– Positive or negative, we should be sensitive to excessive repetition.

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I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a little kid. I followed the Yankees of the early 1960’s, The Big Red Machine of the 1970’s, and now the Tampa Bay Rays. The habits of the players have always fascinated me. For example, the players for the Boston Red Sox all seem to have some sort of ritual they perform just before they get in the batter’s box. David Ortiz (“Big Papi”) spits into his batting gloves and claps his hands before grabbing the bat, and Dustin Pedroia clears his sinuses and carefully examines his bat. The Sox are not alone in this regard; you can find a variety of strange habits in a ballpark, all the way from the Majors to Little League. A lot revolves around spitting, grabbing the crotch, and language. Wade Boggs was notorious for his pre-game rituals and how he steadfastly resisted any attempt to alter his regiment.

You have to wonder why habits play such a substantial role in the life of a ball player, and I think it says a lot about humans as creatures of habit. Some players say they do it as a form or discipline in order to get them in the right rhythm of the game, but most tend to be superstitious in nature; after all, what worked in one game, should hopefully work in another. Once a habit is formed, players tend to be afraid to change it. It thereby becomes the coach’s job to look for superstitious habits in their players and change them if they become counterproductive.

Baseball fans also tend to pick up a variety of strange habits, such as wearing a favorite hat or shirt, drinking a certain beer, or offering some bizarre prayer or chant to solicit favoritism from the mythical baseball gods. They adamantly cling to these habits as a sign of good luck for their team, regardless of where they are, whether at the ballpark or in front of a television set. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that such rituals by the fans are sheer nonsense as it is up to the players on the field to win the game and not the histrionics of their fans, but if it adds to the baseball experience of the fans on the sidelines, why not?

As we all know, baseball doesn’t have a monopoly on habits. We find them in every sport, in every country. In fact, we find them in both our personal and professional lives. If you were to look around your office you could probably enumerate a substantial list of strange idiosyncrasies of your coworkers in no time at all.

In the workplace, it is the manager’s duty to observe worker habits and make necessary corrections just as a baseball coach would. Whether you are in the ballpark or in the workplace, breaking a habit can be a lot harder than people think. Simple reasoning corrects most habits, but when a habit becomes physical, it becomes a lot harder and more painful to correct. In fact, changing habits can be downright difficult particularly for those people who operate in an autopilot mode through life. As a result, managers try threats, ridicule, shame, penalties, even hypnosis to enact change (I kind of like the cattle prod approach myself).

Some people are strong enough to correct a habit themselves if it is brought to their attention, but others will need help along the way which is where the manager comes in. When studying worker habits though, the first question should be, does it have an adverse affect on business? If it doesn’t, you might just want to leave it alone. After all, I don’t think anyone in Boston wants to change David Ortiz’ habit of spitting and clapping his hands. Some habits you just might want to emulate.

Originally published: 11/10/2008

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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