Sales 101

John Rossi, YSU Marketing Faculty:
Resolve to Break Smartphone Habit Loop

December 14, 2018

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is an often- used saying that originated from a famous Chinese proverb.

The quotation is reportedly from the “Tao Te Ching,” which is attributed to Laozi. However, many erroneously believe it originated with Confucius.

The essence of the advice is what is important – that even the longest and most challenging venture has a single starting point; something that begins with a first step.

Apart from thinking of others, December is also the time when many people begin to look at 2018 and start making their personal New Year’s resolutions. For example: Lose 10 pounds, go to the gym, take up yoga, or take a real estate class at the business college. My personal favorite is saving more money for retirement. It’s a good one, no doubt.

But after speaking to some certified financial planners, there is a definite probability that I may live long enough to outstrip my nest-egg. That’s definitely a bittersweet forecast.

So what will the coming year bring?

Buckminster Fuller, a 20th-century inventor and visionary who did not limit himself to just one field like some of us do, put it in stark relief for me with this famous question: “Are we heading toward Utopia or Oblivion?”

The answer is definitely above my pay grade.

However, Fuller also suggested “You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

This replacement model approach seems to go against the grain of traditional future-proofing styles of the personal improvement gurus. Future-proofing is the principle that generally suggests that the “thing” will continue to be used because it will not easily be replaced by something newer and more effective.

What is it that will make this year’s resolutions different, more effective and efficient, than in years past? A replacement model for the ineffective and inefficient existing behaviors we’re exhibiting now.

Volumes have been written to help busy businesspeople cope with the ever-increasing demands of working life. Here are just a few challenges – and suggested solutions – that often relate to some New Year’s resolutions:

  1. How to cope and thrive in the workplace and gain work-life balance: “Thriving Under Stress: Harnessing Demands in the Workplace” by Thomas W. Britt and Steve M. Jex.
  2. How to set priorities: “Juggling Elephants: An Easier Way to Get Your Important Things Done Now” by Jones Loflin and Todd Musig.
  3. How to manage time more effectively across the domains of life: “Eat That Frog! Action Workbook: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time” by Brian Tracy.
  4. How to survive email overload: “Mastering Email: How to Minimize Distraction, Overcome Indecision and Manage your Precious Time” by Bob O’Hare.
  5. How to beat a smartphone addiction: “How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life” by Catherine Price.

Charles Duhigg suggests in his 2012 New York Times best-seller, “The Power of Habit,” that to achieve real and lasting change, we must alter the “habit loop.”

The habit loop is a process that takes place within our brains in three sequential steps.

First is a “cue,” which is a trigger to go into action and determine what habit to apply.

Next in sequence is “routine,” which can be a physical or emotional or mental response to the cue.

Finally, there is the “reward.” The reward helps you figure out if the loop is worth remembering in the future.

Thus over time, the habit loop becomes more and more automatic. As Duhigg noted, “the cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.”

We can start to see this type of habit loop in our culture on a daily basis with the advent and proliferation of smartphones.

Only recently have we become acutely aware of this always-connected age of the smartphone, tablet, laptop – which is instilling some new habits and often a powerfully distractive sense of anticipation and craving.

Even so, we are still on the lookout for that next new device that will allow us to stay connected on the golf course, on the couch, in the car, or in bed, and still keep working.

Does it have to be this way?

If you stop working long hours and stop being always accessible, will competitors speed by you on the ladder of success and accomplishment?

I understand and appreciate that it’s essential to answer the client’s or customer’s call. But now when the phone rings or vibrates, few of us have the willpower to resist. We have created a habit loop for better or worse.

Some of us, including myself, need to establish a starting point for making a real change in the coming new year. One important dimension for personal improvement in 2019 will be learning to turn off.

The significant part is that turning off fulfills Fuller’s axiom that states, “To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete.”

Clearly, being able to really check out may have valuable benefits, not just as a businessperson, but as a human being.

My prediction is that when we turn off all our devices, we will feel more rested and relaxed. This can lead to being more energetic and engaged when actually working, and thereby make us more productive and feel better about our work.

Thank you for all your kind words, emails and readership over the year’s run of Sales 101.

I look forward to seeing you at one of our upcoming Sales Success Strategy Conferences at Youngstown State University’s Williamson College of Business Administration and hope you’ll look for the forthcoming book “American Salesmanship.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.