According to Dr. Max Maltz in his classic self-image book Psycho Cybernetics, our habits are worn like garments on our personality. Whether they are good habits (remembering other people’s birthdays) or bad habits (smoking), you wear them as a statement about who you are.
That’s why bad habits can hurt your self-image. When you repetitively do something that you know is wrong or harmful, and you can’t control yourself, you lose your sense of personal power. The longer you let the bad habit continue, the more powerless you feel. Eventually, you develop a negative attitude about the person behind the bad habit — YOU. It’s impossible for you to believe that “anything is possible” if you can’t put down the candy bar or quit mindlessly surfing the internet. Over time, the bad habit leads to more bad habits and eventually you feel like your life is beyond your control. You program yourself to reward any accomplishment with an indulgence of your bad habit. Make a sale, have a smoke. Finish a project, have some retail shopping therapy. As you do this, you pull yourself out of the positive feedback loop and force your behavior back into the downward spiral of self-loathing and self-abuse. Instead of basking in what you had the power to do (the task, project, etc.), you immediately sink into what you cannot control…your bad habit.
If you want to improve your self-image, and dramatically boost your confidence, quit a bad habit. Oh come on, you know you have several of them. We all do. Several years ago, I decided (over a few years) to quit my bad habit of smoking. It was not an easy task, and I had several failed attempts — each one made me feel foolish, non-commital and addicted to tobacco. When I finally quit smoking, and stayed away from these coffin nails for six months, I had a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. I had conquered one of the hardest habits to break! It lifted how I felt about myself, my appearance, my heath, my will power and even my sense of strength. Ultimately, it improved how I viewed myself psychologically, and I extended that positive self-image into the rest of my life from personal to professional.
You can have this too. First things first, isolate two bad habits you need to break. A bad habit is any practice that produces more harm than good over the long haul. Usually the bad habit has a short term value proposition such as pleasure, convenience or novelty. Of the two habits, pick the one you’ll wipe out before October 31. Here are a few ways to kick the habit:
1. Fall in hate with the habit and in love with yourself — Do some research to confirm why this bad habit has bad health, relationship or financial impacts. Look down at your behavior and see this habit taking control over your life like a controlling friend. Develop an attitude that you don’t like the habit, and you can’t stand its smell, taste, look or feel. See others that have the bad habit and notice how the habit is ruining them. Give the bad habit a negative nickname. I called cigarettes my dunce-sticks.
2. Quit your habit in public. Tell your family and friends you are giving this up. If possible, recruit a trusted friend to help you and ensure you’ll keep your word. If you try and quit a bad habit in private, it is easy to cheat on the program. When you say you are quitting smoking or round-the-clock sports viewing, it’s easy for you to get nailed by a supportive friend when you backslide. Seek out a support group and join a community.
3. Set a concrete date for the habit to be completely gone. Even if you miss the date, the goal is likely to give you a reason to quit now and not just “some day”.
4. Each time you backslide, give yourself a chance to redeem yourself by quitting again. You can’t see quitting as all or nothing. By noting when you’ve had the courage to get back on the quitting train again, you are reinforcing your belief that you have tenacity and don’t give up easily on a goal.
5. Celebrate when your bad habit is gone. Have a party, reward yourself with something constructive (or fun). This will inform your psyche that you’ve done something right and have control over your own behavior. As others participate in your celebration of power, you’ll fall into a positive feedback loop.
6. Pick another bad habit to slay. In the world of sales, there’s an old saying: The best time to make a sale is when you just made a sale. This applies to personal power too. The best time to kill a bad habit is when you just eliminated one. Trust me, you’ll always find more habits to change in your life, hopefully they’ll get smaller and smaller in impact over time.
Your ongoing commitment to own your behavior will give you a sense of life-momentum. You’ll feel like your maturity is soaring and self-respect will surely follow. Who knows, your willpower example may lead others to shun their bad habits too. Then you’ll feel like a leader, which can only grow your confidence more — and paint you into the “I don’t do that anymore” corner.