As Aristotle has been credited with saying: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
As human beings, we would have a hard time functioning without habits. They are the default ways that we think and act. They give us the comfort of regularity. They often allow us to free up our mind and be more engaged in other activities.
We develop habits over time. They are shaped by societal conditioning, personal experiences and the way we frame things in our mind. Once formed, these habits become the automated patterns we follow. Each of us has thousands of them, yet we are largely unaware they are guiding the way we move through life every single day.
However, not every habit is productive. In fact, many are downright destructive. I believe these negative habits influence us every bit as much as our positive ones do. They are the ones that cause us to get in our own way, to stumble at critical times, to give up too soon or not try at all.
In three decades of working within large organizations, we have found there are five destructive habits that, in some combination, stall out a person’s career. Just look around you, odds are exceptionally high someone sitting with 30 feet of you has formed some of these habits. As great as you are, even you might have some of these.
Habit 1: Victim Thinking
Consider author and pastor Charles Swindoll’s notion that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you choose to respond. The challenge is, we have found that people with a victim mentally usually respond in a limiting way. They are often quick to place blame, point fingers and rationalize why they can’t succeed. Excuses flow readily. Rationalizations quickly follow their excuses, and before long, they find themselves convinced there is no way to succeed. Victim thinkers often lack the feeling of being in control and thus may give up early and often.
Habit 2: Rigidity
As humans, we take comfort in the known. It offers us the safety and security of not having to take a risk or put ourselves too far out on a limb. Benjamin Franklin was credited with saying that “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The inevitability of change is also certain. No matter how hard we resist, nothing stays the same forever. We can fight this fact, but we will likely only die tired. Change is an undefeated warrior.
Habit 3: Negative Thinking
There are only two things we have complete control of in life: what we choose to think and what we choose to do. Bad things happen, problems arise, things rarely go as planned. These are the simple facts of life. When problems arise, we can choose to complain and gripe about the sad state of affairs — this is what negative thinkers often do — or we can search for the brighter, more empowering perspective. It is a choice that makes a profound difference.
Habit 4: Hoping And Waiting
Hope is a wonderful asset. It keeps us positive and looking up. But, when partnered with waiting, together, they stagnate us. We can hope to win the lottery; however, if we keep waiting to buy a ticket, our prospects look pretty dim. Standing on the sideline and waiting, hoping someone else will fix a problem, address an issue or make something better is a surefire way to career mediocrity.
Habit 5: Fearing The Worst
In life, we don’t always get what we deserve. More often, we get what we expect. Our expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies (regardless of whether we expect the positive or negative). Henry Ford is credited with saying, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Doctors are familiar with this as well — it’s the placebo effect. Patients can escape pain, even cure themselves of disease conditions simply because they expect that the medicine they are taking is a new miracle drug (even though it is nothing more than a sugar pill).
So, how do we change a negative habit?
The first step is just being aware that we have them. Acknowledgment is key. It allows us to catch ourselves before we just drop into our default habitual way of reacting.
Next, we must begin to ask ourselves a new set of questions. Habits are automatic responses — default patterns that require no level of cognitive engagement. So, we have to reengage our conscious thought process to create a new and better habit.
For each of the negative habits, here are simple questions that can break the bad thought pattern and create a new, productive and empowering one:
Victim Thinking: Ask yourself “What can I do? How can I approach this differently?” (Hint: There is always a better approach.)
Rigidity: Ask yourself “What is the upside of saying ‘yes’? What opportunities open up by embracing this change?” (Hint: There is always an upside advantage.)
Negative Thinking: Ask yourself “What positive outcomes exist here? What is the best way for me to look at this?” (Hint: There is always a bright side.)
Waiting And Hoping: Ask yourself “If I do nothing, is anything likely to get better? Am I comfortable allowing others to be in control of my destiny, or is it better for me to make certain it turns out right?” (Hint: Being in control of your own destiny is always better.)
Fearing The Worst: Ask yourself “What outcome would I most like to see happen? What can I do to make sure this goes well?” (Hint: Focus on what you want not what you don’t want.)
For most of us, we don’t consciously develop our habits. They are developed in the background and may not have been influenced by the best factors. Our habits guide us, but they don’t have to rule us. Make the choice. Do you want to develop the habits of success or fall prey to the habits of failure?