How STOP Think! helps us develop better habits

‘Old habits die hard’. It’s a saying we’re all familiar with and has developed into something of a cliché.

Nevertheless, it says much about the way we think and act, particularly when it comes to working practices in the construction sector.

What is a habit?

The definition of habit is ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that’s hard to give up’.

It’s often triggered by a particular stimulus that activates the automatic behavioural response – for instance, biting your nails or tapping your foot when you become nervous, or brushing your teeth straight after breakfast.

How are habits formed?

When your actions are linked to a trigger by constant repetition – then the habit forms. So when the trigger takes place whether it’s emotional, physical or visual you have an automatic urge to perform the action.

The process often begins when you learn (or start doing) something new. It might develop as a ‘reward’ or as source of comfort – like children sucking their thumb when they feel tired.

You do it consciously at first but by repeating it over and over, the action becomes automatic and triggered by whatever the cue might be.

Our lives are filled with these ‘trigger-habit combos’, as they’re known. Some are positive like getting the urge to exercise when you feel sluggish. But others less so like eating junk food when you become bored, for instance.

And it’s the bad habits that can lead to problems in the construction workplace – particularly when they lead to unnecessary risks.

For example, there may have been an occasion when you found yourself up against a tight deadline and to save time, you cut corners on the proper safety procedure. If repeated often enough, this becomes automatic behaviour – triggered by the sense of being under time pressure.

Breaking a habit – how Stop Think! can help

But how do you get out of bad habits, like the one in the previous example?

The first step is acknowledging the bad habit, which is where Osborne’s ‘STOP Think!’ programme plays a crucial role.

STOP Think! encourages every member of our organisation to think differently and make better decisions. It’s about having a ‘Stop Think! moment’ to ask yourself if you’re thinking and acting in the best way and it applies to each stage of a construction project as well as in people’s day-to-day roles.

In our example, STOP Think! can be applied to the times you’re under pressure or stressed – the habit trigger. It encourages you to say to yourself: ‘Yes, it might save a little time if you by-pass safety procedures, but is it worth putting yourself and others at risk?

In-graining a new habit

Then once you’ve identified the bad habit you have to replace it with a good one – because the trigger will still exist.

In our example, this might be to continually picture the potential consequences of ignoring safety procedures (injury, possible death, and/or disciplinary action), to replace the so-called reward for cutting corners (saving time).

If you act on it repeatedly, the new action should eventually become automatic.

Traditional thinking suggests it takes at least 21 days to remove a habit and replace it with a new one. However, a recent study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found it took on average 66 days to form a habit.

In reality and particularly when it comes to working practices – much depends on the amount of thought you dedicate to changing your habits and how often you repeat the new action. Which is why STOP Think! is crucial in helping us develop behaviours which will impact directly on the performance, quality, efficiency, reliability and productivity of our business.

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