A New Muscle

Earlier this week I was driving to the airport to drop off my rental car and catch my flight back to Ohio. As I was driving, it struck me that it didn’t feel like I was out of town or anything different than driving to a meeting in Cleveland (other than a different skyline). That’s when it hit me – that travel and everything related to it has become routine for me. When I first started traveling about 8 years ago, it was new and different and it felt weird. I can remember walking through airports and feeling like I was performing the act of traveling; that somehow I had to figure out what it looks and feels like to travel. It was uncomfortable, and it took some time for it to be more natural, but now it’s just who I am. The reason is that I have been exercising my travel muscle, which was new when I started and which is now routine and natural.

The same is true for any type of change you want to have or create in your life, leadership and relationships. You have to exercise the new muscle and create new habits in order to accomplish change, and your old habits (overemphasized muscles or virtually unutilized muscles) will have to be replaced with a new habit (exercising of a new muscle). I read many years ago that we don’t change habits, but we replace them with new and different habits. This is a key truth to keep in mind when you seek to achieve change in yourself and in your life.

A client of mine wants to make high quality feedback part of their organization’s culture, but they don’t have the habit of feedback. While they are committed to this feedback shift, they will need to create a new habit of feedback by exercising their feedback muscle. It will be uncomfortable in the beginning (in many ways), but as they exercise their feedback muscles the muscle memory will come into play and feedback can become their natural state of being.

Think about when you decide to start working out, whether it’s running or lifting weights. For some time it will be challenging, difficult and even painful, and your body will tell you to stop because it’s not used to the exercising of those muscles. However, once you get past the initial pain of change, your muscles will recover, adapt and shift so that the physical activity is the normal state of being.

Another client is struggling with being more effective in his communication and has been perceived as brash and condescending. While this is not his intention, that’s how he’s been perceived by other team members (which means it’s true for them). When we were discussing changes in his communication style and approach, he indicated his concern that he’s always communicated this way, so it may be very difficult to shift his communication approach. I told him that it would be a challenge because of this old habit, but that as he exercised a new muscle – being more present with team members and better communicating a sincere desire to help them improve – the new approach would become the new habit (with new communication muscle memory).

What muscles have you not been exercising? Which muscles are you ready to start exercising in order to positively impact your leadership and relationships? Are you willing to endure the initial pain of exercising these new muscles in order to be the leader you want to be (personally and professionally)? Using new muscles requires commitment, patience and persistence in the face of challenges (internal and external), but remember that once the new muscle (and new habit) is built, the use of that muscle (and habit) will become more and more natural until it’s ultimately just what you do and who you are.

I love my travel muscle and the many other muscles that today are just who I am – being present, listening, asking questions, showing empathy and non-judgment, storytelling, and many more. Once the new muscles are developed, they just take over and execute whatever the new habit is. Much like riding a bike, signing your name or any other thing you can do without even thinking about it, you can create new habits, develop new muscles and live and lead in new, different and more impactful ways. Welcome new muscles and change!

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