One step forward, two steps back….

A few days ago I was asked the following question:

“How do we keep ourselves true to our reformed behaviour, once we have made a commitment to change?”

How do we stay on track once are goals are achieved? The Leader's Digest by Suzi McAlpine

Staying on track with our goals once we achieve them is no easy task. Image Source: Flickr Commons.

Becoming aware of a trait or habit which is holding us back is only half the battle in conquering it.

Consistently maintaining the improvement once it has been achieved on a long term basis, is by far the most challenging part.

After all, if it were that easy, achieving New Year’s resolutions, exercise commitments  and even living by our values would be a piece of cake.

The late leadership consultant, author and speaker, Brian Klemmer summed it up in the title of his book – If How To’s Were Enough We Would All Be Skinny, Rich and Happy.

It can be even more difficult to confront, examine and change weaknesses which have been with us for many years, even since childhood.

The reality is change is hard, particularly when behaviours become an intrinsic part of us, because they are learned from a young age.

Sometimes we can mask these traits as ‘overused strengths’.

For example, throughout my life and particularly earlier on in my career, I had been praised for my willingness to contribute in group situations – and say the tough stuff everyone was thinking, but too afraid to say.

Over time I relied too heavily on this strength, to the extent where it became overused.

I cringe when I reflect on some of the group discussions I dominated over the years.

However I became so used to contributing my thoughts before stopping and thinking them through, it became a part of who I was (or appeared to be), and I began to feel pressured to adopt the role of ‘the one who speaks out’ in group situations.

As you can imagine, this was to my detriment, and although I have come some way in addressing this development need, I do slip up from time to time – especially when I have a strong emotional response to something.

The good news is, you can achieve long term change – with effort and mindfulness:

I am by no means an expert in this area, but below are some ideas I have learned myself and vicariously through my coaching practice, which may be useful in addressing traits you wish to conquer, such as conflict avoidance, domineering leadership, reluctance to delegate, and lack of composure.

Mindfulness (or ‘wise attention’) practiced regularly, can be a simple but effective key for preventing a lapse back into less helpful behaviour, once ‘reformed’.

Whether it takes the form of daily or weekly questions to yourself, to encourage self-reflection, or even quotes or mantras read on a regular basis, each person has the ability to find their own way of being mindful of a particular tendency.

The trick is to practice mindfulness regularly – daily if possible.

Enrolling the help of others to provide feedback to you may also be helpful. Asking a trusted colleague, boss, friend (or your coach) to let you know if they see the specific behaviour being demonstrated, or to give encouragement when they see a better alternative response, can also help to keep you on course with your efforts.

A coach will help to indentify unwanted behaviours when they arise - The Leader's Digest

A coach can help you indentify unwanted behaviour when it arises.                  Image Source: Flickr Commons

I have even coached one MD whose habit of ‘over talking’ was so ingrained (and he regularly slipped back into old habits), he automatically put a self-imposed accountability in his annual development plan each year about it.  Brilliant!

I also hear the words of my own coach saying, “be kind to yourself” (i.e. as you would to a friend), as you work on your own continued self-development.

As Yvon Chouinard has said, “How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top.”

In addition to the above tips, it also be helpful to ask yourself (or journal about) the following questions:

What situations bring out this characteristic in me the most? What are the ‘trigger points?’ 

Knowing which situations you find are likely to trigger your perfectionist friend or micro manager to pop up, will help to keep the behaviour at bay.

In what ways does this specific behaviour hold me back?

Writing down the effects of the traits – on you, your colleagues, and your career in general; will help to provide clarity, and form a bridge between awareness and solution.

What benefits am I gleaning from overcoming this? 

Now you know the impact, write down (on the same piece of paper) the benefits from conquering the issue, and read the answers to both questions regularly.

Who has nailed this competency that I know?  What do they do? How do they act?  

Often thinking about how a specific person would act in a given situation will provide a positive picture in our mind of what our ideal behaviour looks like.  This in turn can help us to model that behaviour.

How have you kept yourself true to your reformed behaviour?

What tools have you found useful for getting back on track after a relapse of old behaviours?

I would love to hear your personal stories and insights.

Finally, a big thank you to Kate, for providing me with the inspiration to write this blog post.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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