It’s time to dream SMALL: how continuous improvement and habit stacking can set you up for success
January 17, 2023
As we head towards the end of the year, and subsequently the start of a new year, we all tend to focus with intensity on setting new habits and goals. We thought it was a great time to shed a little light on continuous improvement.
Much to the dismay of New Year’s resolution-ists, continuous improvement is the antithesis of big-goal setting. Loaded with expectation and pressure, it’s no wonder that only 24% of resolutions were stuck to - and it’s telling that only 12% of Brits made any in the first place (YouGov 2020).
Instead, continuous improvement shuns the pressure and burnout that comes with the intensity of taking big leaps to achieve goals and focuses on making small, incremental changes that make it easier to set new habits and thus leading to greater sustained improvement over a much longer period of time.
There is no pressure to create any drastic changes here, meaning you can focus on really small actions and make them consistent.
Over time, just 1% increase in performance can set you on a far greater trajectory for success than attempting to make big, unsustainable changes. In fact, if you improve by 1% each day for a year, you'll end up 37 times better than where you started at the start of that year.
Does it work?
In a nutshell - yes! It’s really effective. But it does take commitment and a mindset shift from quick wins to a long-term habit change. Which isn’t easy, given that we tend to recognise only big wins and achievements as real success.
How does it work?
When it comes to continuous improvement, the real secret to success is habit forming.
It’s helpful to turn to neuroscience to find out how habits are formed. There are two key systems that control what we do. The first of these is the executive (the prefrontal cortex) - actions the executive makes includes long-term goals, forward planning, focusing attention, decision making and regulating emotions. It's responsible for long-term goals but also deliberates which makes it a slow and inefficient process.
So to combat this, the executive delegates. Smart, huh?
It sends tasks to another structure called the basal ganglia - our autopilot. The basal ganglia can’t deliberate so it stores pre-programmed sequences which produces quick and efficient actions - otherwise known as habits.
By forming new habits, there is a greater chance of success when it comes to continuous improvement. Moreover, it means your actions do not rely on motivation - one of the big pitfalls to success.
Where to begin…
Let’s face it, forming new habits isn’t easy. We’ve all been guilty of saying we’ll journal, or meditate or go to the gym more. But there are a few hacks that can help to remove the high levels of motivation required to form habits.
Habit stacking takes away the burden of new activities by stacking them onto daily habits that already exist.
The existing habit then becomes the trigger or cue to do the new habit.
Great examples of habits to stack upon include brushing teeth, making a morning coffee or when you leave for the morning commute.
If you stack your new habits to a pre-existing autopilot cycle, you are more likely to stick to the new behaviour.
Once you’ve tried habit stacking, you can take advantage of the momentum and create larger stacks by linking some small habits together.
The key is to be very precise in your stacked action and not to expect big changes quickly. For example, stating ‘when I am brushing my teeth I will list three things I am grateful for today’ will have a stronger rate of success than simply stating ‘when I am brushing my teeth I will practise gratitude’.
How do I apply this to work?
Continuous improvement is a fantastic way to approach work for a whole host of reasons, but specifically because it can help to keep motivation and work energy levels high, whilst helping to avoid burnout by pushing and expecting too much, too quickly.
Firstly, make a list of the things you do on autopilot at work. It could be:
Making a morning coffee
Going through Slack channels
Taking a lunch break
Then make a list of things you want to stack onto these habits for continuous improvement. It might be:
Check in with a team member(s) more regularly
Prioritising tasks for time management
Ensuring diary is up to date with meetings.
Then, you need to link the new habits to the existing ones. For example ‘each time I make a morning coffee, I will check in with a member of the team’ or ‘once I have checked my emails in the morning, I’ll draw a list of tasks in priority order’.
Struggling to know where to start?
Make sure you complete your Vyou work energy survey and take a look at what areas might need improvement, or take a broader look at your team’s overall energy levels and see where you might be able to help improve them.
And remember - Vyou’s one to one coaching sessions are the perfect place to discuss subjects like continuous improvement. Vyou coaches will be able to help you reflect on progress, processes and challenges.