The Graveyard of Old Habits


The Graveyard of Old Habits

A place where we stop and reflect on what old habits prevent us from moving forward and how we can change those.

Members: 5
Latest Activity: Jun 1, 2010

Habits help us through the day, eliminating the need to strategize about each tiny step involved in making a frothy latte, driving to work and other complex routines. Bad habits, though, can have a vise grip on both mind and behavior. Notoriously hard to break, they are devilishly easy to resume, as many reformed smokers discover.

A study of the MIT has shown why. Important neural activity patterns in a specific region of the brain change when habits are formed, change again when habits are broken, but quickly re-emerge when something rekindles an extinguished habit -- routines that originally took great effort to learn. "We knew that neurons can change their firing patterns when habits are learned, but it is startling to find that these patterns reverse when the habit is lost, only to recur again as soon as something kicks off the habit again." (from MIT News)


The same is true for teams and social systems. Organizations try to maintain their patterns and usually repair disfunctionalities quickly. Change means that things will not necessarily be like they used to be. When we want or we have to change something it evidently means that we need to quit or give up from something. Giving up is sometimes easy and sometimes painful. Organizing a ritual like funeral of old team gives us a moment to celebrate and to be thankful of a good old times. At the same time it will give us freedom to start seeing a new team, new relations, life and possibilities in the future. However, if things need to be given up, people will ask themselves whether it is worth to do so. They compare costs and benefits, and based on this valuation they will 


It is a good practice to come together as a team and to first individually list things that people need to abandon and bury. Compare lists. Is there a lot of common ground and agreement about needs to die in order to move forward? Or do people differ significantly of what they perceive as "old stuff"? Such conversation are not easy because they tend to get very personal. People need to understand what they gain when before they give up something.


Ray B. Williams outlines in his blog post Why Old Habits Die Hard: What Managers Need To Know how the results of brain science apply to management:


  • Habitual thinking and behavior are a result of powerful neural pathways in our brains, and memories that are automatically and unconsciously accessed; we get brain chemistry rewards every time we access those memories;
  • Unconscious thought processes can predetermine, without an individual's awareness, decision-making bias and actual decision-making;
  • Emotions are the key driver to decision-making, not logical, analytical thought; our logical processes are often only rational justifications for emotional decisions;
  • Your brain will put up defensive mechanisms that will try to protect you from change;
  • Because the brain operates in a quantum environment, our perceptions and self-talk alters the connections and pathways in our brains. Whatever we focus our "attention" on changes or creates new brain connections;
  • Managers should focus on desired new patterns of thinking and behavior to help employees change, not analyzing and trying to fix the old patterns because the latter will only reinforce the problems.

Questions for Deeper Exploration

  • Are we aware of what we need to let die?
  • What are our people's needs and fears in the change journey?
  • Are we making the right assumptions and how do we know?
  • Do we trust each other to be able to move into an area of insecurity?


The Brain Series

Excellent series on US public television program "Charlie Rose"  which can be watched online.  It is called The Brain Series and covers the leading scientific work being  done on the brain on a…Continue

Started by Lucy Garrick Apr 1, 2010.

What Tools Would You Use on the Graveyard?

Please add tools, links, articles etc. which help organizations to reflect on the old habit that are blocking change and for overcoming these blockades.

Started by Holger Nauheimer Mar 21, 2010.

Comment Wall


You need to be a member of The Graveyard of Old Habits to add comments!

Comment by Franis on May 29, 2010 at 12:40pm
People might enjoy learning about Alexander Technique. It's philosophical change-work tools addressing how people adopt unintentional habits while they think they're cultivating other "improvement" routines. It solves the issue of "Today's Best Is Tomorrow's Rut."

The unusual cool thing about Alexander Technique is that it has a physical practice - it's not just philosophy. This practice reveals and undoes unnecessary strategies of thought operating inside you that limit you personally. This medium is learning easier physical movement by studying the kinesthetic sense.

Check it out - it's mostly taught as educational therapy for easier movement. But it's ideas are meaty enough to be applied as a template of change in many other areas of people skills.

How to practice Alexander Technique is learned one-on-one and in small classes, needing a similar time commitment to learning as a musical instrument does.

If you're curious for an interesting experimental writing on the subject: Catherine Kettrick My blog own on the subject (addressed to those in the field) is at There are many videos on youtube about it too...

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