The Power of 3

I have been asked why I always give coaching session feedback and follow-up based on ‘threes’:

Decide upon 3 action steps.
Choose 3 guiding sentences.
Practice these 3 steps & 3 sentences 3 x every day.
Practice them daily in 3 different areas of your life (physical, emotional/spiritual, mental).
Practice the 3 things for 3 x per day in 3 different life areas for at least 3 weeks.

Why are threes so important?

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs, Three Blind Mice, Three Wise Men; many good things come in threes and have done for a long time. The Latin phrase ‘omne trium perfectum’ (everything that comes in threes is perfect) proves that this is not a new concept. The rule of threes is used as a guideline in storytelling, communication, advertising, joke telling and in art and design. It is the proven principle that any message is stronger, more effective and more memorable when it comes in three parts. In terms of coaching, three is a good number to help us break old- or develop new habits.

Why should I explore my habits?

It is true that coaching sessions always keep the client’s value-based end goal in sight, but our session-by-session work is also aimed at the daily processes and habits each client subconsciously follows. But why do we need to focus on habits that we barely notice? If my goal is to make it to CEO, why would I want to waste my time recognising old habits when I could be learning the business tools and people management tips I need in order to plough forward towards my goal?

Every element of our life, mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally, is essentially the sum of our habits and our habits have been influenced and developed since the moment we were born. What you repeatedly spend time thinking about, saying and doing each day is mostly unconscious. It comes from deeply ingrained habits and values that form the person you are, the things you believe and your personality. These thoughts and behaviours are then the instructions that your subconscious uses to deal predictably with everything that you face. Yes, even how you use the business tools and people management tips you may be given and how effective they prove to be will be determined by your current habits and belief systems.

Limiting beliefs cause fear-based emotions and unconscious reactions that can hold you back, cause you to make rash judgements, bad decisions and simply make you feel sad, angry or defensive often without knowing why. Without exploring, defining and working on breaking old, negative habits and beliefs that no longer serve us and developing new, positive habits and beliefs that bring happiness and success we cannot begin to change what is inside us. When we are positive, balanced, secure and conscious with what is on the inside, this will continue to radiate happiness and success out on the outside; including how well we understand and use those business tools or how well others react to any new management or leadership style.

What can I do to change unconscious behaviour if it’s unconscious?

Consider and answer these three statements for a moment:

I am: 3 things

I want: 3 things

I will: 3 things

Now take your answers from ‘I will’. What three things have you decided to do in order to break a bad habit or build a new, positive one? Are they small enough to be achievable and big enough to make a difference? Once you have clarity on what ‘I will’, consider the 3Rs set out in Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit:

  1. Reminder (the trigger that initiates behaviour)
  2. Routine (the behaviour itself; the action you take)
  3. Reward (the benefit you gain from performing the behaviour)

Thich Nhat Hanh suggests many convenient and powerful ‘reminders’ using the things already around us in his book ‘Peace is Every Step.’

… “The telephone is very convenient, but we can be tyrannised by it. When we hear the phone ring it often causes some anxiety, and when we talk we often talk of trivial things and forget ourselves. We are victims of our telephone. (Try replacing the word telephone with Smartphone and this is even more true.) Next time you hear the phone ring say ‘listen, listen, this wonderful sound brings me back to my true self. Breathe and smile and be in control of yourself, for two rings, and then pick up the phone, in consciousness – then how fortunate for the other person. If you are both doing this, it transforms the whole experience.”

“When driving – if stuck in traffic, do not fight this, this is useless. When you see a red light, breathe and smile instead, use it as a chance to practice.”

You really can use anything to remind you to do whatever it is you decided ‘I will’. When I was learning Autogenic Training, I set an alarm on my mobile phone as a reminder to practice for 3 times in the day when I knew I would have the least distractions. Now I do it without thinking.

The reward you grant yourself for each remembered ‘I will’ can be anything you like-be inventive! Chances are that you will soon get a more direct reward simply from the effects of the behaviour change on your immediate environment.

Now go back to the top of this article and re-read my coaching session feedback and follow-up ‘threes’. Keep with it. Habits can be changed, especially if you can bring your time travelling second thoughts into play too!* Change today what you would have done differently yesterday.

Finally, consider the ‘power of three’ words of that great communicator, Winston Churchill, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”  Start today and the next time you face a new challenge or uncomfortable feeling just stop and count to three.