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Self Development

How Your Habits Determine Your Chances Of Success

The stats are scary. We all have goals, and yet 78% of the time those goals don’t lead to a change in behaviour, which means they can’t be realised. The science is clear. If you want to achieve your dreams, you need to start by changing your habits.

Rob Jardine

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personal-habits

“Most of us can clearly understand that good habits are better than bad habits and yet there is still a clear gap between intention-to-act and action.”

We live in a time where people are preparing for life on Mars and are actively engaging with robots in the workplace. Yet, when we consider new habits and self-mastery, it doesn’t seem that we have conquered that frontier yet. The self-help book industry alone in 2008 was valued at $11 billion. Even though we have goals or intention-plans to achieve these goals, some studies prove that having an intention to act and actually acting is only correlated by 28% in actual behaviour change.

The intention/acting gap

Most of us can clearly understand that good habits are better than bad habits and yet there is still a clear gap between intention-to-act and action.

There are a number of techniques for new habit formation that focus on setting, context, barriers to action, social influence, emotion and purpose but these should be unpacked on a case by case basis and do not always provide a wide spread approach that many people can make use of. However, breakthroughs in our understanding of how we actively form new habits in the brain have assisted in the development of new behaviour and habits that last.

To understand these we first need to understand the dynamics of a habit.

Related: 10 Powerful Habits That Will Make You a Millionaire

The science behind habits

A habit is an automatic behavioural pattern in response to a cue. It’s the result of repeating a behaviour in the same context again and again. It happens when we buckle up our seat belts when we get in a car, jump onto Facebook when we are feeling bored, or remember to take a notebook with to a meeting.

Repetition strengthens the connection in the brain between a cue and the associated behaviour. With enough repetition our habits move from being initially conscious behaviour to unconscious habit. A recent study proved that it takes 66 days on average to form a new habit and that some people can take up to 250 days to form the same habit.

The secret is that repetition is key. How we move from new behaviour to habit can be likened to learning to drive a car. When driving for the first time we felt very conscious about what we were doing and constantly remembered to put the gear stick into second gear when we moved through a corner. Yet, over time and with repetition, we can’t even consciously remember shifting gears after we have driven somewhere on the same day.

The brain loves to hardwire thinking, but it has limited capacity to do so. We can only manage to change one habit at a time. This is why we can talk on the phone and drive once we have mastered driving a car  (assuming that you are using a hands-free device of course), but not when we were first learning to do so.

Small steps, big rewards

Often, we expect big changes in our behaviour and set challenging goals: Lose 38kgs, wake up at 5am, make R10 million in the first year of business. The reality is that change and the formation of new habits is small and requires incremental repeated steps to take hold. When we have a lofty goal we often get disheartened when we don’t see significant progress towards that goal. This limits our desire to repeat the behaviour that is required by the brain to create new habits.

So, what’s the solution? We need to chunk our goals into smaller habits that can be achieved easily and habitually. When we achieve goals the brain releases dopamine, the feel-good hormone, and adrenaline, the energy hormone.

This creates an upward spiral where we feel motivated and have the energy to achieve more. So, instead of working towards a R10 million target, break down that goal into a piece of lead-generating activity a day. This achievement of smaller incremental goals will create a synergy of dopamine and adrenaline in the brain associated with the behaviour that will enable us to ride this wave in a positive upward spiral of repetition over time.

Related: 8 Habits Of Highly Successful Leaders

“If-Then” plans and how to use them

Behavioural scientists suggest that we need to create a routine that weaves our new desired behaviour into our daily lives to increase repetition so that it may one day become a default response and thus a habit.

This requires routine, consistency, a reminder to do so and most importantly, what some scientists call, an If-Then plan. This is a cue in our mind to behave in a certain way when a situation presents itself. This is aided by stacking new desired behaviours into existing habits.

For example, we could create an If-Then plan to go to gym after working by making sure that once we get home after work and get changed out of our work clothes (If), we get dressed into our gym clothes (Then).

This creates an achievable and easily repeatable behaviour (getting ready for gym) that enables us to create a positive upward spiral (releasing dopamine and adrenaline) to fulfil a larger, more important, goal (improved overall health).

Once we can create this loose connection in the brain between desired activity (Then) and situational cue (If), this associated behaviour becomes easily accessible in the brain and therefore easier to recall.

Once we have recalled it enough it is hardwired and becomes a new habit, moving from the conscious to unconscious.

Pulling it al together

What goals are you currently working on that you can break down into smaller goals to create a positive upward spiral? How can you create If-Then plans or mental cues to make sure that your desired behaviour is easy to recall and act upon based on cues in your day-to-day environment? Start small, but start — that’s how you form the habits that will ultimately lead you down a path of success.

Rob Jardine is the Head of Research and Solutions at the NeuroLeadership Institute South Africa. The NeuroLeadership Institute is a research-driven leadership institute based out of New York City that brings together some of the world’s best PhD Neuroscientists and organisational leaders to co-create solutions to challenges that leaders talk about the most. Locally, they offer consulting, education and solution services and have offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Self Development

A Future-proof You

Fostering a growth mindset is critical if you want to be irreplaceable in the future.

Rob Jardine

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Growth mindset

Our ability to succeed and grow is determined by how adaptive we are, and our ability to learn. The good news? You can foster a Growth Mindset.


Have you ever wondered why some people can view failure as the end of the world while others see it as an exciting opportunity? Psychologists and neuroscientists have focused on this phenomenon over the last decade to better understand how we approach challenges in our personal and business lives.

The phenomenon has been defined as a ‘Growth Mindset’ by Stanford Psychologist Dr Carol Dweck and has been linked to higher levels of collaboration, resilience, motivation, performance and innovation. Since publishing her book, Mindset (1.6 million in print already), the term Growth Mindset has begun to appear in many major leadership frameworks and school curriculums, both locally and internationally.

In fact, Growth Mindset has become a core strategy at many global companies, including Microsoft, Google and NASA. It’s also been put forward as one of the key skills for the future world of work, as it’s believed to have a significant impact on the ability to handle change in our environments.

Some believe that in order to future-proof ourselves in the new world of work, driven by rapid change, the question we should be asking ourselves is no longer “what skillset do we need to have?” To ultimately determine both personal and business success we need to rather ask “what mindset do we need to have?”

Cultivating a Growth Mindset

A mindset is the unconscious way that we view our world. It’s the lens that influences the way that we make sense of, and interpret, information. This ultimately guides our decision- making and our behaviour.

Our lens is largely determined by our experiences and interaction with the world.  A Growth Mindset is a lens by which you interpret the world based on a belief that you have about the ability to grow and learn. Specifically, it’s the belief that you can grow and learn throughout life and that your ability is not something that you are born with.

Sounds philosophical and soft, but it has since been underpinned by advances in neuroscience and psychological research and has proven to have a hard business impact. Research started with school children and the way that different children handle challenges and setbacks. Since its application to the business context, researchers have seen it linked to higher levels of performance, greater frequency of feedback and different ways that information is processed in the brain. Some of its biggest applications have been in goal-setting, performance and development conversations in the business context. It’s also believed to be a core principle underpinning an innovation mindset.

Related: 8 Mindsets That Will Set You On The Path To Success

Growth vs Fixed Mindset

A Growth Mindset is contrasted by a Fixed Mindset, which is a belief that you are the way you are and that you can’t get better. In truth, we possess both mindsets that vary related to certain tasks that trigger either a Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset response. Sometimes, having a Fixed Mindset is okay, but for important tasks it can hamper our performance.

For example, I can have a belief in my ability to improve my rugby skills, but if I’m not big enough to make the Springboks I still won’t make it. Although I can definitely improve my ability at rugby, I also have to be realistic and recognise what parts of the environment trigger which mindset to leverage the best parts of my thinking.

Where having a mindset does not serve us, and is easily triggered, is in learning something new, which normally prompts a Fixed Mindset reaction. In the new world of work there is an increased need to learn and adapt that will ultimately determine our ability to succeed and grow. However, our mindset is at the core of how we interpret the inevitable challenges thrown at us.

A Fixed Mindset response generally focuses on looking good at all times. This places an emphasis on proving oneself, demonstrating skill and performing better than others. Although this can be used to describe the current status quo of business, many companies and institutions are beginning to realise the negative side effects of this dated approach in the new world of work.

This mindset makes us focus on problems, get bogged down in details, be defensive or anxious and get derailed by negative emotions. However, if we change the focus to not ‘look good’ (Fixed) but ‘get better’ (Growth) we can change the way we interpret the same challenges or changes. We focus on improving ourselves, developing skills and performing better than before. When you apply this approach to work you seek out role models, take better risks, set better goals and ultimately become more effective — because it comes from a belief that you can get better.

Leverage your brain for better performance

A Growth Mindset can be nudged with language and changed over time. How you set goals, give feedback and have conversations can all influence whether you trigger a Fixed or Growth Mindset response.

Once you understand Fixed and Growth mindsets there are two strategies to make sure you elicit the best response to challenges in your business environment. One easy way is to simply add the word “yet” when communicating feedback.

Related: An Entrepreneurial Mindset – Why And How To Develop One

Instead of saying that someone “did not do a presentation well,” say that they “did not do the presentation well yet.” This places a focus and a belief on the ability to improve and not a focus on judging performance. This enables the brain to be at its best to process this information and see it as an opportunity to grow and not an opportunity to justify performance or get bogged down in details.

Another great way is to apply the Rule of Three when faced with a challenge that you find threatening. When faced with a challenge think about where you were six months ago, or how you had previously approached a different challenge, and reflect on your progress.

Once you acknowledge your progress, think about where you might be six months after this challenge. This reaffirms the belief that we can all get better and that challenges, although they may stretch us, make us better by the end of it.

By being aware of how our mindset affects us and taking active steps to reframe the same challenges that initially scared us, we can leverage our brains for better performance.

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Self Development

Trust, But Don’t Be Stupid. Get Agreements!

Everyone has been disappointed at some time in their lives, and often by the people you least expected it from. Trust is not given, it is earned. But even after being earned, don’t be naïve about it. Temper that trust with a splash of cynicism regarding the human race.

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There are many entrepreneurs who have lost everything because they placed all their trust in a certain individual or group of people. Accountants and financial directors have stolen millions from entrepreneurs who trusted them with their banking. Sales reps and account managers have made businesses go into liquidation after taking all the customers or key accounts. Business partners who you trusted with your life — the godparents of your children! — left with your business and hard-earned cash, laughing all the way.

Business is a funny thing and money makes people react in unpredictable ways. Business people are still just people. And not all of them are awesome. Agreements were invented for this very reason.

The smart entrepreneurs protect themselves against these possibilities. As a basic principle, draft and conclude proper agreements with everyone you do business with. Include restraint of trade clauses with employees, partners and suppliers. Set up internal controls in the company to ensure that no one individual is allowed to make payments or have access to cash.

Never rely on customers to fulfil their promises and don’t take risks that could sink you. Customers often over-promise and under-deliver, so be careful with their credit terms and ensure that there are proper agreements in place in case anything should go wrong.

These are all basic principles in business and most corporates will comply with them but the SME owner wants to hustle and conclude the deal. That’s a shaky tightrope to walk when you don’t have piles of cash to cushion the fall.

Related: Understanding Shareholder Agreements

Essential agreements

As a bare minimum, you need to ensure that you have the following agreements in place to help you run your business effectively and protect against any disputes that may arise as your company grows:

1. Ownership

Despite being sure that the relationship will last, it’s wise to prepare for the worst. A partnership or shareholder agreement sets out the responsibilities of each party and the procedures for settling conflicts. It also sets the terms and mitigates risks for all involved should one party wish to exit the agreement.

2. Employees

Employment agreements regulate the relationship with your employees and help to avoid misunderstandings and disputes. They regulate leave, working hours, deductions, termination, etc. The last thing you ever want, is to end up at the CCMA without an employment agreement in place.

3. Customers

A sales agreement sets the framework for delivery (inclusions and exclusions) and payment expectations. It creates a shared understanding between you and your client. When everything is working, no one ever refers to a contract. When there’s a problem, you can have endless disputes or simply refer to an agreement both parties signed.

Related: Supplier Agreements – Do I Need A Written Agreement?

4. Suppliers or subcontractors

When you depend on suppliers or subcontractors to fulfil your service obligations, you should definitely mitigate risks and protect your intellectual property. Have an agreement that stipulates delivery or performance requirements, includes a confidentiality and restraint of trade clause, and specifies how and when payments will be made. Most importantly, include provisions for rights and the action you can take if any part of this agreement fails.

The point of having agreements in place is to protect your business interests. There is little use in a contract that can’t be legally enforced. Having an attorney draw up your agreements may seem expensive, possibly over the top, but it will go a long way to ensuring that you can avoid legal proceedings in the long run.

Don’t be pennywise, pound foolish. Get the right agreements in place and protect yourself! Trust, but don’t be stupid about it.

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Self Development

Will You Make The Right Decision?

Our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make, both big and small. Improve your decision-making process, and you’ll improve every aspect of your life and business.

Erik Kruger

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“When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.” — Paulo Coelho

Much of what I do in coaching is to help my clients gain clarity around the decisions they make. Every day we must make hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions. Some of them are big and will have a dramatic impact on our personal and business lives. Others are small and made automatically without us paying much attention to them.

No matter how big or small a decision is, it pays to have a clear intention for why you are choosing a specific course of action.

After all, our lives are an accumulation of the decisions we make. The small and the big ones.

1. The Values Link

Society has conditioned us to think of success mostly in terms of achievement. This means that when faced with a decision about your future, you should take the option that would potentially deliver more money, more certainty, and more stuff.

I have often spoken to clients who think they want something, but it turns out to be a temporary infatuation. Once the emotional high wears off they realise that the shiny object was merely a distraction.

Related: 6 Common Decision-Making Blunders That Could Kill Your Business

So, one of the best things you can do is to first create some distance from the decision you have to make. However, this is not always possible. In such cases I talk to my clients about the Values Link.

Essentially, we are trying to see which decision will link best to your values (current and future). I recently met with a great business coach to discuss potential collaborations. Our coaching differs in many ways. One of the key ways is that he has an awesome office where clients come to meet him and I do all my coaching digitally.

Leaving the meeting I had some office envy. I immediately started looking at To Let signs and googling office spaces to rent. I could see in my mind how my office space would look. Leather chairs. A wall filled with books. A tray with crystal glasses and premium whisky.

When the emotional high died down I realised it was not what I wanted at all. Conducting all my work digitally is exactly what I want because I value my freedom and mobility. This is not to say he doesn’t value these things, it just means that we prioritise and action our values differently. Be aware though that making decisions in this manner requires you to know what your values are.

2. Visualise the future

Visualisation is a great tool with many applications. Something I often ask my clients to do is to spend time visualising the possible outcomes of the decision they have to make.

I am not talking about a quick glimpse of what it may look like. I mean immersing yourself in it and feeling it.

What does it feel like when you have unhinged yourself from a certain commitment? What does it feel like when you have a new opportunity in front of you?

Try and visualise yourself into a day in the future and feel what it feels like. Sounds weird but you should try it!

3. Binary is boring

Many of us think that a decision is choosing between X or Y. In reality it could mean choosing between X, Y, Z, A, or B.

There is a paradox here. Research has shown that we make better decisions when we limit the amount of options we must choose between. However, do not limit yourself unnecessarily.

Use this paradox to your advantage. Take the time to be creative before making a decision and create as many different scenarios as you can. Create extreme versions of the decision, look for the middle ground, look at it from above and below. Generate possibilities.

Related: How Entrepreneurs Can Make Good Decisions Quickly

Once you have done that, eliminate as many options until only the most useful ones remain. You do this by linking it back to your values and by checking the decisions against other criteria that you have determined.

Decisions that count

Decision-making is your most powerful tool for creating a bright future.

So, take care of the decisions you make, and they will take care of you. Remember above all to bring intention to every action and decision and watch the magic happen.

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