“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” — Warren Buffett
Habits are small decisions you make and actions you perform every day, often automatically or subconsciously. They are powerful because it allows you to get certain things done without having to expend mental energy thinking of them consciously. It is your own efficiency mechanism.
However, some of the habits we have are not helping in terms of our overall happiness, productivity, and well-being. It is important to be aware and mindful of these habits that can set us up for failure, and make conscious efforts in improving them, or learning new practices to replace them.
Here are some (I listed 19) of the habits that might be holding you back from growth, happiness, or achieving your goals. Take some time to do a quick self-inventory and reflect on whether or not you do these habits, and how you can go about changing them.
Let’s start with the most obvious one. Having a poor diet, lacking sleep, and living a sedentary life is bound to get you some health problems down the line. A healthy body is necessary for a happy life. These are relatively easy to change, as long as you throw the “I’m too busy to cook a healthy meal/get enough sleep/find time for exercise” excuses out the window.
These three are basic necessities that humans need for a healthy life. What’s the point of earning a six-figure income if you’ll be spending them on hospital bills? Prioritize your health first and foremost. Make sure you eat healthily, get enough sleep, and have some form of physical activity daily.
Relying on acquiring material things to feel happy is just a temporary high akin to addiction. Having material things doesn't necessarily equate to happiness. Studies show that, while gaining things when you are in extreme poverty has a significant impact on your happiness, new possessions have zero impact on the happiness of people earning around $20,000 annually and above.
Focus on the other things that matter, like family, friends, and hobbies.
If you are suffering from chronic stress, simply managing your stress is not enough. Managing stress is just first aid–it gets you through for the time being. But as with diseases, treating the symptoms is not enough: You need to root out the problem from the core.
Don’t just manage stress. Deal with your stressors. Figure out a way to improve or change things, and if you can’t, remove those stressors completely. Stress is a huge factor in most diseases and mental health disorders, and while a certain amount of stress can be beneficial, chronic stress is detrimental to humans.
When we sweep problems under the rug, it creates more anxiety for us. The problem didn’t go away, we just hid it out of sight. The weight of those issues is still burdening our minds.
As with stress, we need to tackle the problem, hopefully as soon as possible. Most of the time, the longer we wait to deal with the problem, the bigger the issue gets. Of course, some problems will deal with themselves too, but for the big ones, and the ones that matter, we need to confront them head-on.
Keeping quiet and just “going with the flow” doesn’t do us any favors. Most people choose this route because they want to avoid conflict, or because they are afraid of being judged or hated for standing their ground.
Realize that there is a healthy way to do conflict, and learn how to be assertive. Learn to stand up for yourself, your goals, needs, and wants. Learn to say no. Learn to be okay with being disliked, if those people matter, they will only dislike you for a while. And those who resent you for being firm are probably people you don’t need in your life, anyway.
This is a little bit different than being passive. Some people bottle up what they feel, or try to deny their emotions, all in the name of being “emotionally intelligent.”
However, emotional intelligence is about knowing how to acknowledge your emotions and embracing them for what they are. You need to accept how you feel in order to be able to express them in a constructive manner. Your emotions aren’t necessarily the enemy. It is only when you lead with emotions that it becomes a problem.
It is important to embrace how you feel, but don’t let your emotions dictate what you do. Some people fall into the trap of thinking that the stronger they feel, the more “true” and “right” their decision is.
However, our emotions tend to be skewed, irrational, overblown, and unrealistic. We see the world through a limited, imperfect lens, and we have flawed mental models that interpret our circumstances unfairly and incompletely.
Learn to step back from your feelings, long enough to check if maybe you are missing key information that might shift your perspective (and feelings) on your situation. Don’t make snap decisions based purely on emotions.
It is not just our emotions that might be leading us blindly. Sometimes, we are so set in our ways, we fail to consider that our current thoughts are outdated and no longer serve us.
Continue questioning, challenging, and improving your ways of thinking. Listen to others’ perspectives too, and subject those thoughts to the same scrutiny. Try new ways of thinking. That is how you grow and continue to change.
One form of this is narcissism. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that you alone are the best, and you alone know what is right. When we are too busy glorifying ourselves, we tend to have a narrow vision and fail to see the bigger picture–because we can’t look past ourselves to see things objectively. Narcissism can also hold us back from moving forward and growing because we think we are already the best. And if you are the best, what else could possibly be better, right?
Some people stay stagnant for too long. They grow complacent where they are and stop learning new things. If that is you, it is time to get up and get moving.
Set new goals, learn new skills, experience new things, and step out of your comfort zone. If we stay in one place too long (metaphorically), we “die.” Keep swimming.
People resist change because they want to gain a sense of control. However, change is inevitable, making that struggle futile. Nothing stays the same for too long, as it should, and if we are being honest, nothing is ever 100% within our control either.
Instead of fighting to keep things permanent, focus on preparing for possible changes instead. When you are prepared for most changes, it is easier to go back to equilibrium when it does occur, and the small number of changes you didn’t anticipate is easier to bounce back from. Rather than feeling like we will drown every time change happens.
Like resisting change, expectations help us feel good by giving an illusion of certainty and order. However, it can be a burden to you mentally if you set unrealistic expectations. We crave a perfect world but live in an imperfect reality. Learn to be realistic and accept that imperfection. We all want to have the best possible outcomes, but if we don’t account for our limits and the limitations brought by things outside our control, we set ourselves up for disappointments. Often, these can be demotivating, especially for people with perfectionist tendencies.
Be objective, set realistic deadlines and goals, and learn to hope for the best, but be willing to let go of expectations.
It also doesn’t do well to dwell on the negative side of things. When we become pessimistic, we limit ourselves to what we can achieve. Often, our doomsday thoughts are illogical. Take a step back and look at the facts: there will always be both pros and cons to any problem. When we let go of fear and pessimism, we can think with clarity and look for opportunities and solutions in any situation.
There will be times that we’ll feel down in the dumps. Like when we experience a setback, or it could even just be a bad day. That is okay. What is not okay is to dwell on the negative feelings and seclude yourself when you are down.
Especially if you are a leader or someone in a position of authority, we do not want to be seen when we are not at our best. However, it is a good opportunity to practice transparency and vulnerability with the people we are leading. Show them that it is possible to bounce back from a slump and that it is okay to ask for help from the team. Turn your bad day into an opportunity to lead by example and promote a healthy culture. Don’t pull away, seek people who can pull you up when you are in a bad place, and ask for help when you need it.
All entrepreneurs can agree that having the right people around you is one of the best assets you can have. When you are surrounded by negative people, it can get suffocating and their thoughts can weigh you down. Sometimes you might find yourself internalizing their negative outlook as your self-talk.
According to psychology, we tend to believe the things we are exposed to frequently. If you are surrounded by negativity, it can quickly seep into your mindset.
Find people who can show you a different, more positive perspective. I am not saying you should look at the world through an “everything is fine” lens either. It is important to listen to both outlooks and pick out the ones that will help you move to greater heights and prepare for possible challenges you might encounter. Don’t lean towards both extremes, find your happy and healthy middle.
Things can get stressful and rough, and at times, we need a break to escape from those things. Like watching your favorite show on Netflix at night to wind down from a tiring day at work, or reading your favorite book on Kindle. A reset every now and then to have fun and take a break is well and good, but it doesn’t do for us to use technology (and other things) to numb ourselves from reality. Escapism holds us back from confronting the things that matter.
Rest and leisure are good things. So is technology. But too much of a good thing is not productive. Learn to enjoy these things in moderation, and build enough grit and resilience to face things head-on. Don’t just run away from it.
Some of us get too hung up on our past glories and mistakes, or too anxious about our future plans, that we forget to focus on the present. It is good to reflect on lessons we’ve learned from past experiences, but don’t dwell there for too long. Don’t get fixated on what has already happened, nor too scared of something that hasn’t even happened yet.
Planning for the future is also a good thing, but obsessing over the future there takes you away from doing the things you need to do now to make sure you get there. Don’t wait for the future before you start moving either. Focus on the things you can do right now to get closer to that purpose you envisioned.
Reflect on the past to inform your present decisions. Plan ahead to give yourself a roadmap and a destination to aim for. But always be fully present in the moment, because really, now is all you have. Being fully engaged in the here and now is what “living fully” is about.
Life feels overwhelming at times. It is understandable, because we live such a multi-faceted life, and our “always on” culture has made us available to all those different aspects 24/7. We all have a lot of things to deal with, so the best thing we can do is simplify our lives. What does that look like?
In our relationships, avoid misunderstandings. Communicate clearly, and don’t try to guess or read minds—ask questions. It is better to hear things directly from the source instead of agonizing over things and spending too much mental energy.
Don’t get lost in your inbox, stress, etc. Tackle everything one thing at a time in order of priority. If you are not the best person to do a task, delegate it to someone who is better equipped or positioned to handle it. Keep yourself organized and remove the clutter that doesn’t grow you or serve you.
As they say, if you have a mountain of laundry right before your eyes, you can get it over with by starting with the one beneath your feet.
We fall easily into the habit of being too critical of ourselves and others, and comparing ourselves to others, either to feel good about ourselves or because we feel insecure about our abilities. Be kind to yourself and others.
The way you behave and think towards others affects how you behave and think of yourself, and vice versa. By remembering to be kind, and treating people as humans, and the way they want to be treated, we get more peace of mind and harmony in our lives. And we can do the things we need to do with confidence and courage while maintaining meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships with others.
It is okay to complain about things every now and then. But as leaders, we should pay attention to our words, self-talk, dialogue, and mindset. Are your thoughts consumed by the discontentment you have? And are those thoughts manifesting in your words and actions? Remember that the people we lead are looking at us—the way we talk, the way we carry ourselves, and the way we handle things. As John Maxwell said, “We reproduce what we are, not what we want.”
If we are discontented with where we are, focus on what things we can do and act on to change our circumstances. Vent every now and then, but always focus on what you have and what you can do with what you currently have to improve things, instead of complaining about things you lack.
These are just some of the bad habits that might be holding you back from a happy and productive life. Make sure to watch out and not fall into these traps, and be mindful of the things we do automatically: Are your habits reflective of what your purpose and mission are?
Thank you for reading A Brilliant Tribe.