Break your habits before they break you.
Unlike other children, Sam never made a sound the first few years of his life. As a baby and then as a toddler, he never made the normal “ga-ga” sounds or even attempted to form a word.
His parents were naturally quite concerned and so they took him to several doctors to have him examined. The doctors said there was nothing physically wrong with Sam. He just had no desire to speak.
The family got used to this and simply nicknamed their son “Silent Sam.” One morning at breakfast, when “Silent Sam” was eating, he opened his mouth and uttered his first sentence. He said, “This oatmeal is darned lumpy.”
His parents were shocked, and they asked the obvious question, “After all these years, why do you finally choose to speak?” Sam said, “Until now, everything has been okay.”
Of course, that’s just a whimsical story, but it illustrates the fact that it’s easy to get stuck in some bad habits. And it often takes a long time to get rid of those bad habits.
That’s because habits are the sneakiest little monsters around. You don’t notice them until they’ve taken control. As Dr. Denis Waitley writes in his book, The Joy of Working, “Habits start as harmless thoughts. They are like flimsy cobwebs with little substance. Then with practice, they grow, thought upon thought, fused with self-talk and attitude until they become like steel cables.”
Bad habits operate the same way an invading force does. Bad habits start with a toehold in your thoughts, move on to a foothold in your behavior, and eventually occupy your entire personality.
If you’re going to take control of your life, you’ve got to break your bad habits before they break you. And it will be a battle. Your HABITS WILL DEFEND THEMSELVES TO THE DEATH — EITHER THEIRS OR YOURS — WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
To win the battle, you need to attack your bad habits from many directions. And the more ways you attack the enemy, the greater your chances for success will be.
ATTACK YOUR BAD HABITS LOGICALLY. Write on an index card what you like and dislike about your habit, placing your likes and dislikes in separate columns. As you think of more likes and dislikes, add them to your card. Almost always you’ll have a lot more dislikes on your card, so read them back to yourself whenever you feel tempted by the bad habit. The list of dislikes will often be enough to dissuade you from going forward.
ATTACK YOUR BAD HABITS GEOGRAPHICALLY. In other words, avoid those situations or conditions that nourish your bad habits. If you’re more likely to gossip when you sit and wait in the employee lounge, then stay out of the lounge if you’re trying to defeat the habit of gossip. Or if you crave a cigarette after a meal, busy yourself with some other activity. You’ll be surprised how much easier it will be to put off your obsessive desires.
ATTACK YOUR BAD HABITS VERBALLY. Drop the word “habit” from your vocabulary. Or at least use the word sparingly.
There’s a strong connection between the words you use and the behavior you exhibit. When you talk about your bad habits, you may be empowering them. You may be saying or implying that you just can’t help yourself or stop yourself from doing certain things. Yes you can!!! But the more you talk that way, the more entrenched your bad habits become. So be very cautious about using the word “habit” or giving them more credit than they deserve.
ATTACK YOUR BAD HABITS EMOTIONALLY. When you’re under pressure, your bad habits are especially powerful. So try some deep-breathing exercises when the tension hits you. As you exhale, let the tension flow out of your body.
And try some visualization exercises. Close your eyes and see yourself in a relaxed state. Hold this image of yourself until the pull of the bad habit passes you by. Over time, you will find that the urge comes less frequently, and your bad habits will become dim memories.
ATTACK YOUR BAD HABITS MENTALLY. Create a new image to hold in your mind. If, for example, you have the bad habit of expecting failure rather than success, begin to imagine yourself as successful. Great business leaders do it all the time. They picture themselves walking around their new office in their new corporate headquarters as they’re working at a card table in the garage. Or great free-throw shooters in the NBA picture the ball going through the basket. PGA golfers picture the ball going straight down the fairway. All of this conditions the mind to control the body to carry out the dream.
Perhaps you have the bad habit of worrying. In fact, your worry might even stop you from doing the good things you need to be doing. That’s what was happening to one of my audience members — until he learned how to mentally attack his bad habit.
He sent me an e-mail, saying, “A month ago I was employed by a large corporation. I had a good job with a steady income. Everything was going smoothly. In fact, I have to admit I was becoming rather complacent. Then the roof fell in.
“Because of the economy, my company was forced to lay me off. I panicked. How would I pay my bills or feed my family? It was frightening. I worried and worried for days on end, too paralyzed to do anything.
“Then I remembered what you said about imaging. I began to visualize myself as a successful business person. I pictured myself doing all the things I would need to do to be successful.
“From there I lined up interviews with every company I could find. I read the want ads. I followed up every lead.
“Two weeks later I found a better job than the one I’d lost. I got a job with a better salary, more opportunity, and more challenge.
“Thank you for showing me how to kill off my bad habit of worrying and how to get on with life.”
Finally, ATTACK YOUR BAD HABITS PHYSICALLY. In other words, start doing the opposite of your bad habit. And do it over and over and over. Eventually you will replace your bad habit with a good habit.
It’s like the young man carrying a violin case on 57th Street in New York City. He asked an elderly gentleman, “Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” The elderly gentleman promptly replied, “Practice, practice, practice.”
That’s how one of my acquaintances defeated one of his bad habits. He had the bad habit of making unkind remarks about other people. And he naturally associated with people who behaved similarly.
One day he made an especially nasty remark to his wife concerning a business associate. His wife had all she could take of his meanness, and in no uncertain terms she told him what she thought about his harshness.
Fortunately, he took her lecture to heart and decided to get rid of his bad habit. He began doing the opposite of what he was used to doing. He sought out people with positive attitudes. He avoided conversations where others were being put down. Whenever he was tempted to say something mean, he would consciously stop himself. Instead, he would look for something kind he could say about the person.
It didn’t take long before people began to notice a change in him. His wife said, “It wasn’t easy for him. So many times he would start to say something and stop right in the middle of a sentence. But today, I can honestly say, I haven’t heard him make one nasty remark in six months. He’s made a habit to say something nice or say nothing at all. I’m really proud of him.”
Use these tips, and you’ll have the power to defeat your bad habits.
Action: Select one of your bad habits, one that you would especially like to eliminate. Then select three of the strategies outlined in today’s Tip — Logical, Geographical, Verbal, Emotional, Mental, or Physical. Apply those three strategies to your bad habit at least once a day, every day, for twenty-one days. You’ll find that your bad habit will be eliminated or minimized