Power of Habit

Rowden March 2016

Whether we realise it or not we are all ruled by habits built up over years or in some cases decades. Also whether we understand it or not companies and organisations also have institutional habits, in almost all cases the result of past history.

Cultures grow out of the keystone habits in every organization whether leaders are aware of these or not. Much of an organization’s behaviour is best understood as a reflection of the general habits and strategic orientations inherent in the past. The organization is guided by long-term habits and patterns emerging from a number of independent decisions made by employees over decades. These habits have more profound impacts than anyone has previously understood.
To progress and succeed in sport as in life, we have to be aware of the power of habit, whether within ourselves, within the school we attend, the company we work for or the NGB which controls our sport. The vital factor is simply this: are the habits occurring with intention or just randomly? If the latter then basically major institutions are then surrendering decision-making to a process that occurs without actually thinking. Destructive organisational habits can be found in thousands of industries and governing bodies. Almost always they are the products of thoughtlessness and of leaders who avoid thinking about the culture, don’t monitor it and so let it develop without guidance.
In the final analysis there are only situations where habits are deliberately designed or situations where they are created without forethought or intention. We should research and analyse why some people and institutions struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others are able to remake themselves overnight. The key to personal success and to revolutionising institutions is the understanding of how habits work and how to harness these leading to progressive and often innovative transformation. Once you understand how a habit operates, you gain power over it.

What is often needed to change institutional habits is a focus which will bring people together and will get everyone on board. This then gives leverage to change how people work and communicate. New corporate habits are built. If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts in policies and thinking. In all of this however freedom of communication is crucial. Only if all parties feel that they can comment, report dangerous procedures, make suggestions either supportive or critical and do this completely freely without punitive measures, only then do we have an explosion of ideas and everyone involved with the organisation becomes interactive and engaged.
So what about individual habits? In the case of our sport of table tennis, it’s of course vital that we have ‘habits’, that we are able to function on ‘autopilot’. Our sport is too fast for us to be able to think how we should play or react to differing situations. Strokes and techniques have to be automated so we are able to respond without conscious thought. However these ‘habits’ have to be the ‘right’ responses. If we develop incorrect habits and these become ingrained and automatic, it will be difficult if not impossible to correct and recalibrate these at a later date.
To understand why automation is necessary let us examine the process of thought required to deal with an incoming shot:
● Identify where the ball will bounce on your side of the table and the input elements of timing, speed, spin and power used by your opponent
● Decide on your response alternatives in terms of your ability to reach the ball, which timing, speed, spin and power you will utilise and where you will place the ball on the opponent’s side of the table
● Out of these evaluate which is feasible and practicable in terms of time and the movement aspects needed and then which would be of the most advantageous to you in terms of both the shot and your overall strategy against this opponent
● Execute the stroke, make a value judgement of how your opponent will respond and his/her alternatives, then recover to your best position to counter his/her action
What you have to bear in mind in all of this, is the length of the table, the size of the court, the maximum speed of the ball, any conditions which may affect the bounce or trajectory and both the limits of human reaction time and your own limits in terms of reactions and overall experience. These aspects will of course be tied in and inter-linked with your normal comfort zone distance from the table. If you are close, your available response time can be as little as one to two tenths of a second, which is well below the usual human reaction time. Therefore it is essential that certain aspects of your game, crucially those covering critical areas such as movement and the technical execution of strokes are completely automated.
So just exactly what do we mean by this? Not only does movement have to be quick and dynamic, but the patterns have to be both economical and right for both the distance being covered and the stroke to be played. As well as movement some shots will require prior rotation of the upper body in order to initiate power, others where you use the speed of the incoming ball or the opponent’s power will not need this. At times too the player will need to create time or space for the action. All these aspects have to occur without thought. As far as the strokes are concerned not only do these in the modern game have to be short, both in terms of pre-swing and follow through, especially when close to the table, but have to incorporate recovery and lead automatically into the next shot in the sequence. There is little time or occasion for the leisurely build-up or extra, unnecessary movements within the strokes themselves.