Identifying and Eliminating A Bad Habit


We all have habits, good and bad, ingrained in our subconscious. And we know that these recurrent patterns of behaviour are developed through frequent repetition. The real question, however, is how do we identify the habits that may be keeping us from growing, either personally, professionally or both, and more importantly, how do we get rid of them?

The first step is being committed to making a change. While you may have received some feedback from an employer or employee, a peer or a family member, the reality is that unless you see the problem within yourself, you will not have the motivation required to make a real change.  In my line of work, I know that I have a challenge ahead of me when I am facilitating training or coaching sessions and an individual says to me, often with pride, “that’s just the way I am and people are going to have to accept it”. Quite simply, this is an unacceptable point of view. Versatility is a pre-requisite for strong leadership, increased success, and at a basic level, the ability to get along well with those around us.

If you have not been in the fortunate position to have received some constructive criticism and are proactively seeking to grow personally and professionally, you can start by asking those around you some simple, open-ended questions that could resemble something like the following:

“Your opinion and feedback are important to me and I would really appreciate your thoughts around something. I am hoping that your comments will allow me to gain insight around habits that perhaps I should start or stop doing. Let me ask you this, if you had to identify a growth or development area that I should be aware of, what would it be?”

It is important to note that people may not be able to immediately give an example and if you want meaningful feedback, you should be prepared to provide some clarification and offer time for them to reflect on your conversation and get back to you. However, before you start asking questions, make sure you are ready to hear the answer. As tempting as it might be to explain or justify any potentially negative behaviour or traits that are expressed, you need to refrain. Any defensiveness will guarantee that you will not get an honest answer the next time you ask such an important question. When you do receive an answer, listen and express your appreciation for their perspective.

Alternatively, if you are looking for something more formal, a developmental session with an industrial psychologist or a 360 degree survey will be able to provide you with more in depth, structured feedback.

So now what? You have received some feedback and you have identified some areas that you would like to work on, but how do you ‘make it stick’? There is a common myth that it takes 21 days to form a new habit but unfortunately, it is exactly that – a myth. The good news is that you have taken the first step and over the next ninety days, with some structure and discipline, you will see concrete results.

The first 30 days

Now that you have identified a behaviour in yourself that you would like to change, set aside time each day (ideally mid-day and at the end of the day) to reflect on the interactions you have throughout the day and take some notes on whether any of those exchanges led to you exhibiting the behaviour that you are seeking to change. This will require you to really dig deep and analyze the way each conversation played out and what your behaviour was throughout. This is why it is crucial to take this time twice a day as our memory can fade and the recollection of the actual conversation can become less accurate as time passes. This exercise does not need to be time intensive, but rather simply requires you to jot a few notes down that summarize the key points of the conversation as it relates to your behaviour:

  • What led you to exhibit the behaviour you are trying to change?

  • What clue did you perhaps receive from the other individual(s) that you were starting to exhibit that behaviour?

The next 30 days

Now that you have spent thirty days actively noting your behaviour in various exchanges, you should have developed an increased level of awareness and will find that you are more cognisant of how you are interacting with others as it happens.

The key to the next thirty days is to ‘catch yourself in the act’. By asking yourself mid-conversation, ‘am I exhibiting the behaviour that I want to change?” you will be allowing yourself to observe your behaviour in real-time and make corrections as required. I would encourage you to continue your note taking during this period, and don’t  be surprised if you end up having a few awkward conversations as you catch yourself and perhaps backtrack to make some modifications to the way you are approaching the conversation. Don’t be discouraged.

At the end of this thirty day period, take some time to review your notes and compare them with the previous month. Do you notice any changes? Have you started to learn anything about your behaviour?

The home stretch – the last 30 days

This month is all about proactive prevention. Your newly acquired awareness will now allow you to better prepare yourself for various meetings and interactions such that you can give yourself somewhat of a ‘pep talk’ in advance. You will be able to identify the behaviour you have shown in each scenario in the past and plan for ways to prevent it from happening again.

Making a lasting change can be a challenge but the process does work and provides a solid foundation for creating your own personal development plan. If you find you are struggling, having someone coach or accompany you through the steps and having a conversation at the end of each month to reflect on how far you have come and where you still have room to grow can be a big help. Coaches can also brainstorm with you on various approaches for your ongoing proactive prevention.

As time passes, this act of envisioning a successful interaction and planning how you will approach it will become your new habit.