We are all familiar with the famous rule – ‘it takes 21 days to form a new habit’. If you can just stick to those 21 days, resist the temptation or keep up the effort (in accordance with the habit that you’re trying to form), you’ll be fine. Well… apparently you won’t. And this is actually a good thing.
I said “at least!”
It turns out that even the guy who coined this famous rule didn’t actually say that it took 21 days to form a new habit, but that it took at least 21 days. Maxwell Maltz was a plastic surgeon who noticed that it took his patients a minimum of 21 days to get used to their new physical transformation. He published a book where he stated this fact but always mentioned that this was the minimal amount of time required, and not an objective and absolute time span where people always adjust to a new reality. Somehow along the years he’s been systematically quoted wrongly, which is how we wound up with the famous 21 day rule.
Psychological research from recent years actually points to quite a different reality. Philippa Lally from University College London, arrived at two fascinating findings. Firstly, it was found that on average, it takes 66 days for something to become a habit. Moreover, this changed vastly from person to person and from habit to habit, so that the shortest period of time to form a habit was 18 days and the longest was 254 days (!). Secondly, the researchers trumped the idea that habit formation is an ‘all or nothing’ situation. In other words, if you miss one day of your routine, this doesn’t mean that you’re now doomed to giving up on this habit altogether.
Habit formation at the workplace
It’s interesting to look at our work-lives as a set of habits that we perform daily. When wanting to improve performance at the workplace, this allows us a novel way to approach change management, or the implementation of new processes. Instead of having stressful goals or quotas that we need to reach, we can approach the question of getting better at work as something constructive that has to do with how we can learn to improve. This is relevant in so many areas of work: transitioning employees to new tasks and responsibilities, organizational change management, onboarding processes, and many more. Habits also come in to play in the way that your contact center employees handle their calls or in the way that your salesforce handle their deals. These are all habits and norms that can be taught and enhanced. This is becoming more and more common, as Adi Ben Nesher from Accenture told us in his interview a few weeks ago.
Gamification and habit formation
Using gamification isn’t new, it’s actually been used by lots of organizations and companies for a while now. One of the best examples is Fitbit. Fitbit basically gamifies your fitness for you and helps you manage your diet, your exercise routine and anything else that has to do with your physical well-being. The app allows you to track all the different parameters that effect the state of your body – what you’ve eaten, how active you’ve been, how you’re resting and sleeping, etc. These “activity trackers” track many different metrics at once, which enables the system to remind us and coach us according to our own specific performance. The app also sends you reminders and notifications about different goals that you set for yourself and encourages you to fulfill those goals. The beauty of it all is that this is done through a game-like experience. So there are game-like indications of how many of your goals you have completed and gauges that indicate how you’re doing in comparison to what you set out to do. Competition is also available by sharing your progress with your friends and seeing how you rank on different leaderboards.
This is just one example of how gamified solutions are being used by different companies to help their users achieve their goals. We even dedicated a whole post to this subject a while back, so you can read more about it here.
Communication, reminders, and habits
Along the same line of the habit forming apps, communicating reminders to your employees about how you would like them to behave is a great way of forming encouraging desired habits at your organization. In a post we wrote a few weeks ago we explained how different methods could really assist in the adoption of gamification and in the formation of new habits. These could include creating teasers for upcoming campaigns or competitions that are set to begin in the near future, giving positive feedback for good performance, or simply reminding people of the rules of the game.
Forming the right habits is a great way to preserve a high level of performance at the workplace, and gamification is a great tool on the road to forming these correct habits. This is becoming more and more pervasive in different industries and organizations but the idea is always the same – Give employees a way to state clear goals, an easy and fun way to know how they are doing, and a system that helps them keep on the track towards toe goals that they set for themselves, and your organization will be on the healthy road towards great work habits.