The Client-centred Blog

The truth about breaking bad habits

Reaching your next level of success is so often about what you stop doing, rather than what you start doing.

Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith found this in his work with senior leaders in Fortune 100 companies.

He even wrote a book about it called ‘What got you here, won’t get you there’.

Great book title!

He explores 20 bad habits he found cropping up again and again in his work with clients. You can get the list by clicking here.

Do you recognise any of these in yourself?

I occasionally use this list in a client coaching session and we always find a few we have been guilty of in the past!

Not long ago I was working with an adviser who wanted to build a bigger, more successful practice but he kept running into the same roadblock.

He was struggling to retain back office staff. His bad habit, it turned out, was that he micro-managed people.

Instead of allowing them to get on with their jobs without interference, he ‘hovered’ and kept offering up the value of his experience. So much so that some people left!

What defines all bad habits?

They make enough sense to us to keep doing them! There is always a payoff.

Bad habits are almost always a strategy to make ourselves feel better in the moment. And it works – but only temporarily and, as we all know, there are undesirable consequences.

The 21-day myth

In the self-development world there are dozens of people who keep sharing the same ideas without validating that they work.

If you Google the subject of habits you will find lots of people saying it takes 21 days to break a habit and form a new one (the original source was Maxwell Maltz in the 1960’s).

But a study published in The European Journal of Social Psychology found that it took people between 18 and 254 days to form a new habit.

Even this is misleading.

This kind of advice is based upon the assumption that a specific amount of time must pass before an old habit is effectively replaced.

The grain of truth

When our thinking quietens down, we experience a profound sense of inner peace, presence and well-being – some people call it ‘being home’.

This is the feeling we are trying to get to through the habit.

The inside-out understanding points people directly towards this inner space and the more familiar it becomes, the easier and more often you return to it.

What effect does this have on bad habits?

Michael Neill summed it up in one of his blog posts and I couldn’t think of a better way of saying it…

‘Since nearly all of the habits we want to change started out as attempts to gain relief from our own discomfort, when we get more comfortable, the habits fall away effortlessly and of their own accord.’

Yes, you can use willpower to try to change a habit and it might work.

But this approach is based upon forced abstinence and only some people can keep this up for long periods of time.

And isn’t this defeating the object too? Still thinking about something whilst not doing it is hardly a win, is it?

Effortless change is built into the system. When you understand the way it works you stop trying so hard and change occurs naturally.


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