Break-a-habit-front (Custom)Researchers from Harvard sent Elton Mayo and Chester Barnard to the Hawthorne Works plant of Western Electric to conduct a study to see whether working conditions effected productivity. Their working hypothesis was that improving work conditions would boost productivity. A number of studies have been done since the first one, but they all confirmed the same thing.

The original study involved lighting. Researchers walked around with clipboards measuring productivity. Then they boosted the lighting in the factory. Then, they walked around with clipboards and measured productivity again. As predicted, productivity increased. Case closed, right? Not so fast.

Just to double check their work, they returned the lights to the original level, and walked around with clipboards again, measuring productivity. To their surprise, productivity went up again. How do you explain that?

Before I tell you, let me say again that this research has been repeated countless times, using various variables as the change. They have given people longer breaks, and when they measured the productivity, productivity went up. They returned the breaks to what they had been, and productivity went up again. They shortened the workday, and productivity went up. They lengthened the workday, and productivity went up. Confused?

This is what researchers have learned. Measuring things changes them. It was not the lighting that caused productivity to go up in the original experiment. It was the guys with clipboards. When the guys with the clipboards came around a second time after the lighting had decreased, productivity increased again. There is something about keeping score that motivates.

If you ever have the occasion to play a game of pickup basketball, try this experiment. Watch what happens to the energy level of the group when someone says these three magic words: Let’s keep score. Everything changes when someone keeps score.

If you want to start a habit, or break a habit, find a way to keep score. In the classic work, One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard asks, “How long would you want to bowl if there were no pins?” What would it do to your motivation if you threw the ball but could not see the crash of the pins? What if no one was keeping score?

There is a saying in the business world: if you can measure it, you can manage it. The opposite is also true: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

If you want to read the Bible every day, figure out a way to keep up with how many days you actually read. In the Navigators 2:7 Series, they provide pieces of paper with seven blocks on each page. You are encouraged to write a little something about what you read each day. You can see at a glance how many days you read by looking at that one piece of paper. If you can measure it, you can manage it.

Research shows that those who lose weight and keep it off weigh themselves every day. Similarly, people who write down what they eat and how many calories they consumed tend to lose more weight. Measuring calorie consumption predicts weight loss. You measure what matters.

One of the most comprehensive and personal essays on the topic can be found in this week’s New York Times Magazine. In a story called “The Fat Trap,” Tara Parker-Pope, a longtime health writer and the editor of the Times’s Well blog, writes about both the latest research explaining why most people cannot keep weight off and about her own struggle to lose weight. In spite of healthy habits and an obviously above-average acquaintance with nutrition research, Parker-Pope estimates that she is “easily 60 pounds overweight.”

To explain the dissonance between her behavior and her reality, Parker-Pope looks into the National Weight Control Registry, which keeps tabs on 10,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year. To put that number into context, consider that 30 percent of Americans—almost 94 million people, by my calculation—are currently trying to lose weight. If the ratio of successful to wannabe losers doesn’t underscore the extreme difficulty of lasting weight loss, the regimen of a National Weight Control Registry member ought to do it. Parker-Pope shadows a 66-year-old female registry member who has kept off 135 pounds for five years. This woman says that she is “always aware of food,” weighs herself every morning, weighs all her food, writes down everything she eats, counts every calorie and gram of protein that passes her lips, exercises from 100 to 120 minutes six or seven days a week, calculates exactly how many calories she burns during exercise, and avoids junk food, bread, pasta, and dairy.[1]

The Bible says, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” Proverbs 27:23 (NIV). I wonder how this would be worded if it were written in a day when most of us don’t have flocks and herds. I wonder if it might say, “Keep up with your stuff. Measure what matters.”