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HoldAccountableQuestion: Our annual senior leadership retreat is coming up this month.  Every year, we leave the retreat with a list of commitments to improve our culture by improving ourselves as leaders.  We don’t have a formal system of holding ourselves accountable, but I would like to hold myself personally accountable.  Do you have any suggestions for how to build a “no excuses” mentality?


Answer: Most people believe that if you repeat a new behavior for 21 days in a row, it will become a habit. Unfortunately, that belief started in the 1960’s as a misinterpretation of Dr. Maxwell Maltz’s work on self-image. Maltz’s actual statement that “it takes about a minimum of 21 days to form a new habit.” But like a game of telephone, the more people repeated the quote, it eventually was shortened to “it takes 21 days to form a new habit.”

Author and leadership coach Tom Bartow, developed a 3-stage model of what habit formation really looks like:

Honeymoon Stage
First:  The Honeymoon Stage

In this stage, you’ll find yourself excited by the new behavior.  You may say things like, “This is easy!”, “This feels great!”, or “I can’t believe I was putting this off for so long!”  A few days or weeks into this stage, however, the honeymoon is over and the habit formation ends.


Second:  The Fight-Through Stage

If you make it past the Honeymoon Stage, you enter the Fight-Through Stage.  In this stage, your self-talk will change to “This is harder than I thought”, “I’ve done good enough this week”, or “I can skip it today, I’ll do it later.”

This is the time that you’ll have to get real with yourself and answer these questions in order when you’re thinking of dropping off.

How will I feel if I lose this fight-through right now?

How will I feel if I win this fight-through right now?

How will my life look in 5 years if I continue to lose these fight-throughs?

How will my life look in 5 years if I continue to win these fight-throughs?


Third:  Second Nature

At this stage, you’ve ritualized your behavior, and you no longer need to give yourself a pep talk about getting past the immediate feeling and the long-term results.

Changing behavior is not easy. Your process may take 21 days or 21 months. The key is to recognize what stage you are in and be ready to coach yourself through when the going gets tough.


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