Business experts

Expert advice: Break bad habits and instil good ones for business success

Written by Nigel Scott.

Nigel ScottI decided I was going to stop eating biscuits. Day one went very well. Days two and three – excellent too. And then my in-laws came for tea – well you can’t invite people in their 80s for tea without offering them a biscuit, can you?

Then, of course, it would be rude not to join in so maybe just one or two wouldn’t hurt. To make it doubly tricky, they didn’t finish the packet so after they left half a packet of chocolate hobnobs was staring at me from the counter. What is a biscuit lover to do?

What’s going on here and why is it so hard to do something you know is good for you?

James Clear, author of the excellent Atomic Habits, believes strongly that it is not about willpower at all. It’s about creating or breaking habits. It doesn’t take willpower to clean your teeth every day – even though it takes some time and is a bit boring -because that is a habit.

Luckily, James has plenty of practical ideas to help with this. Let’s take an example – suppose you want to exercise regularly but find you often have a reason (excuse?) not to do it. Here are some of the things you can do.

Habit stacking which means attaching a new habit to a well-established one. For example – after I clean my teeth I will do 10 squats.

Be very clear about what you will do. Rather than just saying “I will go to the gym three times a week” make it really specific: “On Thursday I will go to the gym at 6pm and exercise for 45 minutes.” This has a huge effect on participation.

Make a commitment. If you agree to meet someone to go for a run you are much more likely to do it.

Design your physical environment to make it easier. If you want to go to the gym after work, put your gym kit on the front seat of the car so that you really can’t forget to go!

Be aware of the decisive moment that will kick off the habit. For example, the key habit you need to create might be changing into your gym clothes. Once you have done that you are very likely to go to the gym. Focus on how to create the “changing into my gym clothes” habit.

Make it satisfying. We will keep doing something if we like it. The challenge is that “good” habits like eating more vegetables often don’t have immediate rewards whereas “bad” habits like eating biscuits do. One way of making a habit rewarding is to track it as this helps you visualise your progress. If you can see that you are regularly reaching or exceeding your goal, it is satisfying and that will encourage you to continue with the habit.

What is the number one new habit that you need to instil in your business?

Nigel Scott offers business and executive coaching in Wiltshire and Swindon. Contact him on 01672 512001 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.