B R. Andrews wrote in The American Journal of Psychology  that a habit “is a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”

All of us need to admit that we have bad work habits that can hold us back.  Maybe we’re always interrupting people, or we’re always late to meetings, or we’ve got an excuse for everything that goes wrong.

Here are a few tips for getting rid of those bad habits at work that might be holding you back.

How To Break Your Bad Habits

Be Aware of what you are doing.

The first step to breaking any bad habit is to be aware of it. Most of us keep doing what we do because we don’t even realize that we are doing it. The more we are aware of what triggers our habits, the better we will be able to control and eliminate them. Knowing what makes us do the things we don’t like helps us to have power over them.

In a TED talk about trying to be aware of our habits, psychiatrist Judson Brewer argues we can start to change our habits by being aware of the moments during which we’re acting them out.

Change your bad habits by replacing them.

While you can’t truly eliminate a habit, you can reform it by replacing it with something better. All of the habits that you have right now — good or bad — are in your life for a reason.  For example, checking your email as soon as you turn on your computer might make you feel connected…but at the same time looking at all of those emails kills your productivity, is extremely distracting, and can overwhelm you with stress. But, it prevents you from feeling like you’re “missing out” … and so you keep doing it; thus completing a vicious cycle.

Because bad habits provide some kind of benefit in your life, it’s difficult to just eliminate them. (This is why advice like “just stop doing it” hardly ever works.)

Instead, you need to replace a bad habit with a new and better habit that provides a benefit that is similar to the one your are trying to ditch. You need to have a plan for when your trigger causes you to want to revert to your old ways. Without a plan, you will almost surely go back to doing what you did before.

Give yourself a break…you’re not perfect.

It’s easy to get caught up in how you feel about your bad habits. You can make yourself feel guilty or spend your time wishing things were different but these thoughts are not productive and will take you away from what’s really happening.

Instead, being aware of what’s going on will show you how to actually make the changes stick.

  • When does your bad habit actually happen?
  • How many times do you do it each day?
  • Where are you?
  • Who are you with?
  • What triggers it?

Just asking those questions will make you more aware what you’re doing and give you lots of ideas for stopping it.

Here’s an example of how to start: track how many times per day your bad habit happens. Use technology…we all have smart phones. Each time your bad habit happens, jot it down as a memo on your phone. At the end of the day, review your notes and see how many times your bad habits surfaced. In this way you will be able to get an accurate picture of what you need to work on.

Use the Start, Stop, Continue method.

  • What should I START doing that will help me to change.
  • What should I STOP doing that is preventing me from forward progress?
  • What should I CONTINUE doing that will enable me to stay on the path that leads to better habits?

Initially, breaking bad habits takes a lot of time and effort, but mostly it just takes perseverance. Most people who end up breaking bad habits try and fail many times before they make it stick. You might not have success right away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have it at all. Keeping working at it and you’ll find that it gets easier with time. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you are doing self-assessments without even realizing it and correcting automatically.


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