Are you creating safety habits that stick?

Written by Terry Wong


At Move 4 Life, our interest in habits is both old and new.

Old in a sense that everything we do is based on influencing movement habits. We spend a considerable amount of time helping employees to become aware of their movement habits (or autopilots as we like to refer to them) and then implementing a system to change those that need changing.

It is new in the sense that some ground-breaking wearable devices that really pave the way in habit generation (or habit hacking as the young ones would put it) have reignited my interest in the latest research.

As a sneak peek into what brings about these insights … check out Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, the app Lift (created by Tony Stubbledine and backed by the co-founders of Twitter) and work by Maneesh Sethi (creator of Pavlok, a wearable device that’s probably not for everyone but is likely to shock you nonetheless).

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With a bias on practical how-to’s, I won’t get too nerdy with the science. Here are 3 key ingredients on how to generate a habit quickly and how it might apply to workplace safety.

#1 The Power of Micro-habits

Not all habits are created equal. Some are simple, some are complex, some are good, some are bad, some are new and some you have been doing for decades.

The chances are, the most meaningful habits you want to replace are complex, bad and longstanding. Like creating a regular exercise habit, eating better, quitting smoking or a specific morning routine.

Instead of trying to do everything all at once, try breaking down the BIG habit into MICRO ones.

For example, if you wanted to get up every morning at 6am and exercise for 30 minutes … try breaking it down into these weekly steps:

Now I know this sounds like it’s overly simplistic … you may not even need to break it down that far … but you get the idea. The point of micro-habits is to set yourself up for repetitive success. How many times have you started a habit that goes well for a couple of weeks and then fallen off the wagon? Never quite enough repetition to ingrain it as habit. Maybe breaking it down might help?

To maximise your habit hacking, couple your micro-habits with some social accountability.

#2 The Power of Social Accountability

The problem with keeping your life-changing habits to yourself is that it makes it incredibly easy to not follow through. Utilise these 3 tips to enhance your success:

  1. Choose an accountability partner. This is a person who will hold you to account. They will not only check in on you and give you plenty of encouragement but will also be the beneficial recipient when you don’t follow through (Why? Read on).
  2. Build in a penalty for not completing a micro-habit. Otherwise known as negative reinforcement, a penalty or bet with your accountability partner is a great way to kickstart a habit. Money works well ($50 is my go-to amount) or doing something you really dislike is usually enough motivation to second guess when your willpower is being questioned.
  3. Build in a reward. Otherwise known as positive reinforcement, this is a little reward for when you get to the end of the week with a 7 out of 7 strike rate.

#3 Choose a trigger!

Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habits, highlighted the habit loop; the 3 step process outlining how habits get created. Duhigg states that habits need 3 things, a Cue (or trigger), a Routine (that follows) and a Reward (that keeps it going). Awareness of your habit loops no doubt gives you greater control over these unconscious acts of automation.

Highlighting a trigger to add to your micro-habits and social accountability will turbocharge your success. I call this habit linking … linking a new habit to a pre-existing habit.

Simply make a list do things that you do with great routine. Here’s a short list of potential triggers within the first 30 minutes of your day.

So in summary …

Pull the trigger ... execute the micro-habit by kick starting it with the penalty of failure hanging over your head ... and keep the momentum going with the encouragement of your accountability partner and a reward at the end of the week.

Question is... are you creating good safety habits?

In Move 4 Life, this is how we currently apply this system of habit hacking.

  1. Choose 1 thing to focus on. For some, it is as simple as eliminating Chicken Wings … [those Move 4 Life initiated will understand that one ;-)], breathing out or moving their feet while twisting. For many, it is execution of our 60 Second Investment …a short (60 seconds in fact) sequence of movement that changes the way you move.
  2. Care to share? During a session we encourage people to share their commitment. In effect, this creates not just an accountability partner but an accountability community.
  3. We suggest brushing teeth as standard but it could be any meaningful trigger employees identify. Many of our customers use the 60 Second Investment as a pre-start warm up to kick off their morning meetings.
  4. Penalty and reward. To date, these have been very individual. The reward is usually the physical preparedness they feel having completed the routine however we really haven’t pushed the penalty side of things. If there are any workplaces out there that would like to experiment, get into contact!

For those in safety roles, here are some questions to get your creative safety habit juices flowing…

Please do Get in Touch and we’ll introduce you to the Move 4 Life SYSTEM which includes all kinds of strategies that help employees create effective movement habits.

About the Author

Terry Wong

Terry Wong

Terry Wong is General Manager of Move 4 Life, the benchmark in preventing sprain and strain injuries and future-proofing an ageing workforce. Move 4 Life helps companies send employees home to their families safely each day.

A Physiotherapist by-trade, Terry has spent the last 14 years in workplace rehabilitation, occupational health, injury-prevention and training. He has held a position as Chair of the Occupational Health Group of the Australian Physiotherapy Association and is widely published on these subjects.

You can find Terry’s LinkedIn profile here.

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