Habit, ritual, or practice?

This morning I’ve been thinking about the role practice plays in our success and what is the difference between a habit and a practice.

When I think about habit it is the things I do that I don’t even think about.  Perhaps it’s brushing my teeth, checking my cell phone multiple times a day, or any number of bad habits I might have such as interrupting my wife when she is trying to tell me something.

When I think of habits, I tend to think about my default response to some stimulus and I tend to think about how often habits operate at the subconscious level.  They can be good habits such as always writing down the names of people I meet into my moleskin or they can be negative habits such as sleeping in and procrastinating or an addiction that is harmful.

We often talk about how it takes 21 days to learn a new habit but I actually think this moves us into a different category.  For me habits are what we default to and when we are trying to put intentionality into our life we begin to build rituals, processes, and ultimately a practice.  I think of rituals as being the periodic ritualistic behaviors that we develop over time.  It could be something as a ritual you form in a relationship such as the way my son and I always go camping up at Priest Lake or the way my father and I would always go shopping for Christmas presents on December 24th and make a ritual of having breakfast downtown at our favorite diner and then walking around the stores to pick up gifts for my mother.  Rituals to me are the habits that we put some intentionality into but that are spread out over a longer period of time.

A process is something altogether different.  A process is a way of putting intention into building a routine that achieves a desired outcome.  In business it is critical that we develop processes that allow us to provide consistent results for our clients and allow us to grow our business by teaching those processes to our employees that help us scale our business.  For every product line I sell I need to develop a process that I can explain to my client and insure that I will follow through at a very high quality.  However these processes can differ from habits and rituals in so far as they only happen when a business activity triggers the need for that process.

Processes need to include positive habits as well.  A surgeon for example must adopt the same process and set of procedures for insuring everything is sterilized and that the surgery goes as planned… every time!  I use process and procedure interchangeably here.

Finally, I am getting to what I think unifies everything and that is the creation of a practice.  Today I am thinking about how a practice embodies everything we do, habits, rituals, and processes and puts a cohesive pattern to it all.  I think this is where scheduling becomes important and developing our daily routines that help us become successful.  Practice is the ultimate development of our creative potential because it gives us the space and time to cultivate our ideas.  For some people their process involves waking up and spending time reading and writing before they get on with the business activities of the day.  Athletes are very accustomed to developing a practice around the procedures associated with health, nutrition, and skills practice.  The key to all of it is regularity.  They won’t be successful unless they complete their practice every day.

Today I am thinking about my own practice and how I can improve it. How can I develop a practice that deepens my skills, and improves my work/life integration?  To create a practice I have to become aware of my body rhythms and start to apply some structure.  I want to build a practice that will help me break some bad habits like checking my cell phone for messages and social media 500 times a day!

Over time I have gotten to know my habits and routines and I am constantly working to develop better processes.  Now I just need to combine them together into the practice of my life and career.

I listened to an interview with Seth Godin yesterday and one of the things that struck me is how he admitted that he had a practice that included daily routines that he would not share with the audience because it wouldn’t do us any good.  The only way to build your practice is by learning what works for you.  For me, waking up at 5:30am and making coffee is the start of my morning ritual.  I know that what I think about the first five minutes makes all the difference on what I accomplish and I know that if I really want to make projects come to life I have to write every day and commit to that project.  I also know that my practice get’s out of balance if I don’t make time for yoga, walks, bird watching, and throwing the frisbee for Murdoch our border collie.  I have learned to trust this process because in the middle of some of these seemingly unproductive activities I get amazing insight into what steps I need to take to successfully move my career forward.  The secret to all of this is the rinse and repeat cycle of doing something consistently on a daily or some other repetitive pattern.

What is your practice looking like for you?  To build your practice think about how to balance out your thinking and planning time, your daily tasks, your project activities, and your health, wellness, and relationship activities.  Building a practice is about making time for your life and career by making choices.

In a world that is filled with too many choices and too little time I think it is imperative we all develop a practice for daily success.

Another factor in developing my practice has been to recognize my own personality traits.  In one sense building my practice has been centered around developing strategies for offsetting my weaknesses.  This has included looking at communication strategies, business processes, and time management.  One tool I implemented this last year was online scheduling of appointments.  I had to develop this system to offset my propensity for over booking my calendar because I have a bad habit of never saying no to a request.  Now I don’t have to say no.  I just refer people to my online calendar and let them select a time based upon when I have availability.  Another bad habit I have is piling receipts on my night stand, car, or desk.  I was always misplacing a receipt or forgetting to input it in my accounting system.  Two years ago I eliminated this problem by adopting expensify into my business processes.  Now when I get a receipt I immediately pull out my cell phone and photograph it in the expensify app that then uploads it and smart scans it into my expense report.  I can throw away the receipt and not worry about the clutter piling up around me.  My accountant loves me for this because I can send her a PDF report that includes a photographic record of every business receipt!

As a teacher I have found processes that have helped me be more effective.  I have students booking video conferences, I develop online video tutorials, and I use class time to help you work on your projects.  My teaching practice has evolved over the last 20 years and is built upon a practice of modeling by example and developing supporting materials that replicate the process for my students.

To summarize, the key to success is developing the processes that build into your overall career/life practice of being whatever it is you want to become.  By developing your practice you are developing your craft, your skill, and your time management for effective planning for the future.  Give it a try and let me know how it’s going or whether I can help you.  My calendar is available at https://calendly.com/iragardner.

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