Twenty years ago if a British cyclist had won a bronze medal, it would have been a cause for celebration, gold medals were virtually unseen, and the idea of a Tour De France win beyond our wildest dreams. In those days it is said that manufacturers were reluctant to sell equipment to the British team to avoid negative associations, and yet today, the team consistently competes with the best in the world - and wins. The turning point is thought to be the embracing of by Performance Director Dave Brailsford of the strategy of the aggregation of margin gains. What this means is that he looked for tiny improvements in many areas, which when aggregated together caused the performance leaps that have led to exceptional results. In this article we look at how individuals and teams can apply this idea, and how the science behind habit building makes a difference to businesses, teams and lives.

Our results are always the result of our actions, and most of what we do is the cause of our habitual behaviours. Our positive habits cause us to produce outcomes in line with what we want, and our negative habits produce the opposite. When we appreciate this, and seek to understand how we form, maintain and change our habits , we can make marginal gains that aggregate into remarkable results. Understanding the anatomy of your habits, as well as understanding 5 simple strategies for effortlessly changing your habits, is now possible due to a body of research that demonstrates how humans make and break habitual behaviour. 

The New York Times Bestseller - The Power of Habit by Thomas Duhigg summarised the latest behavioural research. Our “Habit Loops’ involve Cue, Craving, Response and Reward. In my work with sales leaders and teams I see that when a person truly understands what the Cues, Craving and Rewards are for particular responses, it is the first step towards change. When I realised that the Cue to nail biting was often the car or football, it brought me a step closer to the solution. Yet until I saw that the reward was a relief from anxious thoughts, and that I would crave that relief as soon as I got into these situations, then I began to understand the response and reward mechanisms for myself.

Highly addictive habits such as nicotine, nail biting and crack cocaine have similar Cue, Craving, Response and Reward structures. Rather that offer a genuine reward, they simply offer a relief from the anxiety that is being stimulated by the cue (which in the case of tobacco and crack is often just the withdrawal symptoms of the drug itself). As you begin to see what your cue is, what is it that you are craving, it soon becomes easy to apply some simple behavioural science to divert yourself into more positive behaviour. In this article I will suggest the 5 S’s (Slicing, Situating, Stacking, Stating and Celebrating) as simple approaches to help you succeed.

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