How To Break Bad Habits (Part 1)

As you increase your leadership capacity and self-awareness at work and home, your behavior, thinking, and feelings (collectively referred to as habits) come to light and you begin to realize the impact each of them has on your ability to positively influence those you love and serve. When we focus on our habits, it is only natural to make a list of the bad ones that need correction and/or complete removal from our life. As self-awareness increases, we begin to realize; "When I feel like this...I act like this..." or "When this is going on around me, I tend to feel like this...". While self-awareness is crucial to breaking bad habits - it is also just one part of the self-awareness process.

Our habits (both good and bad) are formed over time and based on our life experiences, choices, and even genetics. When the bad habits become a part of our routine, it is extremely difficult to stop them because they have become engrained into who we are; they are now a part of our nature. The apostle Paul, one of the great founders of the early Christian church and a writer of the New Testament admitted:

I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:19 NLT)

Many of us wrestle with these same thoughts. We desire to be a great leader, to do what is right and positively influence the people we love and serve. Yet we find ourselves making bad choices that negatively impact ourselves and those around us. Often we turn to will-power  to positively think our way out of bad habits. While this might work for a short time, inevitably the bad habits return. And though they may look a little different - the result is the same … dysfunction, poor choices, and broken relationships.

As the desire to improve relationships and leadership capacity becomes an increasingly hot topic in my coaching sessions, I have felt the need to research how I can best coach clients to take on and break their bad habits. Over the course of the next few weeks, I will share with you what I have learned along with 10 steps to help you break the bad habits in your life and leadership.

In today's post (Part 1) the first four steps on this journey are laid out. These are crucial initial steps that cannot be skipped if you are serious about breaking bad habits and becoming the leader you are called to be. A word of caution is appropriate here as these first steps focus on digging deep and discovering the source of your bad habits.  While this part of the process will be enlightening, it may also be very emotional:

  1. Understand The Law of The IcebergThe first step in breaking bad habits is to understand that these are deep issues that usually cannot be solved by positive thinking or quick fix. The reason we think, feel, and behave the way we do is generally hidden deep in our subconscious (the part of the iceberg under the water). The outward expression of our subconscious like our feelings, thinking, and behaviors allow us to see our habits (tip of the iceberg above the water). Past experiences, choices, memories, fears and even genetics all play a role in forming the subconscious and so contribute to habits.  Some habits can be broken quickly while others cannot. Acknowledging the depth and complexity of the issue is the fist step because it releases us from thinking, "I'm a loser for not being able to break this habit quickly".
  2. Map The Pathway of Your Bad Habits - Once the depth of the issue is understood, the next step is to map the pathway the bad habit travels from its origin to its outward expression via negative thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. The goal is to discover the root cause of the bad habit. While going through this exercise I discovered that it was easier to start with the outward expression and move back one step at a time until the root cause of the bad habit is reached.  Here are a few questions to help map the pathway of the bad habit:
    • How would you describe the bad habit you want to change?
    • What are you thinking and feeling before you engage in the bad habit?
    • What is going on around you as you start to think and feel this way?
    • How often (frequency) do you find yourself feeling this way?
    • When was the first time you remember thinking, feeling, and behaving this way?
    • Describe the conditions and environment that existed when you first started this behavior?
    • Did anything happen to you or because of you that made you start to feel this way?
    • How would you define and describe the source of this bad habit?
  3. Extend/Accept Forgiveness and Grace  - When you outline the pathway of your negative habit you will most likely find yourself deep below the water line at the base of the "iceberg" described in step one. In this space you may come face to face with the cause of your bad habit. There will most likely be some ugly stuff down there, such as bad memories, bad behaviors, and potentially dark moments in your life that you have chosen to hide away. Here is where you must make a crucial decision. A decision that will impact your life and leadership moving forward. The decision is this; will you extend forgiveness to someone who is at the source of this habit - a parent, friend, or a stranger that hurt you, scarred you, or introduced you to this unhealthy behavior, way of thinking, or feeling? You may find yourself looking in the mirror and realizing that you are the one who made the bad choice, succumbed to temptation, and are thus the cause of this bad habit. If this is your reality, then you will need to accept forgiveness and grace in order to move forward, break the habit, and live a more healthy life.
  4. Take Ownership of Your HabitsWhile you cannot change the past, you do have control over how you respond to the opportunities and challenges of the future. In the fourth step you must take ownership of your habits and accept that while you may have a natural tendency to behave poorly you always have a choice as to whether or not you give into the temptation to do so. This is a very sensitive part of the process because our culture is slowly moving away from the principle of personal responsibility. The more each of us relies on external sources for finding our purpose, meeting our basic needs, and fulfilling our calling for meaning in life the more susceptible we become to having these same external sources control our behavior, feelings, and thinking. To be clear, I do believe dependence is healthy and powerful and has a place in the fight to break bad habits. Many people depend on family, friends, or fellow members of the same faith in a very healthy way that encourages personal responsibility and ownership of behavior. The point of this step is to understand that you alone are responsible for how you choose to live your life and the habits that you allow into your life.

While there are more steps to discuss in future posts, for now I encourage you to take some time and reflect on each of the first 4 steps and the habits you have formed in your life.

Are there habits you need to break that are keeping you from being a purposeful leader in the home and at work?

Make it a great day!

Coach Dan