Overcoming a Bad Habit

by Marcianne Kuethen
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Why do we ignore the red flags and self-sabotage?

This past week, there was an attempt to blow up the restaurant right below our second-floor office. According to the rumor mill, the owner decided that pouring diesel fuel on his kitchen would end his financial problems. (Thankfully for Amtec, diesel isn’t very combustible!) Poor guy, you might be thinking. But the story goes on to say that he did the same thing previously to his Orange County restaurant. Now you’re probably thinking, who does that once and then tries to do the same thing again? Did he not think he would get caught using the same MO again?

We are born knowing how to self-sabotage.

The truth is, we all find ourselves doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results in various aspects of our lives. At home, perhaps you hit the snooze button one too many times again, or buy another package of cookies right when you’ve renewed your pledge to lose five pounds. We seem to be born knowing how to self-sabotage.

Bad habits damage us–and others.

At work, do you also find yourself doing something self-defeating, yet convincing yourself that the next time will turn out differently? Perhaps you swear you won’t procrastinate on the hardest part of your project next time. Maybe you refuse to ask your manager for help because you don’t want to look needy, or you keep checking Facebook when you know you should be working. On the flip side, you could be that person who works so hard, you tend to forget the existence of your family and friends, damaging your closest relationships by overdrawing on their understanding time and time again.

We are driven by habits.

Albert Einstein, who believed that the world was inherently predictable, is broadly credited with saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.” Why do we make a bad choice, vow we will change and do better the next time, but when the next time rolls around, we repeat the same behavior? What causes us to self-sabotage? In simplest terms, it’s because we are human, driven by habits and needs stronger than our intellect can control.

Habits are acquired over time.

If what drives us to self-destruct goes deeper than what just what runs through our heads, how can we ever win at overcoming a bad habit? MindTools suggests that what drives us is our “cognitive script”—the unconscious, automatic thoughts we have when we encounter a situation. We acquire these ingrained behaviors based on previous experiences that we want to repeat. Sometimes those habits are picked up from our family or other groups to which we belong, without our ever stopping to question their origins.

We can rewrite our script, over time.

To change our cognitive script takes time–on average, in 66 days– and requires us to implement a few tactics:

  • A conscious plan with personal goals
  • Self-discipline and self-awareness to watch for slip-ups
  • The right approach, either slow or cold-turkey
  • Self-imposed obstacles to impair the habit
  • A positive behavior to replace the bad habit
  • A reward for behaving positively
  • Help from others

“Some habits are positive and can help you achieve success in your life and career. However, bad habits can severely limit what you can accomplish,” says MindTools. That’s for sure, as the restaurant owner has hopefully discovered! Who knows what would drive someone to attempt to destroy his business, if it’s true? Could it be despair, frustration, greed, or a cognitive script that told him, “It worked last time”? Wouldn’t his intellect tell him, “I got caught last time doing this. The same method can’t work again.” Yet if the rumor is true, some deeper conflicting belief  overpowered his intellect and caused him to self-sabotage.

Do you want to change?

Are you tired of insanely doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? If you need help overcoming a bad habit that is hurting your career and probably others, read the whole MindTools article and apply these principles to your problem. You can be sane if you put your deeper mind to it!

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