Often, the biggest obstacle to change lies in our most deeply ingrained habits: those automatic thought processes that operate outside our consciousness, and yet have a profound impact on our behavior, shaping everything from how we respond to challenges to how we engage with others.
The good news is that we can literally rewire our mental habits for the better. In Habit Changers, executive coach M.J. Ryan shares the secret weapon that has helped her highest performing clients improve their focus, better manage under pressure, enhance their emotional intelligence, become more effective leaders, and more.
Inspired by the Buddhist tradition of Lojong, or "slogan practice," habit changers are simple, one-line aphorisms that, when recited, reprogram your brain’s automatic responses. Here, Ryan explains how to use the 81 Habit Changers that have demonstrated the most profound and lasting results. They include:
- You can’t say yes if you can’t say no
- Don’t push buttons that don’t need to be
- Handshake your fear
- Stand where you’d rather not
- Remember your highest intention
- Outsource your worry
- Reach for the better thought
Our capacity to change is our greatest gift as human beings. Habit Changers will help you take control of your destiny and more easily achieve the success and happiness you desire.
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Do you find yourself surprised, frustrated, or angry when the people close to you behave in the same dysfunctional way over and over? I often work with people on leadership teams who are frustrated by one another and shocked when their leader or colleagues act the same way over and over. Each time is a fresh new affront. As you know, at least in theory, trying to change another person can be exhausting--and impossible! So why make yourself crazy trying? I coined this phrase decades ago for a friend who was all worked up about how someone else kept behaving. But why, I asked, did she expect anything else? People do what people always do. Yes, your mother will criticize everything you do, yes, your coworker will be crabby in the morning, and yes, your child will leave trash in your car. People don’t generally change very much, despite our desire for them to do so. And when they do, it generally comes from a deep-seated inner longing, certainly not because you want them to. If they do change for us, it tends to be a pasted‑on, short-lived endeavor. There is simply no point in trying to change others. Instead, when we surrender to the truth that they will do what they always do, we don’t have to be so disappointed, frustrated, angry, or annoyed when they continue to be exactly who they are. It creates not only acceptance but also greater peace of mind.
This person is my teacher
This is a practice that comes from Buddhism. It’s about seeing everyone who annoys, frustrates, angers, or otherwise bothers you as someone who is providing you the opportunity to grow some positive quality in yourself--your equanimity, your kindness, your patience, your boundaries, your tolerance. . . . It’s up to you to figure out what you’re supposed to be learning. It’s a way to stop focusing on what the other person is doing that bothers you and instead concentrate on what your reaction to that person is trying to teach you about yourself. A brave young leader I was working with used it with a direct report of his who was driving him crazy. His first impulse was to complain about this person at every coaching session. But when I suggested that he see this problematic person as his teacher, he took the idea on wholeheartedly and said, “Well, I guess he’s here to teach me to be more patient and precise in my managing, because he is always asking me to clarify what I mean when I think I’ve already made myself clear.” That perspective enabled him to give his employee more of what he needed, and their working relationship got better as a result. The leader found this habit changer so helpful that he used it with every problematic person he came across--and grew exponentially as a result.
You’re where you’re supposed to be
Roberto was in a jam. In the process of moving his family from one town to another, he’d lost his job. To afford the mortgage, he needed a job pronto. He started applying to all sorts of places, including “ones I would never have even considered before,” as he told me later. He ended up getting hired by a company he didn’t think highly of at the time. “But it turned out to be the best move I could have made. It provided me with both stability--I’ve been there ten years--and flexibility--the chance to work at home to be available for my kids while they were growing up. I learned that I was where I was supposed to be, and I’ve used that saying to help me accept other situations gracefully. When I had to do the evening routine with my two kids (including the cooking) every weekday for years because my wife was working nights, for instance, or having to drive half an hour round-trip to help my ninety-year-old mother-in-law work her remote--again!--it’s helped me keep my cool over and over. What’s interesting is that now that my kids are grown and the situation at work has changed, it’s no longer where I am supposed to be--and so I am looking for a new job.”
Anger is fear on the boil
Like a lot of my high-powered clients, anger was an issue for me when I was younger. I never got mad at work, only at home. I’d try extremely hard to be perfect and bite my tongue, and then something would set me off and--kaboom!--I’d explode at my significant other. One day early on in my relationship with my now husband, I lost my temper. Instead of getting angry back or walking out, he asked me, “What are you afraid of?” That was the moment I understood that under anger there is always fear. Fear of not getting our needs met, fear of failure, fear of . . . fill in the blank. That’s why I resonated so strongly when I read a version of this phrase in Caitlin Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl. Since then, clients have used this habit changer when they’re mad to remind themselves that underneath their fire is some kind of fear. Understanding that--and perhaps even expressing the fear instead of the anger--can change the situation for the better. At least you’ll know what the need is that you’re trying to satisfy! A senior executive used it to help her recognize what was going on for her when she got mad in meetings, so she could tell her colleagues that she was afraid of failing if they didn’t pull together as a leadership team. They appreciated her vulnerability much more than the hostility they had been getting previously. The team dynamics improved as a result.
Stop, breathe, rewind
Jessica was one of my clients who had anger issues. Her blowups were so frequent that they were threatening to derail her career. I taught her that anger is the fight response of the fight-or-flight mechanism. It occurs when the amygdala, the center of the “threat” system of the brain, perceives a possible danger and hijacks the prefrontal cortex, the more rational part of our brain. The trick to anger management is to recognize when you’ve been hijacked and not act from that place. It’s easier said than done because your amygdala is screaming for you to fight. I taught Jessica to recognize the signs when she was hijacked, which for her came in the form of starting to feel hot and tight in her body. I suggested that as soon as she felt that way, she should imagine a bright red stop sign in front of her and think, Stop. Breathe. Rewind, while taking slow, deep breaths through her nose and relaxing her body as much as possible. Stopping and breathing fools the amygdala into relaxing a bit, reducing the sense of threat and bringing the prefrontal cortex back online. The rewind is to get you back to what was happening before you started to feel threatened, so you have a chance to react more logically. It worked for Jessica--and I’ve been using it with clients ever since.
This anger is false advertising
To my mind, anger comes in two forms. One is righteous anger--there is an issue that is unjust--and you feel your passion rise to do something about it. That’s healthy anger. The other is fear, that sense of threat that comes from the amygdala, which was originally designed to alert you to a present physical danger. If the danger is real--you are about to be attacked on the street--that’s also healthy anger. But because the threat mechanism comes from that ancient part of our brain, the part that, as I once read, is fully developed in humans by the age of two, it’s not very sophisticated. It often senses threats and cuts off access to our higher thinking even when there is no true physical danger but rather “threats” from other people that it determined to be bad when we were very young. Thus it works against us a lot of the time, because when we’re dealing with interpersonal problems, we don’t want to be reacting from our toddler amygdala. This habit changer can help you recognize that most likely what you’re getting angry about is a false threat. In other words, you’re not in any immediate physical danger. It’s your amygdala’s false advertising, as I like to call it. This doesn’t mean what is threatening you isn’t an issue to deal with, just that once you recognize it’s not a matter of life or death by repeating the phrase “This anger is false advertising,” you can calm down and respond from your most mature thinking. It’s saved a lot of clients from childish outbursts and can do the same for you, as well.
You are as you are evidenced
I once worked with Alice, a woman who needed to grow her authenticity as a leader. She was coming across as phony in her interactions, and as a result, her colleagues didn’t trust her. Several referred to her as the “Stepford employee,” after the movie The Stepford Wives, in which women are replaced by robots. It was a big wake‑up call to get this feedback from her colleagues. She had no idea they were seeing her in this way. She had been trying so hard to do her job perfectly that it was coming across as very formulaic. At first she wanted to blame the people giving the feedback, but because it was something many folks felt, she bravely accepted that this was how she was perceived. In helping her to figure out how to come across more true to who she was inside, I recalled something a friend of mine, sales strategist Beatrice Stonebanks, once said: “You are as you are evidenced.” I suggested Alice repeat it before she met with anyone, to remind her of how she wanted to come across. She found it a very helpful reminder that showing up as you intend means others will see you as intended. That, along with getting more comfortable revealing her true feelings--including being honest about what she didn’t know--enabled her to come across as her true self, which had a positive effect on her relationship with her colleagues. Use this habit changer to make sure you are projecting the you that you want others to see. Because ultimately that is the you that you are.
Walk your own path
Sophia was in a bind. She had a wonderful idea for a business that she was genuinely passionate about. She had the freedom in her life to pursue it and, because of an unexpected inheritance, the capital to start. So what was the problem? She was afraid of what “they” would say if her idea didn’t pan out. Have you ever been in a similar situation? So concerned about what other people might think or say that you were paralyzed? And who are these mysterious “they” who have such a hold over our lives, anyway? Whenever I work with folks in situations like Sophia’s, that’s the first question I ask. Sometimes people can pinpoint a person or group they are concerned with impressing, but most often the fear stems from an amorphous sense of others watching and passing judgment on our actions. My hunch is that our concern about this comes from our amygdala, that toddler part of our brain that in this case is trying to keep us safe by not standing out from the crowd. Unfortunately that instinct works against our taking the kinds of risks that might bring us the greatest satisfaction and sense of fulfillment. When I explained this to Sophia, she agreed and then said, “I need to walk my own path.” We agreed that she’d use that phrase to encourage herself when she got too caught up in what “they” might think. And she walked her own path to a thriving business with ten employees.
First correct, then prevent
Lucy, a manager of a team that was working on creating a very complex product on a very tight deadline, was typical of many clients I’ve worked with. When a problem arose, she’d bring her team together, ostensibly to fix the situation. However, she’d quickly go into blame mode, trying to figure out whose fault it was. Her team would get defensive in response, throwing one another or people in other parts of the organization under the bus to deflect her wrath. A tremendous amount of time was lost. What she needed to do instead was to solve the immediate burning problem, then go back later and figure out how to prevent such issues from reoccurring. This was a lesson I learned early on in my previous career as a book publisher. When a crisis hits, fix it. Don’t waste time analyzing why or who. Then afterward solve for the pattern, so it doesn’t happen again. If you try to do both at the same time, you do neither well. Another client of mine put it this way: “First correct, then prevent.” Bingo! I thought. That’s it! I gave this habit changer to Lucy, who has used it ever since when things go awry, which, given the nature of what she does, is often. As a result, her group has gotten faster at solving the immediate burning platform--and preventing future fires.
A pointed finger is a victim’s logo
I love this saying by Joseph Brodsky. And it once provided a big wake‑up call for a client of mine. Jeff was someone who, in his own mind, could do no wrong. No matter what happened, he wasn’t to blame. That meant, of course, that he was an expert at deflecting responsibility onto others whenever a problem arose: “It wasn’t me because I’m not in charge of that” was his standard response. His behavior was a problem because he worked in a large, matrixed organization where people needed to share accountability. At first he didn’t recognize that he was the problem. In fact, in each of these situations he saw himself as victorious and the others as the victims of his superior maneuvering. One day I asked him if he’d ever heard the Brodsky quote. He said he hated anyone who acted like a victim and it was the last thing he ever wanted to be. I challenged him to see that that was how he was coming across, and he decided to use this habit changer in the hope it could transform his habit. And it has--to a great degree. Sometimes he still blames others and shirks accountability, but he’s gotten better at recognizing what he’s done, apologizing, and making sure the lines of responsibility are clarified going forward.
My response is my responsibility