I have come to understand that the hardest part of change for anyone is a new routine. Think about starting a new diet or getting to the gym for the first time after a long break. Ben Franklin said it takes 21 days to build a new habit. He is so right. We tend to start anything new with enthusiasm but fade quickly into old, engrained habits. We are creatures of sameness. As human beings, we prefer the comfort zone of the familiar. Change is hard. But only at first.
I have come to think that altering one’s routine is not good enough because routines are to easy to keep. I think change comes when one starts a new ritual. By definition, ritual means an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite. I will take the term rite and insert leadership actions or even general employee work habits. We all have set ways of operating. And these set ways are often the real barriers to changing one’s lot in life.
If you walk into the wall the same way and continue to hit the same spot, you’ll get a bigger bruise. For leaders this is profound. We can talk about helping someone change, we can try to adopt new rituals, but talking and trying doesn’t make it any easier.
Think about what rituals you may have — we all have them. Who thinks it’s funny that I brush my teeth in the shower? I do, but it is my ritual. This pattern is repeated every day, and every day it gets harder to change. And I’m just talking about a stupid tooth brush. Imagine asking someone on your team, or worse yet, trying to change your own ritual at work? It’s a difficult thing to do, but so necessary too.
Ritual means procedure, compliance, established protocol. Words and whimsical attempts never stick when it comes to rituals. One must think differently to establish new ways of brushing ones teeth. Or to affect any real and meaningful change in their personal or professional habits. If you’re a leader? Well, good luck. Start with some understanding — study the habit and explain the why. And most importantly, help by designing a new way of thinking. Without it? We fade back into the known and the familiar. We are creatures of habit.
What ritual will you establish?