Robert Puller once said, “Good habits, once established are just as hard to break as are bad habits.” A challenge for every leader is how to instill good habits.
Peter Gollwitzer, a physiologist at New York University, has done some groundbreaking research in how to instill positive habits. Gollwitzer’s research has centered on the effectiveness of what he calls action triggers.
In one of his studies he tracked college students who were given the chance for extra credit. The students had to write a paper about how they spent Christmas Eve, and they had to submit the paper by December 26th. As you might imagine, most students had good intentions about writing the paper, but only one-third submitted it by December 26th to receive extra credit.
However, a second group of students used action triggers. The students were required to note, in advance, exactly where and when they intended to write the extra credit report. For example, a student would indicate he intended to write the report in his room immediately following Christmas breakfast. Seventy-five percent of the students using action triggers turned in the report as required.
Action triggers have been most successful in helping people with tough goals. In another study, patients become independent much faster after receiving hip and knee-replacement surgery. They used action triggers to promptly reintegrate normal activities into their daily routine.
Action triggers can also be used successfully with dental practice teams by defining the habit you want to implement and the event that will trigger the action. For example, if your team needs to sound friendly over the phone, create an action trigger for them to smile upon hearing the phone ring. Or, if you want your hygienist to execute a specific hand-off prior to your exam, set an action trigger for him/her to communicate the key points as soon as you enter the room.
Remember, your goal is to guide your team toward better habits. Once those good habits are in place, they are fortunately hard to break.
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