a long-term shift in perspective being of a positive nature, it requires a shift in the focus of experience.
Commitments Versus Goals
An object in motion stays in motion; how is that applied within a professional setting? Consider breaking achievements into two categories – commitments and goals. A commitment is a level that is attainable; one to be celebrated and which took some effort to get to. But how do we keep the motion of achievement in motion? The next level is the goal; the stretch milestone that might be seemingly impossible to attain but is in fact doable. Delineating between the two creates a space for further momentum beyond what is expected and perpetuates the positive force of an accomplished objective.
As a leader, it is our responsibility to help others understand that words have power; the way we say things matters. One could complain, “I am being bombarded with emails” or one could ask for suggestions for technology tools and effective time management.
I have to go to this team meeting = I get to go to this team meeting because I have a team dedicated to learning and living up to their fullest potential
I have to get this proposal to our client = I want to get this proposal to our client because they trust us to solve a problem they cannot solve on their own
I have to get caught up on emails = I want to get caught up on emails as I have knowledge and insight that others are relying on me to share with them
I have to take the kids to practice = I get to take the kids to practice as I am fortunate to have a family and resources to help them live a full, varied life
We have the freedom to choose our actions, our profession, our financial needs, and the path of our life. Each interaction is one step on the journey to create a transformed mindset associated with maintaining a perpetually positive inertia.
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