creating healthy habits

Recently, we wrote about the importance of preparing yourself both physically and mentally to help optimize your experiences at the conferences you and your team plan to attend in 2018. You can read it here.
The fact is though, that even when you’re armed with new tips and strategies to improve your health and readiness heading into conference season, getting the best return on the investment of both your time and money should begin at home. The key to success is literally, adopting some good habits.
Our preconceptions and thinking around learning can actually set us up to fail. Consider this. We register for Continuing Education training sessions, we attend, and write pages of notes on new techniques, approaches, findings from clinical studies, or even new technologies that we can be using to advance our knowledge as well as the success of our practice.
Then reality strikes. We finish the course and jump right back into the practice and doing things the way we always have, because we’re just too busy, stressed or perhaps lack the ability to apply that something new that we’ve learned.
It’s been said that people will only change when the stress of not changing is actually more stressful than the stress of applying the change.

Knowing there’s a better way to do something, but feeling unsure of how to apply it or lacking the time and energy to change old habits, can be stressful.

James Clear is an author, blogger and thought leader who specializes in topics like health, happiness, creativity – and especially – productivity. His free book Transform your Habits provides information about the science of how to stick to good habits and break bad ones.
In his recent article, about how to start new habits, Clear shares that every habit we hold, be it a good or bad one, follows the same pattern, including:

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates the behavior) – e.g. your phone rings
  2. Routine (the behavior itself; the action you take) – e.g. you answer the phone
  3. Reward (the benefit you gain from doing the behavior) – e.g. you find out who is calling

So, let’s apply this to some of the habits we’ve adopted as learners in our professional lives. By looking at this in a fresh light, we can see that some of the behaviours we think of as ‘good’ may not be serving us well. How often have you started to pack for yet another conference only to come across a conference bag (or pocket in your luggage, or stash of paper in your office) and discover the last conference’s notes and other goodies, completely untouched since your return?
Let’s unpack this behaviour to see how we might be unwittingly reinforcing it:

  1. Reminder – You receive the agenda for a great conference
  2. Routine – It all sounds relevant so you enthusiastically sign up for multiple sessions. Then you take tons of notes and gather plenty of handouts and proceedings, eagerly racing from one session to the next feeling stretched, overtired and in the background, worried about your work back at home while you’re away.
  3. Reward – You survive the conference and receive notification validating your CE credit. You feel relieved that you’ve ticked the boxes for your CE requirements for another year, and a proud of the fact that you’ve acquired some new and useful knowledge.

Maybe you will use some of this new knowledge at some point if the opportunity arises, and you certainly will talk about what you heard or read with your team or peers if a related issue pops up in your practice. However, without taking action to activate and apply what you’ve learned, it’s unlikely you’ll truly apply it. And without use, that learning gradually fades away. The opportunity has passed.
Now let’s explore what Clear says about our habits, to see how we can change the way we approach learning and reap more of the rewards.

  1. Reminder – You receive the agenda for a great conference
  2. Routine – You sign up for some sessions and attend them as usual. While you’re there you still take some great notes, however this time you’re prepared to activate the knowledge right away. Maybe you send your notes immediately to your team at home and book a meeting with them the following week to share ideas for implementing the new “thing” in your practice. While you’re still at the conference you might also brainstorm some ideas with colleagues for how to implement what you’ve learned vs. citing all the obstacles there are to making changes.
  3. Reward –  You leave the conference with an action plan, your team arrives at the meeting enthused to put what you’ve learned and prepared into practice, and you’ve actually learned something new that will benefit your team and that everyone understands. The best part is, you also still get the CE credit.

Continuous learning is what we do

Continuous learning is a great shared value of many veterinarians and subsequently, veterinary practices.
Desmond Balance, Manager, Veterinary Strategy, at LifeLearn said, “What we’re seeing as we expand our CE programming is that today’s learners aren’t satisfied with just one course. They want to learn at a deeper level, and they want the knowledge to be available to them quickly when they need it most.”
The best way to do that, according to Balance, is to apply it regularly.
“This comes from knowing where the information exists, being able to access it, sharing it with the team and ultimately, turning that knowledge into action.”

How incredible would it be it if you could turn the knowledge every member of your team acquires into actionable, great habits that are shared across the team? 

Breaking bad habits takes practice and awareness

Clear also notes that the first step in breaking bad habits and consequently learning new things is awareness. Just thinking about how you’re going to change behavior before the next conference or course you attend may prevent those valuable notes from getting forgotten at the bottom of your bag. Clear suggests asking yourself these questions, which can be applied to any bad habit:

  • When does your bad habit actually happen?
  • How many times do you do it each day?
  • Where are you? 
  • Who are you with? 
  • What triggers the behavior and causes it to start?

You can learn more about Clear’s science-backed approach to changing habits at “How to Break a Bad Habit and Replace it With a Good One.”

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