Structures and habits

As a line manager, you might be asked to help someone break a habit. You could use Charles Duhigg’s approach.

We all develop different habits, but habits can be re-learnt or un-learnt in the same way they can be learnt in the first place. Structures are an integral part of the ‘habit loop’ – an idea based on Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, where he discusses three stages.

First is the cue, the trigger from the environment that tells your brain to go into autopilot and which habit to use. Next is the routine, which can be a mental or physical action you take whenever presented with the cue. And lastly is the reward, which is what you get from the habit that fulfils a craving in your brain. Understanding the stages in relation to your situation can allow you the option to ‘break’ or ‘rewire’ them.

Creating new structures can be done in a variety of ways, but often understanding the cues can help. Ask your coachee:

  • Location – Where are you when your habit loops are triggered?
  • Time – What time of day is it?
  • Mood – What’s your emotional state?
  • Thoughts – What are you thinking?
  • People around you – Who is around you when you act out these habits?
  • Immediately preceding action – What do you do right before the habit starts?

Then they can change the routine or action they take and the reward they give themselves. This process of viewing structures can give new perspectives on challenges people have tried to overcome for years.

That, at any rate, is the theory.

But how do you encourage and support people who say they want to change but never do anything different because they’re afraid to get out of their comfort zone? One way that protects their ego is to position a new behaviour as an ‘experiment’. People are often open to the idea of trying out a new behaviour – or even a completely new belief – when they know they’re not making a commitment they can’t go back on. It’s just an experiment! This gestalt approach can be really useful for broadening choice, but also for people who are limited by fear of failure. It’s important that the experiment is ‘safe’ (ie, that the outcomes won’t be that they could lose their job/reputation) and that they know that they have a secure relationship with you that will give them the follow-up they need.


If you’re interested in the above, have a look at our Coaching skills training. Or give us a call on 01582 463461 – we’re here to help!

Categories: Coaching

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