Bad habits - good or bad, you cannot deny them.

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Some tips to help you understand the role that habits play in slowing progress towards your goals for the new year!

Well its 2007 and its that time. That time when many of us turn to making those wild promises about what we’re going to achieve in the coming year.

Most of us are a few weeks into that new phase now and have probably made our first enthusiasm fuelled steps forward, charging into a raft of new programs and pursuing those impressive goals with vigour.

Sometimes great energy and drive are enough to create new success for people – those are the people who were perhaps operating below their capacity and therefore only needed to find some greater motivation to realise higher levels of output and therefore success.

It is NOT this simple for many people and I am reminded that energy can be derived from 2 entirely different sources of motivation. They have previously been simplistically described as:

  • A desire to get away from something - a person a condition or a situation etc., as fast as you possibly can, or,
  • An attraction towards

For me it can be terrifically motivating to latch on to a big goal that is simple to see and to feel my energy lifting (and results start flowing) immediately. It often though just doesn’t work that way. I am not sure if this is an age thing, whereby part of the process of ageing means that I have exhausted many of the “easy wins”, simply because I’ve given myself every straight forward motivational speech that exists, but that now, there are only the more subtle improvements left available to me?

I don’t know the ultimate answer to this but what I do know is that I need to look harder to find the source of improvements in behaviour modification.

I can also say that on masse I don’t find myself sitting around with heaps of spare time on my hands and so when a great new idea comes to me, it’s not that easy to jump and say “well I only worked for 50% of last week, therefore I should be able to achieve 100% more this week simply by being motivated”


Most of the people I know aren’t sitting around idle, rather they’re already working very hard doing things!

I am reminded of something I read many many years ago which said that:

If you want to change a bad habit you will need to replace it with a good one!

I took this to mean that achieving more for most of us is about making many little adjustments to our current behaviours.

I’m sure we all smile when we hear people protest:

  • “I’ve stopped eating so I can lose weight”
  • “I’m going to stay home more so I spend less time at the pub drinking”
  • “I’m going to stop being so naturally blunt to people”

The issue it seems with all these things is that there is an over emphasis on simply STOPPING doing something that you’re currently doing badly, but that there is NO emphasis on promoting the alternatives.

The truth is that many of our current habits are actually quite satisfying to us and so simply stopping them, will not on its own be easy to do.

Eating can be fun, Going to the pub can be fun, and speaking badly to people using the ‘easy relaxed manner’ that we’ve grown up with can be comfortable to us.

Without getting too complex here, I interpreted that the person who wrote the quote I read (the one about replacing a bad habit with a different one) meant that a far more effective way to handle each of the challenges above would be to:

  • Keep eating but find different things to eat which aren’t as fatty.
  • Find another hobby that you really enjoy, that takes your attention at those times you might normally spend at the pub
  • Learn to speak differently, increase your command of language and basically replace the ineffective language with more effective language.

This isn’t complex….Ask yourself how feasible these strategic responses are:

Lose weight = stop eating.

Stop going to the pub = stop going out.

Stop being blunt = stop speaking to people.

None of these strategies make any sense and the book I read make the point very clearly that there is no alternative than to replace a bad habit with a new (hopefully better) one and this takes not much more than a consistent period of 30 days of daily practice.

It is as if the brain has to be re-trained.

The role of environment in supporting and promoting habits:

Another terrific article on this subject was spotted when I was reading one of those glossy magazine specials that you find in the weekend newspapers now.

The article was about addictive narcotics and in summary while it acknowledged all the common theories for addiction, it also really suggested that the root cause was far more systemic than that. Drug addicts are often found in environments where there is no fun, no mental stimulation, no hope, no normal community structures. Now I can hear the screaming now :

“I know plenty of wealthy people who are drug addicts and it’s not just the poor etc..”

Well I am quite sure that’s true and I don’t want for one minute to by-pass all the middle and wealthy classes who have had terrible stories hit their families, but we must be careful not to use exceptions to create new rules. It is the vast majority of cases of addiction that we should be focusing on if we want to learn about the root causes of issues such as this.

Soap box aside, what all these stories hopefully remind you is that:

If you are to change your bad habits or simply stop doing something that does not serve you, then as a starting point you should think of a positive replacement, work hard at making the new habit, “habitual”, and perhaps eventually the old will get squeezed out by the new!

And finally…..a reminder that while we should always take our goals seriously, we shouldn’t take OURSELVES too seriously! For that the final word goes to Scott Adams via his fantastic comedy strip “Dilbert”.

Best wishes as you strive to have what you want in 2007