Creating Habits and the Power of Coaching

We all have habits - some negative, some positive - that influence our daily lives. All habits have a purpose and reason. Often, these habits form naturally based on our daily activities and environments. And, whether we like it not, these habits can influence the trajectory of our careers and personal lives. Early in my career, I never thought much about this. By default, I created some really good habits. However, I also created some that I now know had a lasting negative impact.

My hope is that you will be much more conscious of your habits. Periodic reflection and conscious adjustments over the past several years has created amazing growth for me.

I often think about questions like:

  • What is a current negative habit that needs to be replaced with a positive one?

  • How can I better control my habits?

  • When is the best time to start the change?

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While I know that I have made many self-adjustments over recent years, the most significant impact has come from working with coaches and the use of coaching skills. This article is the first in a series on Surgeon Coaching and the Power of Habit, in which I share how we can create amazing surgeons with a more healthy and sustainable model than our current methods in surgery.

How Are Habits Formed?

There are quite a few habit researchers that have published on the science of habit formation. In this article, I will highlight the habit loop, outlined by Charles Duhigg and discuss how it applies to surgeons.

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg outlines the “habit loop” which consists of three basic parts of the loop:

  • Cue - The signal that triggers your habit. For example, your alarm in the morning, signaling that it’s time to start your day.

  • Routine - The behavior that follows the cue. For example, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, getting dressed, and getting something to eat.

  • Reward - The source of satisfaction that makes the habit so easy to repeat. For example, the efficiency of my time to get out of the house and getting productive as early as I can.

This particular habit loop is an example of a positive and negative habit. Quick doesn’t always mean healthy. This can also apply to my bad habits. For example, eating junk food when I am on-call to sustain my energy. The best way to break bad habit loops is to first identify each of these three components and then replace them. Typically, this starts with changing the routine, which leads to a different reward. For example, my morning routine often includes granola or yogurt because I adjusted my routine to get this at the hospital where it is available. The reward is healthy, and I am either rounding early or getting the pre-op work done so the patient will roll back to surgery while I am nourished with something healthy.

Making these changes requires effort and adjustments over time. We can create our own habit loops - focusing on maintaining our positive habits, while decreasing our negative habits. And with training, support and leverage from a coach, our chances of success are greatly improved. So how does a coach help with habit loops?

How Coaching Supports the Habit Loop

Coaches play an important role in personal and professional development. In a cyclical process of self-reflection, goal development, and intentional adjustment, you and your coach create a process and culture that fosters performance improvement and bolsters goal attainment. Likewise, we can apply this process to create habit loops. When we involve a coach, we decrease the learning curve and energy invested. A coach is there to guide self-reflection, analyze the cues, routine and rewards, share best practices, provide tools and resources, and provide feedback and additional inquiry as we round out the cycle and start fresh.

Looking for help creating a new habit? Habit loops are a great way to improve your performance inside and outside of the OR. SurgeonMasters has the tools and resources to assist. We also offer an advanced method to analyze your habit  - The 8 PRACTICEs Performance Improvement Tool. The 8 PRACTICEs is a methodology designed to bring awareness, intention and purpose to your actions. Check it out here and let us know how it helped you.

Working with a coach can decrease the time and energy it takes to create a habit and greatly improve your chances of maintaining it. SurgeonMasters also offers surgeon coaching and coach training. If you want to learn more about Surgeon Coaching or if you want to become a surgeon coach, our inaugural training program will be on January 20, 2018 at the Kona Kai Resort & Spa in San Diego.