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Agile for smokers

Changing habits through agile practices

In the Agile Open Camp 2016, organized by the city of Bariloche, Fer Lescano learnt that the agile methodology can be applied not only for software development but also for any habit you want to change. In one of the already classic FDV talks, he told us how agile helped him stop smoking more than a year ago.

“Smoking is also a habit. Not only is it fighting against a vice but it is also about changing, which is very hard”, Fer affirms. Consequently, we started researching on habits.

Daniel Kahneman wrote a book called “Thinking fast, thinking slow”, where he mentions two systems in which the thinking process works.

  • The first system works fast, automatically, emotionally, frequently, unconsciously and uses stereotypes or patterns.
  • The second system behaves slowly, with a bigger effort and in a conscious way. It is the system used to calculate and for the logical thinking.

The simpler the action, the faster you go on “autopilot”, you start “not thinking”. We can imagine habits as mental patterns, systems of behavior or thinking that exist thanks to the first system which Kahnernan mentions. The problem of these customs is that there are good ones and harmful ones, and the deeper they are rooted, the smaller the choice we have. In order to give up habits or change them, we need a giant leap of effort and will. But if we can manage to reach an impasse and think in a logical and conscious way (by using the second method), we can change them.

Charles Duhigg also speaks about neurology of habits in his book “The Power of Habit”, looking for the answer why we do the things we do normally and periodically. He defines habits as being composed by three elements:

  • Trigger
  • Routine
  • Rewards

The easiest way to change, according to the author, is to recognize the trigger and reward and modify the routine. In this way, we can evolve individually, organizationally and even socially.

Fer Lescano told us that after the last keynote, on the banks of the River Foyel, he suffered a lot on the way back, he thought he would die. It was 45 minutes uphill, 200 meters of height, and the lack of oxygen became an issue. At that point he decided to quit smoking (while he was smoking, he says laughing).

It had been 15 years he smoked. He remembered he thought: “How can I quit smoking?” And he then remembered the talk by Hiroshi Hiromoto in the AOC, where he talked about eastern techniques aimed at reaching improvements called Kaizen habits: small changes that accumulate in order to generate one much bigger. The precepts of the theory were three:

  • Everyone wants to be better
  • In order to be better we have to change, and those changes have to become habits
  • Changes and generating new habits are tough

So, Hiroshi introduced two concepts:

  • Kata: It is something which is repeated in a deliberate way, with a view to generating what in sports is called muscular memory. It is repeated so many times that it can be done without even thinking. Driving and biking are good examples.

Tony Robbins says that “Repetition is the mother of skills”. We could deduce that this repetition is originated in the second system by Kahneman – the more logical one– and is gradually incorporated to the first system – the more unconscious one.

According to Charles Duhigg, another mandatory factor to achieve change is having a plan, and here is when the second concept named by Hiroshi is involved:

  • Improvement Kata:

It is divided into two stages: Planning and executing. We must plan bearing in mind an objective and set 3 steps to repeat in order to achieve it.

You have to understand the present status, experiment with small steps, reach the next status and then repeat, iterate.

When Fer decided to give up smoking, he put forward 2 experiments:

1)First experiment:

  • “Measure how much I smoke, where and how.” As any millennial, Fer affirms, he searched for applications. “Quit”, with a widget and a “smoke” button was the simplest. “At noon I used to go downstairs to have a cigarette and pressed the button. I left work, got on the train and pressed the button. The idea was to find patterns and measures proved it was a habit that had nothing to do with the desire of the moment.”

2) Second experiment:

  • “Cut down the number of cigarettes I smoke”. He then set iterations.
    • Iteration 1: That the first cigarette is not lit at home.
    • Iteration 2: On the way from lunch to the square, have only one cigarette, not two.

The result was a success. Fer also got support from a text that had been recommended by Julia Mendiola and which motivated him because, as we mentioned before, making a giant leap takes strong will. “Easy way to stop smoking” by Allen Carr helped him find that will. On this book, Allen offers some ideas that can help generate changes in habits (and we have added the last).

  • Use a trigger. For instance, if I want to work out I should leave running shoes at sight.
  • Rely upon rituals: For example, create a ritual for those moments in which I feel like smoking, such us counting up to 10.
  • Make something easier or more difficult. For instance, if I want to eat fruit, I buy in bulk and leave it at the reach of the hand.
  • Keep obstacles in mind. For instance, if all my friends smoke when we go out, I will face one extra difficulty to overcome and I must pay special attention.

Agility is transferred to other areas outside software development.  It is no longer news that it is used in design, in advertising agencies, and in other areas that never before had we imagined. Today it is also offering us the possibility to improve even at an individual level, outside the organization. If we want to create and nurture an agile mindset, change must be our constant, our habit.

Paula Becchetti

Paula is the editor of intive’s blog. She holds a degree in Audiovisual Communication from Universidad Nacional de San Martín (UNSAM) and is a Content Manager specialized in blogs, web content, email marketing and social media. Her extensive experience in the software industry makes her very valuable when it comes to translate technical content into a colloquial language. According to her own words: “I connect with the world through technology, but also through everything that breathes, sport, music and my travels.”

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