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5 Key Lessons That Can Change How You Think About Habits

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5 Key Lessons That Can Change How You Think About Habits

It's time to take a closer look to the things you do without even noticing.

· Agile Zone ·
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Do you check all your social media accounts early in the morning? From brushing teeth to making the bed first thing in the morning, our habits subtly guide our daily lives.

  • As a Leader, do you go for a gemba often to the team rooms?

  • As a Scrum Master, do you practice "Non-Interference?"

  • As an Agile Team, do you have Sprint Goals?

Likewise, how many habits do you have? You might need a minute to think about this question, because habits are, by definition, behaviors that we perform automatically, with little or no thought. According to a study from Duke University, 45 percent of our behaviors are habitual. 

This article is highly inspired by two books: Atomic Habits by James Clear, and Mini Habits by Stephen Guise. These books have helped me in developing positive micro-habits and achieving my goals.

So, let me take you through what I learned.

Lesson 1: Leverage Micro-Habits

We seldom notice tiny changes, because their immediate impact is negligible.

A friend of mine who was leading a few teams had a typical habit of getting progress updates from the team members on a daily basis via reports, dashboards, and charts. Based on the information he used to take action and provide the required support to the teams. However, teams started seeing him as a hindrance in their work progress. With a few discussions, he agreed to make small changes in his current habit and experiment with a few new micro-habits. Instead of taking updates from the team he started going to the teams for a gemba and encouraging teams to practice more visualizations via information radiators. Instead of teams pushing information, he started pulling information from the information radiators. These simple yet powerful habits started showing a big shift in building trust between the teams and the leadership. 

Lesson 2: Create Cues and Triggers

When you step into a dark room, why do you instinctively reach for a light switch? It’s a habit – a behavior that's been repeated so many times that it now happens automatically. Similarly, all habits begin with a cue or a trigger to take action. 

The phone's buzz, for instance, is a cue to check messages. Once you've understood that certain stimuli prompt to habitual behavior, you can use this knowledge to change your habits.

Simple changes to our environment can make a big difference. Want to practice an instrument? Leave the instrument out in the center of the room. Trying to eat healthier food? Leave them out on the counter, instead of in the drawer. 

A Scrum Master I was coaching had a habit of stepping into the daily Scrum and hijacking the whole purpose of the meeting. I asked him to practice Non-Interference by deliberately fixing some other imp meetings during the daily Scrum so that he couldn't interfere with the team's agility and let the team self-organize and adapt the daily plan. Gradually, he started seeing that the team is maturing and he can focus on other systemic impediments related to adjacent processes and Organization. 

Lesson 3: The Two-Minute Rule 

With this principle, any activity can be distilled into a micro-habit that is doable within two minutes. 

A fellow Agile coach wanted to develop a reading habit because he couldn't manage to read a complete book anytime. We ran a small experiment: instead of committing to reading one book every week, I encouraged him to develop a habit of reading two pages per night. Once he read two pages, it was very likely to continue. The two-minute rule recognizes that simply getting started is the first and most important step towards doing something amazing.

Our Daily rituals define who we are, and like gravitation force, pull our behavior in a certain direction. 

Lesson 4: Using the Principle of Friction

This principle says to "reduce friction for good habits and increase friction for bad habits." If you want to waste less time in front of the TV, unplug it and take the batteries out of the remote. Doing so will introduce enough friction to ensure you only watch when you really want to.

Similarly, making sure that the agile teams have enough supplies (markers, sticky notes, flip charts near their team area will enable them to use more of visualization with less friction. As Newton’s first law states, an object in motion will not change its velocity unless an external force acts upon it. The greatest impediment we usually face is going from inertia to motion. 

Lesson 5: Create a Framework to Keep Your Habits on Track, Using Trackers and Apps.

Habit tracking is a simple yet effective technique. Simple methods like using a calendar, journal, or mobile apps like Lift, Habit Streak Plan, or Coach.me are great for establish and tracing the progress of habits.

I personally have been using the Coach.me app for a while and see a great benefit in keeping track of my habits through daily check-ins. I also have a personal journal where I keep track of my goals and habits. Whichever method you choose, it should be something you look at every day. Remember, not only habits that lead to goals but also developing daily rituals is something you can be proud of too.

In order to make a positive change, one should recognize that change requires patience, as well as confidence that your habits are keeping you on the right trajectory – even if you aren’t seeing immediate results.


James Clear gives a great metaphor in his book. Imagine a plane taking off from Los Angeles to New York. If during takeoff, the pilot decided to adjust course 3.5 degrees to the south, the plane’s nose would move just a few feet. Outside of the cockpit, no one on board would notice the small movement. But over the course of a journey across the country, the impact of the change would be considerable, and the confused passengers would alight from their plane in Washington, DC, not New York. 

A tiny change in your behavior will not transform your life overnight. However, transforming that behavior into micro-habits and daily rituals can lead to big shifts. 

What micro-habits do you have? I'd be looking forward to hearing back from you in the comments.

habits ,agile ,habit forming ,two minute rule ,micro habits

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