Bad habits. We all have them.
Nobody wants a bad habit. Even fun ones, like eating a big dish of ice cream, are enjoyable in the moment, but not beneficial in the long-run. That’s why we call it a bad habit: it’s an event that happens repeatedly, over a long period of time, and impacts us negatively.
If bad habits were easy to change, well, we would have done it already.
In the workplace, bad behaviors result in poor job performance, such as making the same mistakes in a process over and over or consistently arriving late to a meeting. Bad habits impact everyone, creating frustration with peers, managers, and even our favorite teammates.
How can we stop with our bad behaviors? It’s as simple as taking out the trash.
When we empty our trash buckets, we do it to prevent unwanted junk from overflowing and spilling out on the area around it. It keeps ‘junk’ at a manageable level, basically keeping up with it before it gets unpleasant in appearance or odor. Doing the same with bad habits can turn them around.
This past week was the time for the semi-annual trash collection initiative in our town. Residents volunteer to pick up rubbish along roadsides, using supplied blue bags, which are then taken away by the town highway department. Each year, Grace and I stroll down our road and collect an array of discarded items. It can be a bit of a disgusting job, though I think Grace enjoys it more than I do. She likes all those rotten smells.
There is a spot nearby our house that is secluded and makes for an easy dumping ground. Over the years, it has become home to an array of trash, things like old roofing tiles, battered sofas, carpets, tires, even wild animal carcasses (a personal favorite of Grace). I’ve been pulling “stuff” from this spot for the last several years, and as time goes on, I get closer to the bottom of the pile. Some had been too buried to easily pull out, but as it continues to decompose, it becomes lighter and closer to the surface. It was with an enormous sense of accomplishment that I completed the unearthing of trash from this spot this past weekend (the last of it pictured above). It surprised me how good it felt to have all that junk out of there.
This pile took many years to create and it took quite a few to dismantle. But it happened. It made me think how easy it is for junk in our lives to mound up, how we fall into a trap of some bad habits, but how good it feels when we get rid of things that we no longer need.
Whenever we are faced with something huge or difficult, we tend to move around it, not through it. We can feel hopeless in an effort to create change. Yet, if we emptied our trash a little at a time, the larger objective will indeed happen. Here are a few tips to get going:
- If you are the long-term planner, map out all the steps so you know where you’re headed, then focus on the part in front of you. It’s ok to have a time frame in mind, but be gentle if you miss the target. The important thing is progress.
- If thinking about the big picture paralyzes you in fear, just ask yourself, “What is one simple thing I can do to move forward?” And then do it. Don’t worry about what’s next. Just do one small thing that is different. Let the rest fall in place as you build that new habit, which will replace the old one.
Take steps in the right direction, and recognize and reward the progress. Don’t expect perfection, either from yourself or others; we know that bad habits are hard to break so acknowledge that you are moving forward. Set yourself (or your team-mate) up for success, not failure.
It’s perfectly fine to enjoy ice cream. Just know how that fits into your overall nutrition plan. It’s ok to make an occasional mistake, but are you making it repeatedly? It’s ok to run late to a meeting, just be sure it’s not a bad habit. If it is, now you know you can trash it.