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(Good) Habit Building Made Easy… to Grow Your Consulting Firm

You want great, business-building habits—calling prospects every day, regularly writing thought-leading content, waking up before noon—but how do you embed them firmly into your daily routine? Let’s use a little science and the Four Ties method to put you on the path to greatness.**

The image below, adapted from this outstanding book (buy at least 10 copies, please), was developed to help executives make organizational behavior changes stick. In a nutshell: your habits are a function of the number of times you do repeat a behavior and the emotional impact of the behavior.** stickiness---emotion-vs-repetition
How do we tap into this model to create new, better routines? Let’s take a habit you want to create. Maybe it’s reaching out consistently to your contacts, or writing every day, or (here’s a good one) asking “what else?” rather than defending yourself when a prospect surfaces an objection.

For today’s article, I’ll imagine you want to adopt the habit of writing every day.

The Four Ties method employs specific steps to embed your new habit for the long term.

The Four Ties Habit Building Method

Tie New Habits to Existing Routines

We need to create repetitions of the new habit so that it will take root and the wiring will emerge. One of the easiest and most effective approaches is to tie the new habit to something you’re already doing.

Let’s say you habitually scan the news each morning for a few minutes. Before you fold up your paper (or close the news tab on your browser) write for 15 minutes on some news-inspired topic.

The link between your existing routine and writing will inject some much needed discipline-juice while your new habit settles in securely.


Tie Small Actions to Large Emotions

To embed your new habit faster, you need to increase the positive, emotional impact. For instance, when you write a book, opening the first carton of printed copies generates an uplifting “I did it!” emotional high. But you don’t need to reserve that surge of exhilaration until the moment your book arrives. Instead, throw your arms in the air and sound a triumphant whoop after each day’s writing session. After all, those little sessions add up to the published book.

You’ll need to give yourself permission to feel “disproportionately” happy in response to small wins. Can you do that? I believe you can.


Tie Up Choices

Options are the enemy of habits. Every decision is an inflection point—a weak link where the repetitions can halt and habits can break. After your news review, if you have to choose between your daily writing, cleaning email, or taking your iguana for a walk, there’s a possibility you won’t choose writing.

Tying up choices is 30% making other options unattractive/unavailable and 70% commitment.

To make your alternatives unattractive/unavailable, you set your computer’s task scheduler to open a writing template every morning at [7:30]. Now, switching to the inbox is a distasteful act of open defiance (against yourself). You also store the iguana leash in your daughter’s room because she doesn’t get up until [7:30] and you know you won’t want to wake her early.

Commitment means mentally eliminating the choices.

When I entered the workforce, I committed to suspending work from Fridays at 3:00 p.m. until late on Saturday no matter how much work is on my plate or how urgent the demands. I have not broken that habit one time in about 30 years. Because I view it as a commitment, not a choice. There’s no decision to be made.


Tie Down Habit-Interrupters

To maintain your new habit you’ll need to eliminate the counter-emotions that can break it; i.e., feelings that reward interruptions to your habit.

To tie down these threats, pay close attention to your thought process and identify that moment when you decide not to follow your plan.

For instance, you finish scanning the news around 7:15 a.m. then, instead of jumping into writing you decide to clean out your email inbox. Oops. Reflection and introspection reveal: 1) unmanaged email creates anxiety; 2) emptying your inbox feels productive; 3) opening a blank document to start writing creates a moment of overwhelm and fear.

Hmm, not a surprise that you opted to break the good habit. Let’s tie those down.

First, you reserve 8:00 a.m. on your daily calendar to clean email. With a plan in place, there’s less stress at [7:15] and the promise of feeling productive at [8:00]. Second, you create a writing template with a few blocks: main idea, key points, examples, metaphors, body copy. Now you no longer face a daunting, blank screen.

Voila! The threats to your habit have been mitigated.

That’s it. Use the Four Ties to improve your performance. (You can skip the tie-dye.)

What positive habit are you going to start (or continue)?


  1. Mary
    August 17, 2016 at 7:38 am Reply

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

    • David A. Fields
      August 17, 2016 at 7:41 am Reply

      You’re welcome, Mary. I’m assuming your comment is the first of an ongoing series that will appear every week! Sounds like a good habit. (Hint, hint.)

  2. Paul Donehue
    August 17, 2016 at 8:42 am Reply

    As always, simple and right on target David!

    • David A. Fields
      August 17, 2016 at 12:27 pm Reply

      Paul, as you know, firing right on target takes practice, which is… a good habit! Thank you for the positive feedback.

  3. Jim Milliken
    August 17, 2016 at 11:35 am Reply

    Excellent, practical advice, David. And writing sparkles. Talent, planning, discipline.

    • David A. Fields
      August 17, 2016 at 12:36 pm Reply

      You cleverly reinforced the article, Jim. Of the three traits you mentioned–talent, planning and discipline (a.k.a. good habits), the last is definitely the most important to a consultant’s long-term success. (That’s sort of a drag for those of us who aren’t natural planners, have mediocre discipline and would love to skate by on our talent!)

  4. Katharine W. Halpin
    August 17, 2016 at 1:10 pm Reply

    In addition to the above comments, I so love your graphics. THANKS for everything.

    • David A. Fields
      August 18, 2016 at 7:50 am Reply

      Katharine, the graphics and illustrations are a bad habit…

      Thanks for your support!

  5. Karen Maples
    August 17, 2016 at 10:00 pm Reply

    Thanks David. As always, great food for thought – from your post, and also from the comments. Two things in particular that I will start using first thing tomorrow: (1) commitments instead of options – I realized I frequently give myself options that derail my efforts to stay true to my commitments; (2) As I’m prepping to launch a blog and frustrated about focusing my thinking, the simple but powerful writing template you suggested provided a great tool for getting past “brain freeze” which was giving me the perfect excuse to walk the iguana instead of writing 😉

    • David A. Fields
      August 18, 2016 at 7:39 am Reply

      Karen, your commitment is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your new habits. As you refine your blog template, if you find it works well for you, will you share it with me? I’m sure other readers would enjoy a template that’s proven to work.

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