Invest in yourself – make 2016 the year you take charge of change!

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution for 2016?
For those who did, unfortunately, 80% have already given up on their goal, before the calendar turns to February.

How does this happen?  Habits are hard to break, but the science of habit formation can help us break-out of routines that no longer serve us, and break-through successful and sustainable change.

In this newsletter last month, I wrote about Martin Seligman’s simple yet powerful A-B-C model for “learning optimism”; now, let me offer another A-B-C model, this one for reinventing habits, adapted from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:


A key take-away from the Learned Optimism A-B-C model is that although we often cannot control the adverse events that occur in our lives, we can control our interpretations of them.  This is the first step in re-orientating ourselves from a sense of powerless pessimism to hopeful optimism, paving the way for positive action and results for ourselves and others.

Now, to resurrect our resolutions, let’s turn attention to the “Habit Reinvention” model.  As an example, many executives I coach are Visionary Change Leaders.  They look to the future and seek to lead their organizations towards exciting new directions, and they have risen to positions of authority because of their track record in doing just that.  Early in their career, the cycle may have looked like this:

  • Activator:
    An event that happens.  For example, a Visionary seeks to move his team toward a new objective.
  • Behavior:
    A routine behavior that a person performs.  For example, the Visionary communicates the new objective and sets new expectations for his followers.
  • Consequence:
    Rewards that result from the person’s behavior.  For example, the followers comply, the new objective is achieved, and the Visionary leader is satisfied.

However, as people progress to higher levels of accountability, the issues they deal with increase in scope and complexity.  Leaders need to develop a wider array of influence tactics to continue expanding their impact.  To paraphrase Marshall Goldsmith, “what got them here won’t get them there.”  By the time we start our work together, many Visionaries have found themselves in a frustrating, recurring cycle:

  • Activator:
    An event that happens.  For example, a Visionary seeks to move his team toward a new objective.
  • Behavior:
    A routine a person performs.  For example, the Visionary communicates the new objective and sets expectations for his followers.
  • Consequence:
    Rewards that result from the person’s behavior – which can be negative rewards!   For example, as new objectives increase in their level of difficulty, followers may resist compliance.  Status quo persists, and ambitious goals are not realized.  The Visionary leader often becomes confused and stymied.

As Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, writes, “to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”

Which part of the A-B-C cycle can Change Leaders control?  Just the “B” – Belief or Behavior.  That is – their own beliefs and behaviors.  In order to influence others, change intelligent leaders need to ADAPT themselves first.  Indeed, such adaptability is a key component of Change Intelligence, defined as “the awareness of one’s style of leading change, and the ability to adapt to be optimally effective across people and situations.”

For Visionary Change Leaders like the executive in my example, the challenge is often to augment their strong “head-oriented/purpose-driven” leadership style, with more focus on “heart/people” and “hands/process.”  They need not only top-down information-sharing about the new direction, but also bottom-up feedback to unearth and explore potential sources of resistance.  They benefit from learning to customize their messages to address the unique needs and concerns of various stakeholders.  And they need to partner with others to ensure that they have a realistic and structured plan to close the gap between current state and lofty goals.  When I work with such Visionary Change Leaders, we focus our coaching on adapting to listen more and to communicate in ways that build relationships and trust.

To apply the A-B-C model of Habit Reinvention to your own career, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is my biggest goal for myself as a leader?  What am I resolved to improve?
  2. How does the A-B-C model play out for me when I find I’m “stuck” in an old pattern, not getting traction with key people, or not getting the results I am committed to achieve?  Reflect and identify:
    1. What situations “activate” the current/old behavior?
    2. What is the “behavior” specifically – what do I do or say?
    3. What are the “consequences” of this behavior – positive and/or negative result for you, your team, and your organization?
    4. Now that you’ve identified your habit cycle, contemplate what other behaviors you could substitute that would yield more consistently positive results.  When have you attempted such actions in the past?  What do other leaders who you admire do when encountering similar activating situations?  How can you practice and build muscle by adapting your leadership style?

Here’s a resource that can help – a free ADAPT tool you can download from the Resources page of my website.  Please do be in touch and let me know how this model and tools works for you!

Share This