I have been dealing with bad habits for most of my adult life. I have my share of bad habits that range from annoying to downright destructive. And professionally, I have confronted the bad, unhelpful habits of employees, colleagues, clients, and organizations.
I have read several books that explore habits, how they form and how they shift. I find this guidance interesting, but not particularly helpful when I am personally caught in the grips of one
of my own undesirable habits.
In the midst of a recent teleconference, I heard a suggestion for working with bad habits that put me back on my heels.
"Stop doing them."
Could it really be this simple? Well, yes and no.
First, habits become deeply ingrained because once they are established, we practice them over and over, thousands of times, year after year. No wonder we get really good at our bad habits. Like any skill, practice "it," in this case, "a bad habit," enough, and you will become an expert.
Second, the advice to stop doing a bad habit is basic common sense because we cannot take on a good habit unless we stop the bad habit. I can practice either the old bad habit or the new positive habit - but not both at the same time.
Third and more fundamentally, when we choose to stop doing a habit, we stop practicing it. Do this enough and the habit starts to weaken. Start practicing a new, more constructive habit and the process accelerates.
And fourth, I cannot stop doing a bad habit if I am on mindless auto-pilot. The intent to simply stop the bad habit actually builds my self-awareness of my habits. This awareness is key to managing myself, and my habits.
And finally, when I am swept up in the whitewater of my habits, it is very hard to remember even the simplest process for managing them. That said, I do find that I can remember that one very simple prescription: "Stop doing this."
Again, can it really be this simple? And again, yes and no.
IF I am aware of my habit, IF I can remember to just stop doing it, and IF I can actually stop, then this is not so complex. However, I am under no delusion that these three IFs are easy to master.
Nonetheless, my intent to stop doing my bad habits helps build my awareness of my bad habits, reinforces my aim of stopping them, and, over time, weakens the power of bad habits. All worthy objectives in my book.
By the way, with a little creativity, all of this can be applied to organizational bad habits. The place to start is to strengthen your awareness of your organization's habits, good and bad, and begin to explore what it would take to stop the bad ones so that the more helpful habits can thrive.
In future blogs, I'll explore the process of turning auto-pilot off, turning self-awareness on, and
the "how to" of practicing positive habits.
In the meantime, when it comes to bad habits, happy hunting.