What are routines, actually?
Routines are repetitions of behaviour which occurs (in the same order) over and over again. One example: get up, switch on the coffee machine, take a shower, get dressed, drink coffee.
A habit is a behaviour we display without being fully aware that we’re doing it.
I decided to stop drinking coffee at the office, and also to no longer share attachments (but instead, share links to the right document). Both are ingrained patterns and therefore ideal contenders for a relapse.
How did I approach this change?
My strategy consisted of three elements: determine my goal, prepare correctly, and change the habits step by step. Although it’s tempting to say that I thought of this all by myself, that is actually not the case. Numerous books have been written about changing habits and routines. I read these books, and listened to various podcasts. The above three pillars made the greatest impression on me. And in order to experience for myself how they work, I took up the challenge. That’s why I’m sharing my experience on the basis of these three steps.
- Determining my goal
If you want to start or stop doing something, it’s important to determine for yourself why you are actually doing this. What will it give you? Happiness, peace, health. The important thing is that this goal works for you.
So, for my challenge, I determined: why do I actually want to stop doing this?
- Drink less coffee: This goal was very clear for me: I want to experience what it’s like to drink less coffee and, at the same time, be able to enjoy more the times when I do drink coffee. So, I didn’t want to stop drinking coffee completely but instead experience more enjoyment of the moments when I actually did drink coffee.
- No more attachments: Since I’ve been working with Office 365 (and helping people collaborate smarter), I know that it’s unnecessary to send attachments to my colleagues. After all, I can just send the link to the right file in SharePoint (or Microsoft Teams). This saves downloading files, “losing” files, and searching for my files. My goal is to always have an empty “Download” folder and thus save time by working in the document. The prospect that my Download folder would be (almost) empty already made me feel good.
2. The right preparation
Now that I had a clear goal, it helps to be prepared. I experienced that it worked well for me when the ‘new behaviour’ I wanted to display is very clear.
- Drink no coffee: If you want to stop a behaviour, it helps to be very specific about the new behaviour. What do I do when colleagues ask what I want to drink, and what do I drink when I am tired? It helps to have a ready alternative and to express this as concretely as possible for yourself. Think of it as a type of “mantra”. For example, I devised the following guidelines:
- When I feel like having coffee, I drink tea.
- When I wake up in the morning, I drink a glass of water.
- When I feel like having coffee because I’m tired, I drink tea and a glass of water.
It also helps to have delicious tea available. So, to make it much easier to maintain the challenge, make sure you have tea at home and at the office. I also shared my challenge with colleagues and friends, and this helped me by providing a deterrent against a behavioural relapse.
- Send no more attachments: Here, too, I used the same method. I specifically resolved to exhibit the new behaviour by following these guidelines:
- When I want to share a document with my colleague, I put the document on SharePoint/Teams and I share the link.
- When a colleague sends me a document, I first save the document on SharePoint/Teams.
Here, too, I shared my challenge with my colleagues. There’s no one better than my colleagues to give me feedback when I relapse and do share an attachment.
3. Step by step
Although almost everyone knows it, we seldom approach change in a structured way. Want to start running 10 kilometres a day? But you currently run almost never or even not at all? Then the chance that you will maintain your desired behaviour by running 10 kilometres every day, from Day 1, is very small. After all, your body (and brain) is still not at all used to running. The best thing to do is to build up this new habit step by step. If you want to run, then start with putting on your sports clothing, running 1 km each day and, after a certain period, going to the next step of 2 km, and so on.
How did I approach drinking less coffee? What’s important to know is that, about 5 years ago, I was drinking 4-6 cups a day. The trick is then to gradually reduce this amount. About two years ago, I took a step back to 2-3 cups of coffee per day. And over the past year, I structurally drank at most 1 cup of coffee per day, so now I’ve been focusing on no coffee during the week for 66 days.
When you gradually scale down, you give yourself the time and space to develop a new pattern.
When you try to eliminate routines or specifically try to cultivate certain routines, you must make sure that you recognise your own pitfalls and are able to counter them. When do you long for that cup of coffee, and how will you control that “lust”? Keep your goal in mind, and remember why you have it. Therefore, base a change not only on your “perseverance” — however great that may sound — but make sure you facilitate your new habit in the right way. The little things are what matter in this process.
Duhigg, Charles. (2014). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. Random House.
Dean, Jeremy. (2013). Making Habits: Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick. Da Capo Lifelong Books.