Back in 2006, a Duke University researcher discovered that 40% of the things we do every day are pure habit. Whether it's brushing your teeth each morning or driving to work without really thinking about it, habits require very little mental energy and keep your days humming along smoothly.
But they’re also a powerful force at work, and how successful you are as a broker can come down to the invisible routines you follow. So are your habits working for or against you?
We bet you already know what you should be doing to get more deals. It’s simple, right? Make more phone calls, set up more meetings, block out distractions and just get to work.
But that doesn’t mean you’re actually doing them, or doing them as much as you should. Case in point: when researchers analyzed calendar and email metadata to see how sales reps used their time, they discovered something curious. Even though getting in front of customers was a key priority, they frittered most of their time on internal, not customer-facing communication!
“They spent less than one-fifth of their time communicating with customers at all,” the researchers wrote. In other words, their work habits were working against them.
Which habits are helping you—and which ones aren’t?
Charles Duhigg, author of the Power of Habit writes, “At one point, we all consciously decided how much to eat and what to focus on when we got to the office…then we stopped making a choice, and the behavior became automatic."
Think about the little actions you take day in and day out. For example, what do you do the moment you get to your desk? Turn on your computer and pull up Apto? Turn around and go get a cup of coffee first? Turn to your coworker to ask about their weekend?
These are all little habits that add up in a very big way. Do you pick up the phone and start calling prospects or shoot off a few internal emails first? Open the computer and start working or scroll through your newsfeed first? Little habits, big implications.
If you’re a broker, your survival depends on how well you make connections, build relationships with clients and prospects, and uncover new opportunities. And if how you spend each day doesn’t align with these actions, it may be time to rearrange your priorities and rebuild your daily habits.
Creating new habits
What’s the one habit that, if you could introduce it, would increase your success? Whatever it may be, there’s a very simple formula for establishing it. That’s because all habits have the same basic structure: a cue, a trigger, and a reward.
"First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future,” Duhigg writes. "Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges."
Want to create a new habit? Start with a simple cue, attach a routine to it, and give yourself a reward for following through. For example:
- Cue: You arrive at your desk in the morning.
- Routine: You open up Apto and start calling prospects.
- Reward: You get up to grab your midday coffee only after you’ve made X phone calls. Now it’s a special treat to be savored, rather than something to be gulped down while frantically doing other things.
If you follow this routine over time, your brain will start to expect and crave that reward, and the habit will become automatic.
The cue should be simple and something that happens every day, like walking into work or opening up your computer. The reward doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t always have to be a treat like coffee. It’s enough to log the calls you’ve made or tick the checkboxes on your to-do list: they’re little things, but they make you feel good.
“Anyone can use this basic formula to create habits of her or his own,” says Duhigg.
Changing bad habits
But what about bad habits? What if you want to make more prospect phone calls, but the moment you pick up the phone, you can’t help but answer a few texts first? How do you get rid of the habits that are jamming up your autopilot?
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that habits cannot be erased. The good news is that they can be replaced.
“To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine,” explains Duhigg.
He gives the example of snacking at work. "Is the reward you’re seeking to satisfy your hunger? Or is it to interrupt boredom? If you snack for a brief release, you can easily find another routine—such as taking a quick walk, or giving yourself three minutes on the internet—that provides the same interruption without adding to your waistline.”
So let’s go back to the texting example. If you wanted to change that bad habit, you would first try to figure out what reward was associated with it. Is it the excitement of seeing new text alerts? Or perhaps the feeling of getting something “done” (even if it’s not the thing you should be doing)? Then you’d identify the cue (in this case, the simple act of picking up the phone).
Next, you’d sneak in the new routine but keep the same cue and reward. So if the reward is a sense of accomplishment, you'd want to start associating the act of dialing a prospect’s number with that particular feeling. Here’s the new habit loop:
- Cue: You pick up the phone.
- Old Routine: You check and respond to texts.
- New Routine: You immediately dial the first prospect’s number.
- Reward: You feel a sense of accomplishment.
This is a simple application of the insights found in Duhigg’s book, which is well worth reading. But we hope this gives you a new way to think about the “same old things” you’ve been doing each day—and the tools to take back control of what’s on your autopilot!