How to identify and break BAD habits?

Bad Habits

Knowledge is learning something new everyday. Wisdom is letting go of some bad habits everyday.

Farshad Asl

Bad habits — everyone’s got them. From nail biting to being perpetually late, we all have little behavioural patterns that we could definitely live without. Being ourselves – fallible human beings – is often used as an excuse why we have these “imperfections”, but our own unique “human” self-awareness and resilience is actually the best defence against unhealthy and unwanted habits.

Bad habits can be broken.

“Habit” is a routine of behaviour repeated regularly that tends to occur subconsciously. A routine we repeat regularly becomes increasingly difficult to break or even to observe. These habits (good and bad) are the infraestructure of our lives and in many ways they determine our future which is why it is essential to not only pursue success habits but also be capable of identifying, breaking and removing bad ones. For leaders we have to not only be capable of doing this for ourselves but also be able to lead our team in doing it for themselves.

Great people leaders are capable of guiding others to break bad habits.

The most obvious tool in fighting bad habits is the prevention of the habit to begin with. This is why effective training of any team can’t only focus on training the needed skills and procedures to follow, it must also go into attitudes and expectations. A new staff member may have the pre-existing bad habit of using their personal phone at work but when they start their new job they have a clean-slate, offering them an opportunity to break bad habits. However if your work productivity training hasn’t covered the consequences of uncontrolled personal phone usage on productivity and left clear the linkage of this to work results – and even to work contentness – you can be pretty sure this pre-existing – bad – habit will surface soon.

The first line of defence against bad work habits is training in prevention.

The same goes for common bad habits, like: punctuality, poor work appearance, staff chatting, social media usage, procrastination etc… if your induction hasn’t left clear your company’s expectations in these areas and linked these to staff productivity, you can be pretty sure staff’s pre existing bad habits will surface. More dangerous than this, is that one new staff member’s uncontrolled bad habit, could break the good habits other staff members have worked hard to implant. No company or work environment has the exact same environment so the bad habits you are seeking to prevent will no doubt be specific to your work conditions but what is essential as a leader is to recognise that you have the responsibility to guide your team away from forming bad habits.

As leader you have the responsibility to prevent staff forming bad habits at work.

Not all bad habits can be prevented, some will escape our influence and form and others are too strongly implanted to be “prevented” by training alone. Also, if we move into a new leadership post, we will inherit a team with pre-existing good and bad work habits therefore we also need to know how to address, cure and remove bad habits, as well as preventing them. The first key factor to addressing and overcoming a bad habit, be it in our ourselves or others, is to be conscious – aware – of the problem, the transition from stage 1 to 2 in the learning pyramid. This may sound simple or reductive, but it can be one of the most difficult steps in the process of overcoming a negative pattern. Try to notice what exactly you (or your team player) are doing, and then identify the triggers (cues) and the environment of the habit. If a team playing is procrastinating, ask what is causing that procrastination? Is it them feeling they have too many things to do? Is it the “weight” of making that first step? Or is it lack of confidence in a specific area? Once you identified the root cause you can direct willpower directly towards that specific moment and fight the continuation of that bad habit head on.

The first step to curing a bad habit is awareness of it and connecting its occurence to a trigger or sequence of triggers.

After you have observed the habit and identified the cause of the issue, it is a good idea to write it all down: noting down the (bad) habit and below the triggers you identified and then the root cause of those triggers and finally the consequence of the bad habit. This process aligns awareness of why this behaviour occurs with the real consequences and hence make it easier to focus on what to do about it which ultimately should be removing a bad habit and replacing it with a good one.Captura de pantalla (16) Looking at the example notes to the right for a staff member of mine, you can see how the awareness of having a messy desk was justified by leaving in a rush due to (triggered by) the worry they felt about not arriving on time to pick up their son. When they were asked to look into the consequences of leaving in a rush, they identified it had more impact on them than they first thought: it was causing them: to leave some things half done, starting the next day with disorganization and feeling less control over their work responsibilities. As they went through this process, they realised the real root cause was their poor time management which was a far bigger issue to address than a messy desk but by analyzing why they had a messy desk, they reached this far more useful conclusion. They then identified that a solution could be having an “end of day (tidy up) routine” that they time-blocked into their daily work procedure. They then concluded that this would only happen if they planned out their days week by week and reflected on and replanned their day daily. The result of this “bad habit” identification process (see also diagrams below) was a commitment to plan out their day and the understanding of the consequence this was having on them.

However being aware of a bad habit and then identifying a solution will still often not be enough by itself to remove an entrenched bad habit. In these circumstances we will also need ready made “if then” counter plans to redirect us in a more positive direction when we feel the “cues” (triggers) of a bad habit. For example in the messy desk example, we would likely need “if then” plans for the following situation below which could break our “end of the day routine” unless we were prepared for them.

  • If a must do task out of your control was scheduled for the end of the day – IF THEN: I would move my “end of day routine” forward and do it an hour earlier for all areas i could.
  • If an improtu situation happens at the end of the day that i can’t avoid – IF THENI would do my end of day routine later after i had picked up my son and/or come in earlier the next day to still start my day in an organized fashion.
  • If I find myself losing the desire to do my end of day routine – IF THEN: I would put up notes around my desk and on my computer reminding myself of the difference it had made and why it mattered to me.

These are just some examples but the point is that to really break a tough bad habit you must be prepared for moments of weakness and have “if then” responses planned to redirect you when feel the cues (triggers).

If you want to break a entrenched bad habit, you need to have “if then” plans prepared for dealing with weak moments.

Breaking bad habits is an essential part of staff productivity and should form an integral part of any professional development programme. We should train staff in good practices to help prevent bad work habits forming. However even more so, as leaders, we must be ready to identify and bring up with staff in feedback sessions bad habits that we spot and should encourage them to actively do this identification for themselves. When we spot bad habits that we know are effecting work productivity, our goal must be to put an action plan in place to remove them and indead replace the bad with a good habit. When we achieve this we will reap the rewards, not only in the direct benefit of having more productive staff but also an more autonmous team who can identify and remove bad habits for themselves.

Great managers know how to break bad habits so they are replaced with good ones.

Steps to breaking BAD habits


Part 10: Aim for Financial Excellence

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

If you’ve read and implemented all of the previous 9 Parts to Financial Independence: first of all WELL DONE and congratulations on making it this far! If you have stuck with me on this journey, it shows you’ve got the right motivation and determination to achieve your financial dreams! If you’ve still got a few parts pending, or have skipped some, go back and revisit them over the next few days and don’t miss the opportunity to start your journey to become financially independent!

In this very last part of the 10 Parts to Financial Independence, we’re going to round off with some pro-tips to take your Financial Independence to the next level, by making sure you keep your mission to become financially independent at the forefront of your planning for the next year.

Part 10: Aim for Financial Excellence

As said above, if you’ve gone through and have implemented all of the previous 9 parts, you’ve already beaten the odds and shown real determination. The difficult question is: how are you going to keep that up over the next weeks, months, indeed years in order to keep building your wealth, creating more financial stability and becoming financially independent? 

Firstly, consider getting a coach or mentor: somebody who can inspire and motivate you and keeps you committed to your goal. A coach can push you to stay accountable, share their experience, help you with specific goal setting and give you feedback on your journey, progress and targets. A good coach might cost a bit of money but they can offer you a lot more in return long-term.

Another way to keep working on your personal finance skills is to make it ta habit to play the “What If…” game, so you keep reminding yourself of the importance of improving your financial situation. In the “What If” game you ask yourself how you would financially be able to deal with some specific adverse scenarios: What if your income suddenly went down by 50%? What if you lost your job next month? What if you lost all of your savings? What if your partner couldn’t work anymore? It pushes you to have an emergency plan available and to build up savings and other income streams.

Lastly I’d like to advocate for two ways to spread the love and involve others to help them benefit from your increased financial awareness and financial situation. Firstly, if you have any children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews, consider passing on your knowledge in an age-appropriate way to them. I am sure there have been moments when you thought: “If only I had known about this when I was younger!”. Maybe nobody taught you, but you can still teach others and help them become more financially literate from a young age. This can be through games, stories, at-home-savings plans and many other ways! 

Secondly, if you’re not already, start supporting a charity. Find one today that does work that you believe in and would like to support, be that in the field of health and health care, animal welfare and conservation, human and civil rights, environmental initiatives, arts and culture or social and community projects. You can make contributions from as little as $10 a year. That might not sound like a lot to you, but if that’s all you can miss at this moment, it is a lot more than nothing. With time when your finances improve, make it a habit to also increase your contributions. Even if you start small, you’ll end up making bigger contribution over time.

Make some time available today to sit down and implement the above suggestions, to ensure you stay on track on your journey to financial independence!

The above is an adaptation of part 10 of the 10 parts in the guidebook to Financial Independence100 Steps to Financial Independence: The Definitive Roadmap to Achieving Your Financial Dreams where you can find more details as well as action plans and guidelines to each of the 10 parts. Available in both ebook and paperback format!

Get your FREE sample of the 100 Steps to Financial Independence Book here

5 Reasons why staff fail to improve and what leaders can do about them

5 reasons staff don't improve

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

– Thomas A. Edison

As a manager there is nothing more frustrating than investing time, money and emotional energy into developing a staff member and yet still after all this effort and personal attention they fail to improve. Whilst there are many reasons this might have happened, i will cover here 5 frequent causes that every manager should bear in mind and be equipped to steer their staff away from.

Every manager should be aware of common reasons staff fail to improve as without that they will not be able to guide their staff past them.

Reason 1: the staff member doesn’t identify with why they should improve?

For people to invest themselves in creating positive personal change, they must willingly and consciously identify with a reason why it matters to them to personally to do so. The why factor is their lamp which guides them in dark, it is their energy drink which gives them strength to keep moving forward. Our job as managers is to help provide this why.  It is an useless exercise to point out what a staff member needs to improve in but not explain why it matters. It is also equally prone to failure – at least in the longer term – to demand change but not help your staff to realise why that change is beneficial to them. The why factor is the logic that feeds our natural WIIFM (what’s in if for me?) motivation and without it very few staff members will keep pushing themselves over the long haul to create personal change. One must remember all habit change is established over time.

Management TIP I: provide the why and make it personal.

Reason 2: the staff member doesn’t link the change required to their daily actions

Even though romantics would like to think differently, it is not eureka insight itself which creates change but rather the actions that come about because of that moment of enlightenment. Indeed there is little benefit in knowing you need to change, if you don’t work out how you will change and connect that to concrete daily and weekly actions. Gary Keller in his excellent “One Thing” development book stats the way to do this is to ask yourself: “what one thing could i do to create the change i need?” and to keep on doing this until the answer becomes “one thing” that you can do right now. This technique of continuously questioning in order to arrive at the action to be done right now is one way to connect your goal to daily life but what matters here is to recognise that many people fail to improve not because they don’t recognise change is needed but rather because they don’t connect it to concrete action. Therefore our job as a manager is to pinpoint this action if staff can not do it themselves. 

Management TIP II: connect change as resulting from repeated daily actions.

Reason 3: staff fail to time-block in the actions needed to create change.

Even if staff identify with why they should change and connect improvement to a specific set of daily actions, many will still fail because they won’t time-block in these actions so they will happened without fail. We have all experienced what frequently happens with new year resolutions, where we promise to get healthier or to lose weight by going to the gym 3 times a week but by February we have already stopped going. A frequent reason why is we never time-blocked in the set days to go or, if we did, we didn’t react to the unexpected by readjusting our time blocking (the days we plan to go to gym) to the dynamics of our schedule. Professional development often fails to evolve for similar reasons. For example we stop reflecting at the end the day the moment we become too busy but this didn’t have to be case if we had time-blocked in 10 minutes to do so and respected the importance of doing it. If we don’t time-block in the actions needing to be done, inevitably something in our day will knock us of track. As a manager we should get staff to realise how essential time-blocking in development time (the actions needing done to improve) is to actual improvement as without protecting the time you need to do the actions to improve you quite simply will never improve.

Management TIP III: Make sure staff schedule in and time-block development time.

Reason 4: staff don’t turn actions into habit so once early enthusiasm (or pushing from you) dies down they drop it.

Few personal improvements which result from actions we are doing will remain in the long term unless we manage to turn them into success habits. Deciding what actions we need to do requires decision making energy and keeping them up each and everyday takes willpower and we only have so much of both these. This is why it is essential we aim to establish our actions we are doing to improve into a habit or set of them. When something is a habit, we no longer need to use decision making energy or willpower each day to keep them up, we rather do them almost without thinking. Brushing our teeth or putting on clean clothes are two routine habits that nearly all of us do without expending any mental energy. Likewise for more complex and demanding habits, like training for a marathon, many of us reach the moment when going for a training run is no longer a mental effort to do, rather it is part of our routine, part of our sense of being. Improvement in ourselves in work is similar, if for example we are working on goal setting and reflection, we should aim to reach a point when we no longer force ourselves to reflect at the end of the day, we rather just do it automatically without thinking, when we have got there we have established a habit and the benefit of that change, whilst still needing maintenance, is likely to continue because it is now part of us. Great managers therefore keep guiding their staff in their improvement areas until it is part of them, until the habit is so deeply entwined with their sense of self that it will not stop.

Management tip IV: push for staff to fix their improvement via fixed habits.

Reason 5: staff don’t form a continuous relationship with their improvement goal.

It might sound strange to use the expression “relationship with” when referring to ourselves and our goals but it is a real concept. Once we enter into the world of development, we enter into a personal relationship with the improvements we are seeking. They become part of us, part of our story. Improvements can change our personality and develop our character and thus when mastered they become part of us. A relationship with our goals – and the actions required to get them  – is seeing the connection between the action of doing them and the real -change – result it has on us when they have been completed. It is talking to friends, colleagues and mentors about these development goals and synergising the logic of why you must do it with why it matters to you. Your goal becomes your success journey, part of your life story. Staff who let a habit become part of how they define themselves are far more likely to keep it up as it is part of the new and better you. Our role as leaders is to help our staff to embrace this relationship with their goals and accept the new person that results from the change and when this happens the improvement is entrenched and complete change completed.

Management tip V: help staff to form a relationship with their goals.

Great managers understand that their role is much more than just pointing out areas for their staff to improve on, it is rather to guide them along the long and challenging journey of positive personal change. Leaders must help their staff: find the “why”, to connect change to daily actions, to time-block, to form habits and develop a long term relationship with the change itself. When leaders guide their staff in these 5 essential steps, staff will have a far better change of making the improvement the leader was demanding.

Great leaders dont just pinpoint things to improve on, they rather guide staff along their development journey of positive change.

5 steps to personal improvement