How to Kick your Bad Habit for Good

Reading Time: 3 minutes and 12 seconds

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Good habits

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Are you ready to shake off your bad habits for good?

The final part of the mental spring clean is all about habits.  Bad habits can cost us a huge amount of happiness, time, self-esteem and money.  Good habits can make our life joyful, peaceful and successful.

Habits are our subconscious behaviour patterns that we act out, often without thinking.

Habits develop as a way for us to deal with the immense complexity of everyday living. They are mental shortcuts that we adopt to make our life simpler.

For example, almost everyone develops a habit of locking their house on the way out. We perform this complex task several times on most days without even thinking.  I’ve had a few OCD moments where I thought I’d left the front door open, yet on returning it was locked.  That habit is pretty much ingrained.

To end the Spring Clean with a bang, I’m challenging myself and you too.

You’ll stop one of your bad habits, or create a new virtuous one.

I’d love to get 100 of us to experiment and make a lasting life change, so please do leave a comment and take part.

The first step is to understand our habits:

  • Think about the bad habits you have.  Which one has the most serious impact on your life?  How much is this habit costing you?
  • Now, think about what habits you’d like to bring into your life.  Which new habit would have the biggest impact on your happiness and success?
  • Now pick one of these habits, either bad or good, and set a goal to remove it from your life, or create it over the next month.

I’ve selected wasting time surfing the internet as my bad habit and I want to stamp it out for good.

We’ll use a powerful 5 step model for change. I’ll use my challenge as the example:

Step 1: Contemplation. We have to understand the benefits of making the change, and deal with any negatives.

Some of the key questions to answer at this stage are:

  • What is your motivation for wanting to change / create this habit?
  • What are some of the benefits of changing?
  • What may be holding you back from changing?

In my case, I will free up an hour or two a day for the things I really want to do, be more productive and feel happier.  I’m held by from change by pure inbred habit.

Step 2: Preparation. This is where we make our plan for successfully introducing the new habit.  Good preparation is vital to success and some of the key things to do include:

  • Find someone to hold us accountable. I will happily hold you accountable – please just ask.
  • Research as much as you can about the habit you want to change – I’ve spent time researching time management techniques and how to beat an internet habit.
  • Create a clear plan for change and design a process for monitoring and rewarding progress. I will reward myself every day that I’m successful by using the time I’ve freed up to read for 20 minutes.
  • Design contingency plans for “falling off the wagon” and prepare yourself for this happening.

These first two steps may take a few days to a week to complete properly.

Step 3: Taking action. This is where the rubber hits the road. Ingraining a new habit can take several months to achieve and will almost inevitably involve ups and downs along the path.

This step will need you to reward your success and forgive yourself for slip-ups.  Be kind and fair to yourself.

Step 4: Maintenance. Once you’ve taken action successfully, you’ll start to see the fruits of your labour.

The key to maintenance is to find ways to avoid being tempted to relapse.  I might try turning off my wireless network during the mornings to take away any temptation to surf.

Step 5: Relapse. Old habits die hard.  Relapse is a normal and inevitable part of changing a habit. The key to moving through a relapse is to understand the reason for falling down, and to work out the best way to avoid a repeat.

Remembering that almost everyone who has successfully made a change has been through this process can be helpful in forgiving yourself. Once you’ve understood the relapse, it is best to go back to the preparation phase and “get back on the horse”.

Over to you

We all have bad habits we’d like to kick or good ones we have been meaning to introduce.  Please play along at home and pick one to take on over the next month.

Please leave me a comment and let me know what habit you are working on and what difference it will make to your life.

That concludes the Mental Spring Clean!  We’ve looked at Changing the Story we tell the world, the Games we play and how to win them, Beating the Gremlins in our head and changing habits.  I hope you’ve dusted down your attic and found some old gems.

Next up on Less Ordinary Living: Why Work Matters.

Photo credit: Kevindooley on Flickr Creative Commons

How to stop holding yourself back and make it happen

Reading time: 2 minutes 43 seconds

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“You’re not good enough”

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Gremlin!

“You should keep quiet”

“What a stupid thing to say, you idiot”

“You can’t do that”

That voice in our head has a spectacular talent for running us down.

Our gremlins cast judgment (usually negative) on the past, influence what we do (or don’t do) in the present, and poor cold water over future plans. The have a huge impact on the quality of life we lead.

Dealing with our gremlins is a vital part of any Mental Spring Cleaning.

A friend of mine was telling me about their inability to ask for a promotion at work.

She felt she was totally outperforming their peers, had great feedback from her line manager and had surpassed every goal she had set.  Yet when it came to pulling the trigger and asking, a voice in her head kicked in saying “who are you to ask for a promotion – you don’t deserve it”.

My friend described feeling paralyzed by the strength of this thought and found an excuse to run away without broaching the subject.  Afterwards, she was furious with herself for “bottling it”.

We tried to figure out how this gremlin came about in the first place. Gremlins almost always come from childhood experiences where we create defence mechanisms to protect ourselves.

My friend recalled asking a teacher in primary school for permission to join the school choir and being told “No – you haven’t worked hard enough on your singing”.  Even now she recalled the sick feeling in her stomach that day.

Her gremlin formed to protect her from that feeling, and since then she has always struggled to ask others, particularly in authority for what she wants. On reflection, she recalled many times when she held back from asking for something and told herself “you don’t deserve this”.

Creating these protection mechanisms takes a lot of hard work. We use a lot of mental bandwidth once the emergency red light comes on and a gremlin kicks in.  My friend felt exhausted for the rest of the day – probably because she had used her adrenaline rush for flight rather than fight.

Many of our gremlins are no longer useful to us in adult life. My friend’s gremlin worked well when she was a little girl, but now it was a serious pain in her backside, holding her back from being successful.

6 Steps to bust that gremlin!

If you have a voice in your head that is holding you back, this is a powerful technique to move on. I used it with my friend and it has helped countless coaching clients:

  1. Identify the gremlin you face (how does it manifest and what does it say to you) and give it a name
  2. Understand the gremlin’s purpose and history. Think back through your past to the first time the gremlin appeared.  What was its’ purpose back then (usually protecting you in some way).
  3. Acknowledge the gremlin and thank it for helping out.  Let the gremlin know that it is no longer needed for this purpose.  Tell yourself that you can handle things from now on.
  4. Identify your new approach – how would you like to act differently in the next situation where the gremlin might arise (e.g. for my friend she would like to confidently ask for what she wants)
  5. Ask the gremlin to help out – the gremlin can provide a lot of energy to the new approach.  Ask the gremlin to help you act differently next time.
  6. Set a goal – identify the first time that this energy can help you out and what outcome you’d like.  In my friend’s case she set the goal to go back to her boss and this time she asked for and got promoted.

Over to you

Answer the following questions:

  • What gremlins do you have?
  • When do they appear for you?
  • How do they hold you back?
  • Which gremlin would you like to change the most?

Try the gremlin buster and set yourself a goal.  Leave a comment on what you are hoping to change and email me if you’d like support in this Spring Cleaning activity.

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Photo Credit – Inti (Flickr Creative Commons)

Secret Games We Play and How to Win Them

Reading Time: 2 minutes and 37 seconds

Part 2 of the mental spring clean – click here to subscribe and get every instalment delivered fresh to your inbox

We all have a deep-seated craving for attention.

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Games People Play

Research shows that children who are not given regular attention are much more likely to suffer disease and depression.

Psychiatrist Eric Berne, author of Games People Play, looked at how we interact with the people around us.  He concluded that humans need “stroking” through regular attention to avoid emotional deprivation.

We need validation from others to bolster our sense of self.

Every time we interact with other people, we undertake a transaction. The simple act of saying “good morning” or “how are you” to a colleague or neighbour gives both participants a nice stroke.  We feel noticed, validated, part of a bigger whole.

We all become experts at getting strokes from others.  One way to do this is to learn games. Games are a set pattern of behaviour that we use to get attention from the world around us.  When we play games, we get noticed.

Games often serve a dual purpose, helping to confirm our story about the world.  The games we play reinforce our beliefs about our place in the bigger picture.

There are two main types of game – negative and positive.

Negative games

Many games we play seek negative attention (hey some attention is better than none). Here is a common game called “Kick Me” to demonstrate:

How it is played: The player adopts a social manner that is extremely defensive and paranoid. This is the equivalent of putting up a sign saying “Please don’t kick me”

What happens: The temptation to kick this person is too great and the world queues up to take turns.

The pay-off: The player gets stroked – however this is through plenty of negative attention.

The side-effect: The player’s story that the world is out to get me is reinforced. Every time they are kicked, the story gets stronger.

Our need for attention is so strong that we’d rather be kicked by the world than be ignored. We can play some crazy games with really negative outcomes.  Often these negative games can feel like a doom loop.  These negative games reduce our confidence and enjoyment of life.

As part of my mental spring-cleaning, I’m looking for games I play that seek negative attention.  Looking back on the past, I think I may have played “Kick me” on occasion, particularly in work interactions with people more senior than me.   That game is well and truly consigned to the dustbin of history!

Positive games

Another side to the mental spring-cleaning is to look for games that seek positive attention and reinforce positive stories about the world.

These games tend to have an amazing pay-off for all players – yet sometimes we forget to play them.

Here is the game “Happy to Help” to demonstrate:

How it is played: The player is constantly helpful and positive to the world around them.

What happens: People are grateful for the player’s help and admire their attitude.

The pay-off: People respond with positive attention and praise for the player’s actions.

The side-effect: The player’s story that the world is full of positive wonderful people is reinforced.

I love this game and play it as much as possible.  It can be played with everyone you meet and costs nothing. This game feeds the need for attention in a hugely positive way.  It brings us the stroking we need and makes the world a better place.

Other positive games include “Gratitude”, “People are amazing”, “We can do it” and “You’re the best”.

Choosing to play positive games and kicking out negative ones increases self-confidence, happiness and success in life….

Over to you

As you continue your mental spring clean, ask yourself:

  • What do you do to seek attention from others?
  • What happens as a result?
  • What kind of attention do you get?
  • What are the side effects?

Figure out the games you are playing and the positive and negative consequences.  Try to stop playing the games that you don’t enjoy and play more of the ones that feel good.

Resources

Eric Byrne’s website

Wikipedia links to Games People Play and Transactional Analysis

Games People Play – the classic performed by Jerry Lee Lewis

Photo by Miss Turner

Change your Story, Change your Life

Reading time – 3 minutes 22 seconds

Career coach, career counselling, change your career, find work you love

Change your story, Change you life

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What stories do you tell the world about yourself?  If you changed it how would your life change?

What is a story and how can it make a difference?  Here is a life-story in 87 words:

I was born in the north of England in the 1970s during a time of economic turmoil.  I never really felt comfortable or confident as a child, and I was bullied by the other kids in my neighbourhood.  At school, I did reasonably well, somewhere in the middle.  I stumbled my way into an ok university, again with average results.  When I graduated, through sheer desperation, I took a job with an accounting firm – certainly not what I was passionate about, but frankly about what I deserved.”

  • How do you respond to this story?
  • What sort of person do you think this is?
  • How do you think they feel?
  • How would you respond to this person if you met them?
  • What lasting impression would you have about them?

In less than 60 seconds, this story has set the foundation for how you relate to someone, and we all know that first impressions are hard to change.

This, of course, is my story. Or more importantly, one version of my story.

Everything in this story really did happen to me.  If someone asked me to “tell me about yourself” I could choose to tell this story.

Two truths about storytelling

Two things that happen when we tell stories:

1) We choose which “facts” to include in the story.

The building blocks of stories are experiences and memories, which we often think of as “facts”. When we tell the world our story, we have literally billions of these building blocks to choose from.  In my story I count somewhere in the region of 16 that I selected to let you know about me.

You may think that your story is your story – yet you choose the building blocks in every story you tell yourself or anyone else

2) We add our own editorial.

We choose how to present these “facts”.  We pick the tone and the editorial direction.

Clearly in my story, I’ve chosen to tell a hard luck story.  At every turn I am playing my little violin.

I was born in a time of economic turmoil” – really?  I was 1 year old at the time and my parents both had jobs.  Yet I chose to add this little zinger in.  I’m trying to make you feel sorry for me.

I never felt comfortable or confident.”  Find me anyone who can’t say something similar about parts of their childhood.

About what I deserved” – now I’m busy making judgements about myself.  I’m telling you that I’m not self-confident, that I feel pretty worthless and inviting you to feel the same way.

In storytelling, the narrator chooses whether to create a hero, anti-hero or villain.  We have the choice on HOW to tell the story.

Our life is little more than the sum of all our experiences.  When we tell others about who we are, we tell them our story. We weave together some selective memories from the past, and bind them together with our interpretation of those “facts”.

Choice is good

The important thing is that we always have a choice when we tell any story.  We can pick the building blocks and we have a choice over the narrative glue we use to stick them together.

Once we become aware of what stories we tell and what impact that has on us and the world, we can start to tell stories that we love and stop telling stories that drag us down.

Here is my story again in 87 words:

I grew up in a happy home and went to a school that I loved.  I thrived and was able to study history at a great university, after travelling the world in my gap year.  I met and married my soul mate along the way.  I’ve been blessed to be able to travel and live in different cultures.  It took me a while to find what I love to do, however now I’ve found my vocation and am thriving by helping others live life to the full.”

Ask yourself the same questions about this person that you did about the first story.

When we change our story, we really can change our world.  We also change how the world around us responds.

Even writing the first story, I could feel myself getting drained of energy.  I literally slumped in my chair, and felt overcome by worry.

Writing the second story, I felt my energy growing.  I felt great about myself, clear and confident.

In my mental spring clean, I’m going to look at the stories I tell the world.  For each story, I’ll ask:

1) Choosing Facts

  • What facts did I choose to share?
  • Why did I choose these facts?
  • What other facts could I have chosen?

2) Narrative / editorial

  • What kind of story am I try to tell?
  • What is this story telling the outside world about me?
  • What is this story telling me about me?

3) Alternatives / changing the story

  • What do I really want to tell the world?
  • What other stories could I tell that would serve me better?

If you are taking part in spring-cleaning your mind, ask yourself the same questions.

Good stories to look at include

  • How you introduce yourself at a work or networking function
  • What stories you tell at a job interview
  • What stories you are telling on your resume
  • What stories you share with your friends
  • What stories you tell your family, what stories you tell your other half and if applicable children.

I know I’ve found some stories I love and others that need junking.

Try changing your story and see how your life changes.

Next time – we’ll look at the stories we tell ourselves.

Picture credit : Victoria Peckham (From Flickr Creative Commons)

Spring Clean your Mind

Reading time: 2 minutes and 49 seconds

Career coaching, career counseling, find work you love, do what you love

Spring Clean your Mind

A five part series to find clarity, focus and the energy to be your extraordinary.  Click here to subscribe and have every post delivered fresh to your inbox!

Spring is in the air!  Nature is waking up.  The earth is blooming with fresh buds, blossom on the trees, a whiff of hope in the air.

Spring is a time of renewal, new life, new possibilities, new hope, new beginnings, fresh thinking.  It’s a time to emerge from the shadows of hibernation, shake off the lethargy and face the future with joy.

An important tradition at this time of year is spring cleaning.  This is the ritual of cleaning house, sprucing up our dwelling, clearing away the clutter.  We cast off the baggage we’ve picked up over the winter.

This year, I’m planning to take the opportunity to spring clean my mind.  I want to sort through some of the dusty old boxes I’ve been storing in my mental attic.  I’m pretty sure that there are some hidden treasures I can polish up and enjoy.  I also know that there is a lot of junk up there that I no longer want to hump around with me.

My Mental Spring Clean will cover four areas:

Stories

We all spend a huge amount of time and energy creating stories about our identity.  We tell the outside world all about ourselves – what we do, our social status, how we interact with others, our expectations from the world around us.

We also tell ourselves stories about who we think we are.  I know that one story I was telling myself was that I had to do everything myself because there is no-one out there who would want to collaborate with me.  Since I recognized this story and started to change it, I’ve found that suddenly people are starting to want to get involved with my projects.  A simple change of story and led to a big difference.

Our stories are usually based on some simple facts, however we choose how to weave these facts together.  We also have the choice of which facts to select in creating the story.  Understanding the power of our personal narrative and how we communicate it can hugely change our lives for the better.  Change our story and we change our life.

Games

The psychiatrist Eric Byrne wrote the seminal book Games People Play in 1964.  He identified the human need for attention and the need to fill the unstructured void of time.  Byrne identified that human interaction is based on conversations and analyzed these transactions in more detail.

He found that almost everyone plays games to get attention from others.  Often we don’t realize what we are doing.  Some of the games Byrne talks about include “See what you made me do”, “Ain’t it awful”, “If it weren’t for them” and “Stupid”.  Any of these sound familiar to you?

I know that I’ve spent most of my life playing “Just good enough”.  In this game, I try just hard enough to get the result I want without standing out from the crowd by being the best.  It is a game to keep me safe from unwanted attention, yet it also stops me from taking risks, really going for it, or feeling fulfilled.

In this mental spring clean, we can assess the games we are playing, figure out which ones are helpful and which ones are holding us back.

Gremlins / The voice in my head

This one is an old chestnut.  I have that horrible voice in my head that tells me;  “you’re not good enough, you can’t do that”, “who would listen to someone like you anyway”, “get over yourself, you’re no-one”.

These gremlins are powerful forces.  Typically we created them in our childhood to protect us from a situation that would have been detrimental.  Perhaps to overcome a fear of being embarrassed, we created a gremlin that stopped us answering questions in class.  The gremlin was there to keep us safe.

Often, this voice in our head has long since stopped being useful.  It stops us from taking action and being our best self with the old warnings.  In this mental spring clean, we’ll look at how to gracefully retire some of these gremlins and free ourselves to be whatever we want to be.

Habits

As children, we sponge up huge amounts from the world around us.  We learn routines about how to live our lives.  We pick up habits about how to behave from our parents, peers and everyone we meet.

Habits can be extremely positive, like a regular exercise routine, the process we use to keep ourselves organised or taking 10 minutes each morning to plan our day.  They can also be unconstructive – procrastinating, avoiding using the telephone when we know we should, drinking to relieve stress.

To some extent, we are what we do, and these habits become a large part of our identity.  We can understand more about how habits form, identify which habits to change and apply some of the rules of change to create positive new habits.

Get Cleaning

This Mental Spring Clean will look at each area in more detail and give practical advice on how to change for the better.  I’m planning to use the journey to create a mind that feels shiny, fresh and new  – ready to face the renewal of spring.  Please join me and enjoy some mental sorting, dusting, cleaning and polishing.  Let the Mental Spring Clean begin.