Practice Makes Autopilot

For three days every three months, I invest in my own professional development and head off to business school in Australia. Those three days are always the most tiring days of my quarter, even compared to the weeks where I do back to back full day workshops!

Anyone who’s been on training or to a conference lately will know what I mean – taking on new information and getting our head around new skills is exhausting. We have to switch off the autopilot and keep all systems firing.

Anything worth learning has a steep effort curve at the beginning. Whether it’s driving, playing an instrument, or taking on new practices at work, the initial steps are hard and there’s no autopilot to be found. For leaders who need to think differently about new problems and be more focused and strategic in their work, it often feels like a daily battle to show up at work differently.

The good news is, it’s often not a linear curve. In Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about the lag effect of small changes that create big transformation. By taking the right steps and consistently focusing on specific behaviours, big change becomes possible. This is true of our personal habits, and also of rolling out organisational change.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
Aristotle

Common mistakes that we make, in pushing forward with new change are:

  • Relying on willpower (instead of creating systems that support our success)

  • Putting off change for when things ‘settle down’

  • Giving up too early

According to Clear, we often give up just before we reach the tipping point – where those incremental, consistent changes tip into the zone where everything becomes easier. Once these new habits are embedded, like driving or playing an instrument, we get to shift into the autopilot zone and focus on something else.

Nothing worth having is easy. If we want something new and better, we need to learn how to be new and better. Practice is the key – practice, practice practice. It might not make perfect, but it can make autopilot. And that’s enough for me.

Til next week
- A