What’s In A Habit?

Your rituals determine whether you'll reach your potential

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No one’s perfect, right? Everyone has their own little quirks. In theory, this may be true. But in reality, your idiosyncratic practices may be holding you back from realizing your full potential.

“Habits are powerful factors in our lives,” says Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (Fireside, $14). “Because they are consistent, often unconscious patterns, they express our character and produce our effectiveness…or ineffectiveness.”

Sometimes we’re very aware of our habits. For example, you may think you do your co-workers a favor by pointing out their mistakes. You’ve trained yourself to home in on the weaknesses of others and offer your perspective-whether or not you’re asked for it. After all, you reason, someone has to tell them they’re wrong.

Needless to say, this is a negative habit. Your desire to hold up the proverbial mirror for colleagues to look into makes you appear to be an overly opinionated, hypercritical, self-righteous fault-seeker. Not the best traits to have, especially if you have to rely on them to get your job done. But not to worry; even the worst habits aren’t permanent.

In his book, Covey offers tips that can help you to wipe out negative habits and increase your personal and professional effectiveness. Here are five of them:

  • Be proactive. Don’t wait for things to happen to you; take the initiative. For example, reactive individuals let the weather, their mood and other people’s actions affect their
  • performance. Proactive people, on the other hand, perform well regardless of external circumstances.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Visualize the end and write a program that will help you get there. To have a successful ending, write and follow the steps necessary to achieve your goal.
  • Put first things first. Prioritizing your activities and executing them in order of importance or urgency (see “To-Do List Dilemma,” Motivation, this issue) is the key to life and time management. It will require willpower to do things when you don’t want to do them, even though they should be done at that given moment.
  • Think win/win. Seek solutions or agreements that are beneficial to everyone involved. All parties will feel good about the decisions and committed to the action plan.
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Abandon the urge to be understood first. Instead, listen with an empathetic ear. Train yourself to really hear the other person with whom you’re having a conversation, and try to understand their point of view before you express your own.