January Blog: The Key to Sustainable Growth

January Blog: The Key to Sustainable Growth

Rachel Hanson, Builder and Business Owner at Built To Lead

It's about that time of year when New Year's Resolutions go by the wayside; the gym starts to empty out again, and your new gratitude journal is buried somewhere under a stack of papers. We all want to get out of our ruts and grow, and yet those well-worn ruts are so easy to slip right back into. Why is that? Two big reasons are often at play—making a behavior change without an identity shift and choosing leaps over baby steps. So let's practice together and tackle them both. You'll need a pen and paper.

Take a second and write—what's the behavior you want to change? Set it aside, we'll come back to it.

Our identity drives much of our behaviors. Humans hate cognitive dissonance. So we behave according to who we believe ourselves to be rather than who we hope to become. When you say phrases like "I'm trying to deal with conflict head-on," you're really telling your brain "I am an avoider of conflict, but I'll try to go against that identity." Your brain wants to keep things simple, so it starts to push you toward your identity (an avoider of conflict) even at the cost of not taking on the new habit. It'll even find excuses to make that happen—the timing isn't right, the other person is too upset, you don't know what to say, etc. 

Instead, get clarity on the identity shift you want to make and write it out as an identity statement. "I am someone who tackles hard conversations." Or if you're not quite believing that yet, write an aspirational one: "I am becoming someone who is willing to have hard conversations." Put your statement where you'll see it and remind yourself of who you're becoming.

Great, now you've got a new identity. What to do with it? Build a little character. Character is simply identity in action. Aligning who you say you're becoming with the actions that you're taking. Starts with baby steps, not huge leaps. What's one small thing you can do this week to put it into practice? Make it specific, actionable, and concrete. "I'll try to find a time to have a hard conversation." Won't happen. Too vague. "I'll schedule a meeting for 2 p.m. on Thursday to share with Jim my frustrations around his team's work product and what we can do to improve it." That's a specific, actionable, and concrete productive action for your brain to commit to. Sounds simple, right? It is. It's just not easy. If you study elite performers in any field, you'll find a consistent formula got them to the top - mastery of the fundamentals, the basics. Do simple at a really high level and it's a game-changer.

Behavior change is an iterative process, not a once-a-year big reset. There are no giant leaps, only 1000 baby ones. If you haven't already, write your identity statement and write out really clear baby steps to take this week. Then rinse and repeat for the other 48 weeks left in the year. Those iterative gains will be giant leaps in the end...and it starts this week.

About Rachel: A former 12-year college head coach at Dartmouth and Stanford, Rachel now partners with high-performing leaders and their teams to drive excellence in all areas of their life. She’s on a mission to master the art of living and gets energy from building with and into other high performers in business and college/pro sports who are wired for deep connection and high performance. Rachel wakes up every day stoked to live her dream and help others find, create, and live out theirs.