Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, discussed how we form habits and develop mental routines at a Jan. 20 luncheon at the Coral Casino at Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore Santa Barbara. His talk, “The Habitual Pursuit of Excellence,” focused on teaching better leadership skills. About 160 people attended the Mosher Foundation event with Duhigg, who has authored bestselling books “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life” and “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business.”
“We are living through a social and economic revolution that is as profound as the Agrarian Revolution and the Industrial Revolution,” Duhigg said. “One of the things that happens in a revolution like that is the definition of productivity is up for grabs.”
Today, we can be overwhelmed by multitasking and spend our whole day answering emails and phone calls while never getting anything important completed.
“Busyness can replace productivity,” Duhigg said. “It’s not so much that we need to train our brains to think differently on its own; we need to train our brans to think differently in a very specific way. The most productive people, across professions, industries and cultures, all understand that they need to think more deeply.”
To do that, Duhigg said the most successful people develop contemplative devices or habits that force them to think more deeply about the choices they make and the goals they set. “It helps us teach others how to think deeper for themselves and expose ourselves to all kinds of information,” he said.
“There are three mental routines that make us better leaders. The first is innovation because we are essentially navigating a world where innovation is at the center of everything. The second is focus because we live in a world where there are so many potential distractions. The third is taking these lessons and implementing them to the teams and empowering the people that we work with.”
Creative and innovative people are able take things that are well known and blend them into an original mixture. “We’ve been telling stories about the Founding Fathers since there were Founding Fathers and hip-hop is 15 years old, but if you take the story of Alexander Hamilton and put it into a hip-hop song, suddenly you have “Hamilton,” which people go crazy about.
“And it’s not just musicals that use this formula for creativity. If you look at scientific papers, the ones considered most creative are about 95 percent other people’s ideas mixed in a new way.”
“Innovation brokers,” the people we deem most creative, expose themselves to a variety of ideas and experiences and create a routine of thinking deeply about them.
“People who are the most successful tend to envision a story about how their day is going to unfold that is more specific than everyone else’s,” he said. “This seems to give them a huge advantage because what we know is that our brain tends to allocate attention to the stories that we tend to tell ourselves.”
By remaining focused on what is important, rather than what is obvious, we are better able to make important decisions.
Since we live in a team-based world, it’s important to teach others and turn them into leaders. When teaching others to develop the willpower to accomplish difficult things, we have learned that motivation tends to expand when we help them feel in control. “The routines have to be hard, they have to feel like work and they should feel like unpleasant work,” he said. “They only become a habit in our life when they make us feel in control of who we are. Every habit has a reward, and the reward for thinking more deeply is to prove to ourselves that we are in charge of making our own choices. This is incredibly powerful at changing lives.”
The Mosher Foundation sponsors a series of speakers in Santa Barbara who address the moral and ethical strengths and weaknesses of various American presidents and society in general.
Douglas McKenna, CEO and executive director of the Center for Organizational Leadership, will follow on Feb. 17 with “Habits of the Heart: Cultivating the Dispositions of Great Executives.”
The second annual Lead Where You Stand Conference will feature Ron White on the evening of May 31 speaking about “The Long Arc of Moral and Ethical Leadership: Lincoln, Eisenhower and Martin Luther King Jr.” On Thursday, June 1, “A Day with David” features lectures, panel discussions and interactive audience participation with NY Times columnist David Brooks. The conference concludes Friday, June 2, with McKenna and several TED-talk style presentations by leaders from a variety of organizations and industries.