Five Ways to Change Bad Habits

by Diane Berenbaum

Through the years, we've all developed a multitude of habits; some that have helped us become more effective or efficient. And, others, that are … well, just something we tend to do on a regular basis. They are all reflections of who we are. I'd like to call them reflections of our "uniqueness." Our spouses, relatives, friends and associates may have other names for them.

For example, I never get up when the alarm goes off. Never. I hit the snooze button a few times, and then it might be a while before I actually get out of bed. (I'm just not a morning person, OK!) Fortunately, this never bothers my husband. He's "Mr. Sunshine" (a nickname bestowed upon him in his youth), so he never complains. He always greets me in the morning with a big smile … one of his most endearing "habits," unlike the one where he …, enough said! You get the picture.

According to The Oxford Dictionary, a habit is "a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up." In fact, 40% of the actions that people perform each day are habits, not purposeful decisions, according to a recent Duke University study.

And, habits make us who we are. As Stephen Covey, author of the Seven Habits series, noted, "Our character is basically a composite of our habits. Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they constantly, daily, express our character."

Interestingly enough, we tend to be keenly aware of others' habits, particularly those that annoy us. But, many of us aren't aware of our own habits, let alone their impact on others.

What do you make of your habits? If they're more destructive than constructive, then … change them. Or, stop doing them all together.

I know they're hard to give up. We're so used to them that they've become part of who we are. Therein lies the problem.

Here are five ways to help you change your habits:

  • 1.  Focus on changing one habit at a time. Don't attempt to tackle every single one of your unbecoming habits. Chances are you'll give up, and your habits will stay intact. And, don't focus on how hard it will be to make the change. You might talk yourself right out of it. Instead, focus on the "why" you need to change as well as the benefits of that change.
  • 2.  Make a commitment—and tell others. There's nothing like a public announcement to increase the urgency and motivation to follow-through, lest we face potential humiliation. In our office, a few of my associates made a public declaration that they were going to lose weight. Everyone else heard it, and sure enough, they all stuck with it.
  • 3.  Find a friend. It can be hard to do this alone. Enlisting a friend can help you make progress and give you the encouragement to keep going when you feel like giving up. Years ago, I decided to "try" to stop biting my nails. One of my co-workers committed to help with friendly check-ins as well as positive affirmations.
  • 4.  No more excuses. Sure, there are lots of reasons not to work on these habits. So fight the temptation when you find yourself going there. Instead, focus on all the reasons to keep at it. Tackle the excuses head on until you come to the logical conclusion to stay the course.
  • 5.  Don't give up. You may have setbacks—that's OK. We're human. Even if you made a sarcastic remark, passed the buck, or were late again … whatever that "bad habit" might be for you—keep going. Just acknowledging the setback is a step in the right direction.
So go ahead, change your habits ... it will change your results and change your life.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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