How to create that safe habit


If much of what we do comes from Automatic Thinking (System 1) then how do we ensure our automatic thinking fires the actions we need to not get injured? This was the gist of a question that came to me from a work colleague in a workshop that I was running on behavioural safety.

The answer is quite simple but the process to achieve it can be difficult for many people.

The answer: Choose the behaviour or action you would like to make automatic (the routine) and link it to something that you do a number of times a day (trigger). When you successfully do the new action, give yourself a small fist pump (reward).

Here’s how this might work. Lets say looking where you are moving is an automatic routine you wish to embed. And incidentally, it is the routine I highly recommend. After reviewing hundreds of incidents, looking where you are going isn’t something that gets done by everyone all of the time.

Something as simple as a head turn before you move (the routine). Find something that will trigger the routine for you. For example, every time you move from your workstation (the trigger), you deliberately move your head in the direction of movement. It needs to be consistent and frequent. When you do the routine, give yourself an internal fist pump…”Yesss” (reward). Do this for about two weeks and you will find the “head turn before you move” will become an automatic action.

You may have noticed I have highlighted trigger, routine and reward. These are the three components to what MIT scientists have coined the habit loop and beautifully presented in Charles Duhigg’s book “The power of habit”. The habit loop explains how we develop the automatic thinking action. The action that requires no cognitive effort on our part and the one we use most of the day. And because it doesn’t require cognitive resources we can rely on it when our cognitive resources are consumed with something else, as it often is!

Bottom line: it is our habits that keep us safe for most of the day so creating safe habits should be your first priority.


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