Note to readers: Soch to Success is a weekly column to enhance critical thinking skills for you to achieve success. Each article is packed with insights, tools, and a roadmap to action.
“Why the hardest habit? Why not any other habit?” I asked the host who invited me to speak to a classroom of young adults on one habit for thinking. ‘‘Hardest because that word makes young adults sit up and pay attention,’’ my host said.
In a world where NFTs and Beeple are taking birth and cryptocurrency and blockchain are as cryptic as possible, it makes sense that more attention is paid to what is hard and tough to follow. Challenges excite people. I get that. What I don’t get is how the simplest, blink and miss habit is the hardest habit to adopt.
As I began the talk, I invited some of the fastest typists in the room. Most programmers and coders know their typing speed is. Of the four who took up the challenge, one was marginally faster than the others. Just a few words were separated them. Each one had his unique style of placing fingers on the keyboard, especially on the numbers.
Do you know if you use your little finger on the keyboard and if you follow a precise finger position on the keyboard, it will increase your typing speed? Most of these young adults gaped at some of their incorrect finger positions. While practicing, they struggled to get their little fingers active on the number 1 key. This struggle made me deliver the message—the hardest thing to do is to improve a habit.
This week in Habits for Thinking, the attention is not on a new skill or a habit, the attention is on how to “improve” a habit or a skill. Typing is easy and mandatory. All of us have to do. What is hard is to get is the fingers at the right position, especially if you are in the business of delivering faster notes. Don't even look at me. When I type, I cross barriers. My right hand often trespasses to the left side of the keyboard. I admit I have never worked on the typing habit to improve the speed. Almost anything that we do has a scope of improvement, yet we do not look at improving mundane habits.
There are reasons why I insist that “improve” is the hardest skill to follow. The reasons are rooted in our upbringing:
a) Improvement is not our job. All our lives, we have been trained to depend on others to guide us on how to improve, where to improve. It starts with improving your handwriting at school, where teachers give commands. Improvement has fallen upon us as an instruction. It is not our own, it is rented ownership from our instructors.
b) Improvement is a job that you pay for. You want to get better at tennis, you hire a coach. You pay her to get you to a better position. You have injured your leg and want to heal, so you get a physiotherapist. She becomes the caretaker of your improvement responsibility. Like we live with the feeling that improvement is not our task, we do not feel fully responsible for our improvement.
c) Improvement is the invisible thin line. You don’t see it. You miss the line most of the time. Like the young adults in the classroom—fast typists but unaware that they can become faster by using their little finger too. Similarly, many habits take so much space in our lives that we do not feel the need to question their efficiency and thus do not pay attention to improvement.
d) Improvement is not a challenge unless paid attention to. All human minds, not just young adults, largely pay attention to challenges. Improvement doesn’t come as a necessity. You carry the same habit, day after day, year after year. There is nothing wrong with a habit and you can continue without improving it. But some habits like your fitness regime or food habits, if not improved, show signs of decline. And, this decline brings attention to improving that habit.
All these make “improve” the hardest idea to nurture. Improving is a skill. It is not a habit. It is a skill that starts with the intent to improve a habit. One has to observe the habit, analyse, find areas of improvement and work on improvement with a goal in vision.
Roger Federer, the champion, maintains there is always room for improvement. Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Abhinav Bindra, Mary Kom and so many other star athletes work towards a better performance in the next game even after a podium finish. Improvement takes time. A seasoned swimmer takes months and years to cut her timing by microseconds.
Improvement brings efficiency and growth. It is a positive trait to keep as a company. Improvement can be brought in at various stages:
A personal habit
The first step towards improvement is to observe and analyse the habit. Analysis throws up areas of improvement. If you want to improve your sleeping habit, you observe your pre and post- sleeping behaviours. It will give you areas or activities that you can work on to improve your sleeping pattern.
A work process
Many activities in work-life are habits like a weekly meeting and making a to-do list. Some of these habits when improved not only increase efficiency but also bring growth.
Toyota's production system is a production philosophy designed by Toyota which is now implemented by many companies worldwide. The philosophy is based on the principles of Kaizen. Kaizen comes from two Japanese words: Kai (improvement) and Zen (good), which translates to “continuous improvement”.
Kaizen states that our way of life—work, social or home—should be constantly improved. Kaizen is about achieving improvements by taking small steps instead of big, rigorous changes. Though improvements under Kaizen are small and incremental, the process brings about dramatic results over time. This philosophy helps to ensure maximum quality, elimination of waste and improvements in efficiency, both in terms of equipment and work procedures. Within the Toyota production system, Kaizen humanises the workplace, empowering individual members to identify areas for improvement and suggest practical solutions.
The philosophy of Kaizen has been adopted by many workplaces to improve efficiency. Startups launch products as prototypes, not the final products but work-in-progress products that are improved through continuous customer feedback.Improvement not just brings efficiency, it is a growth tool. In pockets of life like sports and healthcare, improvement takes the centre stage. In personal life, improvement is not seen as a skill but when given due attention, it brings magnificent results. Typing speed can be improved by simply placing fingers on appropriate keys, an entire production unit can be improved through Kaizen philosophy, work culture can be improved. All we need to remember is that the onus of improvement is on us.