How to get rid of your bad habits

Habits get a ‘bad’ name when those dispositions to act in a certain way have negative effects on you and others. Consistently being late for meetings, for example, becomes a bad habit when your reputation is damaged and those with whom you are scheduled to meet are adversely affected. Getting rid of bad habits is rarely a straightforward process. If bad habits - smoking, procrastination, perfectionism, gambling, time-wasting, and the like - are getting in the way of the achievement of your life and career goals, here are some key considerations...

1. Decide which habits you seriously want to change.

Acknowledging that you have bad habits because others say so won’t change you for the better in the long term. Through embarrassment, you may clean up your messy desk because your colleague comments on it, but it will soon get messy again unless you change your behaviour. Ultimately, you will be the one who has to decide whether or not you want to change, and you’ll need dedication to the task. If commitment is lacking, the bad habit will persist.

2. Work on changing only one habit at a time.

From personal knowledge, together with feedback from colleagues, critics, and friends, you will doubtless know your bad habits - taking too long on the telephone, doing too many things at once, nail-biting, being reluctant to praise, speaking too quickly… Don’t try to change too many bad habits at once. Adopt the one-thing-at-a-time approach and remember that ‘the way to change begins with the first step’.

3. Analyse your bad habit and find your reasons for having it

Removing some bad habits will involve considerable effort and is likely to require you to explore the issues related to the entrenched behaviour. Suppose, as an example, you have a reputation for ‘never being on time for meetings’. To tackle this bad habit, you may need to:

  • Identify any patterns associated with your continued lateness: Are you late for all meetings? Are you late only for those meetings you really don’t want to attend? Are you late only for afternoon meetings?
  • Consider if you are personally responsible: Do you give in to the temptation to take, or make, that extra phonecall before leaving for meetings? Do you back your meetings against each other with no adequate break between them? Do you always arrive late because you have long business lunches? Do you simply give yourself insufficient time to get to meetings?
  • Determine whether other people are always to blame: Heavy traffic? transport problems? waiting for others? faulty alarm clock?

Such analyses will provide useful clues in tackling your problem.

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