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Shaving Brush Insights into Changing Habits! [A]

Okay, so what’s the big deal with the shaving brush as a business metaphor?

The truth is, the shaving brush serves as a new habit reminder (or an “NHR” . . . please add that to your list of obscure acronyms). I decided a few weeks ago that it would probably be better for the environment if I was to use a shaving brush and shaving soap rather than an aerosol can of shaving cream. As well, it would force me to become more mindful if I truly wished to change a habit—in that sense, it was intended to be an experiment.

I’ve been using aerosol shaving cream since I started shaving, so that would be for at least 45 years. I believe that puts my shaving behaviour into the realm of a “well-established habit”. I use a can of shaving cream without thinking—saves my brain cells for more interesting applications like daydreaming and fantasizing about being independently wealthy!

Here is what I discovered in my habit-changing experiment (you can begin to look for parallels in attempting to changing your own habits—at work or otherwise):

It is important that I choose to change the habit for my own reasons. If a family member suggested it would be good for the planet if I was to change, I know my motivation and commitment would be much lower than if I wanted to change the habit for my own reasons.

When I am in a rush, I tend to default to the old habit—whip out the can of shaving cream and get at it.

When under pressure (whether self-imposed or from an external source) my tendency is to resort to the habit that requires the least brainpower to execute. In my work that may mean using a previous workshop design, group process or icebreaker—rather than trying something new that I believe would be even more effective.

I am visually oriented–if I don’t see something to remind me of my desire to change, it is easy to forget about it (probably why I have multiple copies of the same books in my collection). Shifting the location of the shaving brush to be right in front of my eyes forces me to pay attention to it so I must make a conscious choice as to how I am going to prepare my face for the razor.

It helps to challenge my underlying (and usually unconscious) beliefs that support an existing habit and that may inhibit forming a new one. Today I decided to time how long it takes to prepare to shave using a can of shaving cream versus a shaving brush and shaving soap. [I used the timer on my iPhone, right beside the sink-a risky tactic, for sure]. It took approximately 33 seconds from the time my face was dampened, to pick up the can of shaving cream, remove the top, extrude some onto my hand, lather up my face and then wash the shaving cream off my hands so I could pick up the razor without having it go flying off into the bathtub or some other nether region of the bathroom. After removing the shaving cream (admittedly a waste, but in name of science I felt it was justified), I once again dampened my face. For my next experiment, I restarted the timer, ran the shaving brush under the water, took the lid off the shaving soap, swooshed the brush around the shaving soap, spread it onto my face and put the lid back on the soap. Including the time to put the lid back on (which I didn’t do with the can of shaving cream, by the way), it took approximately 30 seconds. Less time, rather than taking longer as I assumed (or wanted to believe). Needless to say, I was a bit surprised at how much time I thought I was saving over the last 45 years by using a can of shaving cream. Turns out I could have saved approximately 11.25 hours over a period of 45 years if I saved just 3 seconds every day!

It takes time to change a habit. So far I have had to consciously choose to use a shaving brush and shaving soap every day–apparently the new habit hasn’t been totally adopted . . .yet. As a side note, there is a prevailing assumption that it takes 21 days to establish a new habit—many change programs are built on that basis. Turns out that is completely and utterly false. The 21 day paradigm is based on a misinterpretation of some research and a book written by Maxwell Maltz entitled Psycho-Cybernetics–that was written in 1960. It appears that using unvalidated “common knowledge” has become a habit, too. [PLEASE NOTE: I will be writing a separate article on that really soon!]

Based on my first hand (okay, shaving hand) experience, I offer the following tips to change a work-related habit if you choose to do so (after all, this is my Facebook business page):

  1. Be personally committed to change the way you do something (a behaviour, skill, process, service, etc.) to ensure you’re sufficiently motivated to stick with it. Otherwise you’ll cease to pay attention to what you say you want to shift.
  2. Ensure there is a rational benefit or advantage to doing something differently (saving time, effort, money; avoiding loss of some sort, etc.). If the new way of doing something isn’t going to be better than the old way, your will find all sorts of creative means to avoid making the effort to create a new habit.
  3. Maintain attention on your intention by creating a relevant, visible reminder of your wish/desire/commitment to change a habit (for example, a picture of an empty beer can on the bathroom shelf wouldn’t do it). I keep the shaving brush right in front of me on the bathroom shelf. I guarantee if it was tucked away with the can of shaving cream, it would be easy to maintain my old habit.
  4. Take whatever time is required to keep your commitment to change a habit. Simple ones like using a shaving brush and shaving soap will likely take less than 21 days. More complicated or complex ones will take longer. For example, changing a tennis serve may take months. Using a new CRM application or engaging customers in transformational rather than transactional conversations could take a year or more.
  5. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day attempting to create a new habit. Apparently missing the odd day doesn’t have a noticeable impact on the overall time required to change the way you do things.
  6. Accept the initial discomfort or awkwardness that comes with doing something new. Change doesn’t have to be painful; however, it is rarely comfortable.
  7. Respect the challenges of change! Initially your performance may decline slightly before the benefits of the new habit kick in. Hold the course!

I hope you find this article useful. It was only when I began to catch myself mindlessly reaching for the shaving cream this morning that it occurred to me there might be some personal insight worth sharing!

For more occasional insights, you may wish to sign up for this intermittent BLOG called “Reflections” (another habit I am now going to attempt to shift).

About David Gouthro

David has over 40 years facilitating high energy, creative and engaging face-to-face meetings that focus on delivering client value in a manner that is focused, flexible and fun. Embracing the challenge of providing the same quality of service in an online world has been heartily embraced and he now enjoys designing and delivering high impact meetings from afar! David can be reached at or 604.926.6858. And he is far from being Zoomed out in case you want a more visual conversation!


David Gouthro | 08/24/2018 | | 5 Comments


  • Paradigm shift: After visiting my high school friend repeatedly over the past 30 years and seeing his razor hanging in the shower, I decided to try the shower shave. I’ve always used facial foam instead of soap because it doesn’t dry your skin, so I simply leave my face lathered then shave the foam off. It was odd not using a mirror, but the reverse would be true as well–If you grew up shaving in the shower and switched to using a mirror it would be equally unfamiliar. So it’s important to approach problems and situation without baggage and bias in order to arrive at a different and perhaps better solution to the matter at hand.

    It takes a few practice rounds to get used to blind shaving, but once mastered it’s economical in terms of money and time (no shaving cream and no washing/drying after the sink shave). Plus it removes all the stray foam from hard-to-see parts of the face like behind ears etc. I’ve completely changed my habit and am more satisfied with the morning routine!

  • I have discovered a surprising deterrent in letting go of old habits, particularly those with sentimental memories. I have had to allow myself to “grieve” the loss of old habits that I worked hard to develop years ago during childbearing years because back then they were good for me, and actually became part of how I see myself. Crazy, I know. But now that I’m in my grandparent-bearing years, I really have to let go of those old ones before there is even room for new ones. I’m working on it. I need a memorial service to bury the old stuff.
    A shaving brush was never a part of those, though, I just want you to know. 😉

    • Yep–there are a variety of variables. The emotional challenge of grieving or letting go of something of emotioanal significance certainly makes it harder to let go . . .


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