Breaking Bad Habits

As we develop goals to improve our life, one of the first things we should focus on is breaking bad habits. In this article, Brian Tracy shares seven habits that can help you perform your best as well as a process for changing habits or starting new, more desirable ones.

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Transforming Bad Habits
By Brian Tracy

Your habits have been developed from early childhood as the result of things that you have chosen to do, or not to do. Your entire life is the result of your past choices and decisions. And like all of us, you probably have some bad habits that have held you back from your true potential. But here’s the good news: Since you are always free to choose, you can make new choices and decisions today that will determine what happens to you in the future.

One of your main objectives in life is to develop new habits and make them your masters, while at the same time overriding and setting aside old habits that may be interfering with your progress.

You have two major types of habits. You have habits that revolve around your desires and you have habits that revolve around your fears. The habits that revolve around your desires for health, happiness, financial independence, and success are life-enhancing. They are the habits that have brought you the success you enjoy today. The habits that revolve around your fears, on the other hand, act as brakes on your potential. They hold you back. They interfere with your success. They trip you up on a regular basis. They cause you to sell yourself short and settle for far less than your potential.

Dr. Martin Seligman, in his book, Learned Optimism, wrote about the chief psychological phenomenon of modern life. He called it “learned helplessness.” Based on his 25 years of research, he discovered that virtually every person has one or more areas where they feel helpless and unable to do something that they really want to do.

Seligman’s research demonstrated how animals can be trained to feel that they are helpless. In one example, he put a dog into a cage with a glass wall in the middle that separated the dog from a bowl of food. The dog was hungry and tried to get at the food but kept banging his nose on the glass. After several hours, Seligman removed the glass. And what happened then? The dog, who was still hungry, sat only a few inches away from the food and never even attempted to eat it. The dog had learned to feel helpless. The had become so convinced that he was incapable of getting to the food that even when the obstacles were removed, he just sat there with his stomach growling.

There are dozens of experiments like this. In every case, it is clear that animals, and human beings for that matter, learn to feel helpless. They develop habits of thought that hold them back from reaching their full potential.

If someone were to tell you that you could learn to type 30, 40, or 50 words per minute by taking a typing course and practicing an hour each day for the next few months, you would shrug your shoulders and say, "Of course!" Everybody knows that you can acquire a particular physical skill by learning how it is done and then repeating it over and over again until it becomes automatic.

But when it comes to mental habit patterns, most people are a little baffled. They don’t realize that you can learn mental habit patterns by following exactly the same process that you would use to learn physical habit patterns. And mental habit patterns will have a far greater impact on your life and happiness than any physical habit pattern ever could.

Once you have recognized the old, negative habit patterns that do not serve your purposes, you can determine what new habit patterns you would like to adopt. Begin this process by looking around and determining the people that you admire the most, both living and dead. Ask yourself: What qualities do they have? Which of their characteristics do you most wish to have for yourself? Then make a plan to incorporate those ideal habits into your own character and personality.

You know that you can shape a piece of clay into any desired form. You can also shape your own character and personality by simply deciding to do so. I won’t say that it is easy. Changing your beliefs and attitudes about yourself is one of the most difficult undertakings you will ever face. But it is definitely possible and achievable if you dedicate the necessary time and effort.

How long does it take to develop a new habit pattern? It depends on how complex the habit pattern is. You can develop a simple habit pattern in 14 to 21 days. For example, if you want to begin getting up half an hour earlier so that you can plan and organize your day, it might take just two to three weeks to develop the habit. If you want to develop a new habit pattern of behavior that does deeper into your character, it might take several months or even a year or more. The most important point is that, no matter how long it takes, the end result is achievable if you are really determined.

The habits of success have been studied by the great thinkers and philosophers for at least 2,500 years. After personally studying the subject for more than 30 years, I have found that the very best people have the very best habits. Based on these findings, I have identified seven habits that you need to develop if you want to perform at your very maximum in everything you do.

The first is goal orientation. You need to become a habitual goal setter, and dedicate yourself to working from clear, written goals every day of your life. The second habit you need to develop for success is result orientation. Result orientation is made up of two practices. The first is the practice of continuously learning so that you become better at what you do. The second practice is that of time management, which means setting very clear priorities on what you do and then concentrating single-mindedly on the most valuable use of your time.

The third major habit you need to develop is that of action orientation. This is really the most important habit for material success. It is the ability to get on with the job and get it done fast. Fast tempo in whatever you do is essential to your success. You need to overcome procrastination, push aside your fears and launch 100% toward the achievement of your most important goals.

The fourth habit you need is people orientation. This is your decision to cultivate within yourself the habits of patience, kindness, compassion, and understanding. Virtually all of your happiness in life will come from your ability to get along well with other people. And getting along well with other people is based on a set of habits that you have learned, or failed to learn, from childhood. But it is never too late to become a wonderful human being in your relationships with other. The more you practice being a truly excellent person in your relationship with others, the more you will internalize those qualities and actually become that person.

The fifth habit you need for great success is health orientation. This means that you must make a conscious effort to eat the right foods in the right proportions. You must exercise on a regular basis, continually using every muscle and joint of your body to keep it young and fit. And finally, you must have regular habits of rest and recreation that will enable you, in combination with diet and exercise, to live a long, full life. Remember, your health is the single most important thing you have, and it is completely dependent upon the habits you develop with regard to the way you live.

The sixth habit is an orientation toward honesty and integrity. In the final analysis, the character you develop as you go through life is more important than virtually anything else. Honesty means that you practice the “reality principle” in everything you do. You are completely objective with yourself and with the world around you. You set very clear values for yourself and you organize your life around your values. You develop a vision for yourself and then you life your life consistent with your highest ideals. You never compromise your integrity or peace of mind for anyone or anything.

This attitude of honesty will enable you to enjoy all of the other success habits that you are developing.

The seventh habit—the one habit that guarantees all the others—is that of self-discipline. Your ability to discipline yourself, to master yourself, to control yourself, goes hand in hand with success in every area of life.

My favorite definition of self-discipline comes from Elbert Hubbard. He said, "Self-discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not."

Every one of these habits—goal orientation, result orientation, action orientation, people orientation, health orientation, honesty, and self-discipline—can be developed. The following is a seven step method you can use to internalize any habit or group of habits that you want to make a permanent part of your character and personality.

  1. Decide clearly on the new habit. Write it down as a goal in the form of a present tense, personal, positive affirmation. For example, if you want to develop the habit of self-discipline, you write, "I am an extremely well-disciplined individual in everything I do."
  2. Repeat your affirmation as often as possible, and with as much enthusiasm and conviction as possible. The more times you repeat this command, the more likely it is that your subconscious mind will ultimately accept it and begin to adjust your thoughts, words, and behaviors to be consistent with it.
  3. Visualize yourself as if you already had the new habit pattern. Imagine yourself as already being exactly the person that you want to become in the future. Remember, your subconscious mind is activated and programmed by mental pictures. All improvement in your life and character begin with an improvement in your mental pictures. Use visualization on a regular basis in conjunction with your positive affirmations.
  4. Emotionalize the affirmation and the visualization. Take a few minutes each day to actually experience the feeling of being the excellent, outstanding human being that you have decided to become.
  5. Launch into your new habit with conviction. Assume the role, acting as if you had been hired to perform this role in a movie or play. The more you behave exactly as if you already had the habit, the more you actually become the person that you desire to be.
  6. Tell others that you have decided to develop this habit. When you tell others, you motivate and encourage yourself. You also force yourself to consistently act in accordance with your new resolutions because you know that others are watching.
  7. Continually review your progress on a day-to-day basis. When Benjamin Franklin developed his own process for character formation, he would review his behavior every single day to see if he was living consistent with the values that he had determined were important. You can do the same thing. At the end of every day, do a brief recap of your behavior during the day relative to the values and habits you are trying to develop. Give yourself points when you are strong, and be patient with yourself when you slip from time to time.

The most important keys to developing new habit patterns are patience, determination, and persistence. When you begin to change yourself, you will find that it is not particularly easy. But it is possible if you continue to work at it.

You can take complete control over the shaping of your character and personality, and everything that happens to you in the future, by making the decision, right now, to define and develop the habits that will lead you to great success. And when you develop the habits possessed by other successful people, you will enjoy an equal, if not greater, level of success.


Brian's Biography
Brian Tracy is the most listened to audio author on personal and business success in the world today. His fast-moving talks and seminars on leadership, sales, managerial effectiveness and business strategy are loaded with powerful, proven ideas and strategies that people can immediately apply to get better results in every area. For more information, please go to: www.BrianTracy.com


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