How to Change Bad Habits: 3 Tips to Build Good Behaviors

Do you suffer from your own detrimental behaviors? How can you change bad habits?

How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith provide three main tips to help women effectively overcome bad habits. However, they can help anyone of any gender.

Find out how to change bad habits you want to get rid of.

Tip #1: Start Small

The authors explain that learning how to change bad habits requires you to take things one step at a time. If you try to make too many changes at once, you’ll see fast results but be much more likely to relapse into bad behavior.

To start small, identify the thought pattern that’s most prevalent and detrimental for you—you’ll focus on this one area at first. Next, select one specific behavior you experience due to that thought pattern and choose one solution to that behavior that you can start implementing. For example, if perfectionism is the most detrimental thought pattern for you, you might want to begin by preventing yourself from setting unrealistic expectations. You can start by learning to prioritize certain tasks and details over others.

(Shortform note: The authors support the traditional belief that you should work incrementally to overcome bad habits. However, recent research shows that undergoing a major overhaul can effect substantial, rapid, and lasting change. One study had a group of university students participate in an intensive six-week intervention program intended to develop positive habits around cognitive performance, physical fitness, and physiological health. After the six-week program, significant changes to the students’ brains and bodies were observed. Further, the observed changes persisted and improved in certain areas for another six weeks after the program had ended, showing that the new habits were lasting.)

Tip #2: Get Help

The authors explain that another important way to create sustainable behavioral change is to recruit a support system to encourage you, provide you with feedback, and hold you accountable

They explain that your support system can come in many forms. For example, you can hire a professional coach or ask friends, family, or bosses to support you. Alternatively, team up with someone who also needs help so you can provide each other with mutual support.

There are numerous ways you can use your support system. For example, you may want to request that your supporters let you know whenever they notice the behavior you want to overcome. Alternatively, you could ask them to help brainstorm strategies to overcome the negative behaviors. You may also want to schedule regular meetings where they ask you questions to hold you accountable for your progress—for example, “What are your current priorities? Can you release any commitments that aren’t helping you progress toward your goals?”

A Multi-Faceted Support System Can Expedite Success

In Never Eat Alone, Keith Ferrazzi reiterates the importance of relying on a support system to help achieve your goals. He argues that there are four types of support groups you must form:

1. A network of people who will help you achieve your goals. These people actively help you identify goals, create plans to reach them, and hold yourself accountable. This network should be composed of a few people who are close to you, such as friends, family, coworkers, or bosses. 

2. A network of mentors. These people provide professional advice, skill-development techniques, insider information, contacts, emotional support, and inspiration. These people must be experienced higher-level professionals in your area of interest and can be found through official mentoring programs or through your contacts.

3. A network of super-connectors—people who have dozens or hundreds of professional connections they can share with you. These are people like political lobbyists, journalists, headhunters, and so on.

4. A network of prominent or famous industry leaders. These people teach you, boost your credibility, and attract others who want to support your goals (such as investors, customers, or potential employers). Getting in touch with these types of people is the hardest and will likely come after you’ve formed the previous three networks and have strong credibility.

Tip #3: Stop Judgment

The authors argue that one of the most important factors in making progress is refraining from self-criticism and judgment. When women judge their progress or focus on their mistakes, they’re more likely to end up dwelling on the past and inhibiting further progress. The authors make a few recommendations to help you overcome self-judgment.

1. Forgive yourself for mistakes by letting go of binary thinking. Rather than believing that flaws and mistakes make you a bad person, acknowledge that no one is perfect and we’re all continuously working to improve ourselves. Accept your mistakes and move on.

(Shortform note: In The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman provide a few techniques that may improve your ability to overcome binary thinking and other negative thoughts. For instance, if you’re having trouble reframing and letting go of negative thoughts, recall objective facts that disprove your thoughts. For example, you did a great job on your last project—you’re not a failure just because you made a mistake this time. Further, imagine the advice you would give to a friend experiencing the same thoughts.)

2. Focus on changing the future rather than the past. When asking for advice, request that your support system provide you with tips to improve future behavior rather than critique what you did wrong in the past. This will help you avoid dwelling on the past and being self-critical.

(Shortform note: The authors recommend focusing on future success rather than past failures. One way to do this is to fail fast, as the authors of The Confidence Code explain—when you fail, develop a better method and try again immediately. For example, when you get feedback on how to improve your future behavior, put the advice into practice right away to see if it works. If it doesn’t, devise a new plan and forge ahead—this way, you won’t have time to dwell on past mistakes and you’ll fix the problem faster.)

3. Don’t judge others. Judging others doesn’t provide you with any benefits. Instead, it expresses negativity towards others and expends energy that you should put toward self-improvement instead. 

(Shortform note: One of the best ways to prevent yourself from judging others is to develop empathy—the ability to see things from another person’s perspective. To do so, get curious about others, recognize people as individuals rather than a collective “other,” branch out and get to know different people, and listen more to other people and their perspectives.) 

How to Change Bad Habits: 3 Tips to Build Good Behaviors

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith's "How Women Rise" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full How Women Rise summary:

  • The limiting mindset many women develop that stunts their careers
  • The four thought patterns that women need to break free from
  • Why striving for perfectionism is asking for failure

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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