Breaking Your Career-Limiting Habits Can Profoundly Improve Your Future

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Habits are powerful and they’re part of each of us. And while many habits are harmless, bad habits can hold you back, make you less happy and productive (sometimes less healthy), and even drag your career down. But the good news is: You can change them.

"thinking ruts at work"Roughly 40 percent of our day-to-day behavior is based on habits according to  The behaviors we have that seem almost automatic are habits and are literally etched into our neural pathways … making it tricky (but not impossible) to change them.

My office recently moved from the second floor of our building to the third—this was a month ago. And yet, occasionally, when I’m coming up or down the stairs thinking about something else, I’ll head for that second floor door. Amazing—that neural pathway is still there—a month later. (You’ve probably experienced this same thing with driving routes, PINs or even the rearrangement of a store.)

Now certainly, my stopping on the second floor isn’t hurting anyone. But bad habits—the things that have a negative effect on our lives, careers or the people around us—are formed just as easily as good habits.

"bad-work-habits-hurt-your-career"It’s powerful stuff and unless you make a conscious effort to notice and change these things, your habits can take over and define you in a way you’re not consciously choosing.

Now consider your habits at work. How much of what you do has slipped into the autopilot mode of your brain? Specifically, do some of these habits limit your career?

Five career-limiting habits:

  1. "breaking bad work habits"Unreliability –If you’re in the habit of making promises that you don’t fulfill, your colleagues will quickly lose trust. “Think of your word as a contract,” suggests This means you need to be sure you fully understand the time constraints and specific details before you say “yes” just to make someone happy. Wondering how you can keep up if your work responsibilities are growing astronomically? Read more about handling a growing workload.
  2. The “It’s not my job” mindset – While setting boundaries does help keep you from becoming over-committed being unreasonably rigid about your limits will quickly earn you a reputation of not being a team player. Consider the requests you receive carefully and pitch in when you can. When time constraints or other priorities keep you from helping out, speak up. But also be helpful in suggesting other solutions. Afraid the way you’re voicing valid limitations is being misunderstood? Read more about being assertive the right way.
  3. Procrastination – When you’re habitually putting things off (and not because other work priorities demand the delay) and it’s causing you to miss deadlines or delay colleagues’ work, you’ve gone too far. Don’t make excuses about needing the “pressure” of a looming deadline. This behavior will soon put you in the unreliable category with co-workers. Need tips for kicking the habit of putting things off? Read more about how to stop procrastinating.
  4. Resistance to change – We’re all comfortable with routine. But since change is part of every modern business, you’ve got to learn to roll with it. Start by paying attention to how you feel (and react) when something new is announced. Do what you can to anticipate and prepare yourself for changes. And don’t make automatic negative assumptions about what lies ahead. Want to understand your negative reaction to change better? Read more about how to embrace change.
  5. "how to develop a good attitude at workA negative attitude – Positive attitudes take effort. Don’t mistakenly assume that all those smiling workers around you aren’t experiencing doubt and fear. While expressing concerns and asking valid questions is vital at work (and not in itself necessarily negative), consider how you’re saying those things. Are you offering alternatives? Are you looking for solutions? Read more about how to stay positive.

Breaking a bad habit isn’t as easy as we’d like. (Look at me, still mindlessly stopping on the second floor months after my move). But, here are some helpful steps from

  1. Make the decision to change and convince yourself you can. Commitment is the first step. If you need motivation, start paying close attention to when and how often you notice the habit.
  2. Try to determine what’s causing the habit. For example, noticing which situations lead to negativity or procrastination can help you learn to pause before reacting badly or not speaking up when you’re taking on too much. Also notice the unintended reinforcements for your bad habit, e.g., have you become the popular “rock” that all the other change-resistant workers cling to (and commiserate with)? If so, gently break ties or start trying to simply listen to others’ complaints rather than initiating them or chiming in. If procrastination is your problem and your current productivity system isn’t helping you meet deadlines, ditch it for one that works better for you. Professional training on time management could also help you if you’re committed to making it work.
  3. Set a reasonable goal for yourself to break the habit. Overcoming bad habits you’ve been perfecting for years won’t happen overnight. Consider starting small by cutting your bad habits by half, e.g., Two-days late instead of four; saying “yes” every other time when asked to pitch in. Also consider having a conversation with people affected by your previous behavior, telling them your goal of hitting deadlines and communicating time constraints better.
  4. Measure your progress. You’re looking for reasonable progress toward kicking these bad habits. Make a point of keeping track of how often your projects are late and how many days. Take note of how often you’re able to turn around a negative conversation instead of joining in.

Habits (even bad ones) form easily. And some of them can limit your career. Turning things around takes conscious effort and commitment.

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