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Time Planner 2013

"Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something deep they have inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last minute stamina, they have to be a little faster,they have to have the skill and the will.But the will must be stronger than the skill."

- Muhammad Ali

Strategies for changing behaviour

Daily tasks

If you have found it difficult to change some of your habits, there are specific strategies that can help you. There are three pre conditions for any behaviour change :

1. You must have a desire to change
2. You have to use the right tools
3. You must persevere

Will power by itself is a weak tool and needs to be supported.

1. Habit change principles of effective people

They do not take decisions to change habits impulsively. It is carefully considered, sometimes for months and years before any change is initiated.

They have a deep intuitive awareness of what changes are necessary and important for them.

They operate by their internal calendars - not by new year resolutions and other external landmarks. They initiate change when they know they are ready.

They get a deep sense of satisfaction from the process irrespective of the outcomes.

They expect the change to take time. They are in it for the long haul.

They know change is hard. They expect challenges and they are prepared to persevere.

They have high levels of self awareness. They do not set unrealistic goals.

They are aware of internal processes which drive them to behave or not behave in certain ways.

They have an innate sense of timing. They know when they are ready for change and when they have the best chance to succeed.

They accept themselves for whoever they are at that point of time. They do not beat themselves up.

They have a sense of perspective. They are able to step back from time to time and observe where they have reached.

They plan their moves carefully and work on how they can change their habits.

They set up a tracking system which constantly reminds them of their goals.

They try many different strategies until they find one which works.

They do not get discouraged if they slip up.

They know real change happens quietly, in unobtrusive ways which are hardly noticeable. They do not get carried away by the enthusiasm of first week successes.

2. Types of habit change

There are two types of habit change. Different neural processes are required for each type of change and different strategies need to be used.

a. Developing new habits
Starting a new habit may require using reinforcers combined with a small wins strategy - setting relatively easy goals and gradually building up to more challenging activities.

b. Giving up an existing habit
Giving up an existing habit is difficult. Well entrenched habits are automatic. Very little thought process is involved and the habit is triggered by environmental cues. This is true whether it is driving a car or whether it involves drinking excessively on a weekend. Giving up old habits may require any or all of the following.

i. Replacing a habit with a new one. This will involve understanding the perceived rewards/reinforcers you get from the existing habit.
ii. Using reinforcers or rewards for the new habit.
iii. Identifying and modifying antecedents - cues which trigger the habit.
iv. Making changes in gradual achievable steps.
(This is a case by case issue - to cure alcoholism there is no gradual tapering of drinking)

3. Steps in habit change

a. Identify the behaviour you want to change. You need to be as specific as possible. Distinguish between traits and behaviour. Laziness is a trait. Habitually preparing reports with mistakes is a behaviour. So instead of saying - I will not be lazy - You may say - I will ensure there are no mistakes in my report.

b. Observe your existing behaviour for a week and identify what and how much you want to change.

c. Identify the antecedents that lead to the unwanted behaviour. Also identify the reinforcers that motivate you to continue your existing habit - for example procrastination provides short term gratification by reducing the effort of thinking.

d. Identify positive reinforcers or rewards that you will give yourself for your new behaviour.

4. Examples of Antecedents

Antecedents are the environmental cues that trigger a habit. They help you to understand why you behave in the way you do. Antecedents may be subtle, well disguised or blind spots. You may need to dig deep to identify antecedents. Identifying antecedents also enhances your self awareness.

Some examples :

Examples of antecedents


a. Antecedents
Presence of certain colleagues causes distraction and an urge to chat
Urge to join conversations that you overhear
Papers are unorganised on your desk or the data you need for your work is badly organised on your PC. Searching for them discourages you from starting a task
Drowsiness - especially in the afternoons
Friday afternoons and evenings - when you are looking forward to a long weekend
Meetings - a welcome diversion from doing your work
Interruptions - physical or phone
Checking email and mobile phone frequently for updates

b. Reinforcers that sustain the habit
Avoiding having to think
Avoiding unpleasant or difficult tasks
Living in the future - trying to get away from the here and now

2. Habit

a. Antecedents
You feel the task is so large - you don't want to start
You think no one will notice if you avoid the task
You feel the task is futile
You think you can get away with not doing a task because you know someone else will finally do it
The thought of prolonged focused work is unpleasant because you have poor mental stamina

b. Reinforcers that sustain the habit
Short term gratification from avoiding mental effort

5. Reinforcers

These are the rewards you give yourself for accomplishing one of your goals. Set up a reward point system. It becomes a game. You can accumulate enough reward points to buy yourself something you really want.

There are different types of reinforcers you can use. Classifying reinforcers also helps you to understand yourself better.

Four categories of reinforcers

a. Possession reinforcers
What would you like to buy if you achieve your target behaviour ?

b. People reinforcers
Are there any people whose company you would enjoy ? Reward yourself by going out for dinner or a movie or a holiday with friends.

c. Activity reinforcers
What interest and hobbies do you have ? Reward yourself by doing something you really like. Playing some sport, getting involved in a hobby, activities like reading or listening to music, watching a movie you?ve always wanted to see.

d. Recognition reinforcers
Are there people whose opinions you value ? Set up your system so that these people recognise the target behaviour you have achieved.

Reward points
Using reward points for achieving small wins and gradually building up to your target behaviour is an effective strategy. When you accumulate enough reward points you can treat yourself to one of your reinforcers. Examples of a reward point system could be :

For exercising
Walking half an hour 3 days a week - 5 points
Walking half an hour 5 days a week - 10 points
Walking half an hour 7 days a week - 18 points
Jogging half an hour 3 days a week - 20 points

Rewards Get some music you?ve always wanted - 20 points
Go for a movie with friends - 40 points
Have dinner with family at favourite restaurant - 50 points
Go for a week end holiday - 100 points

6. Small wins strategy

This is a strategy to start with relatively small changes and gradually build upto more difficult behaviour changes. This is a very powerful tool and can be used in a variety of situations - not just for habit change. When you accomplish a task, even if it is only slightly more difficult or requires only incremental self discipline - it makes you feel good and encourages you to repeat the behaviour.

An example of using a small wins strategy to handle procrastination.

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