Habits: The good, the bad, and the impossible to kick

One of my worst habits is frequent phone checking. While I don’t spend a ridiculous amount of time browsing social media (most of the time!), I am easily distracted by What’s App pinging and LinkedIn notifications.

As I finished writing my book last year, this was something I really had to keep an eye on. I often had to force myself to disconnect from the internet and my phone for 30-minute chunks at a time to help me focus.

A focus on creating good habits might seem like an unusual topic for a career coach to talk about. However, creating good habits is one of the first things I talk to my coaching clients about.

Habits that don’t serve you or your goals are more likely to crop up during busy or stressful times. Therefore, if your career or your job search goes through a rocky patch, it’s extra important to keep an eye out for bad habits surfacing.

Bad habits can impact our motivation, our productivity, our wellbeing and our health. This can have a knock-on effect to our ability to perform effectively in our day job, or in our job search if we’re currently job hunting.

But bad habits can be hard to kick!

Habits may seem like small things, but small, everyday choices build up, and both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ habits are the building blocks of our long-term patterns of behaviour.

Taking the time to reflect on what habits you want to build – and which you want to stop – can result in huge, long-lasting positive changes for you. All of which will help give you more strength and energy that you can channel into your career.

Here are four tips to help you create good habits:

1)     Identify specific habits to change

This may sound obvious, but being crystal clear on the exact habits you want to start (or stop) is vitally important.

The more specific you can be, the better. For example, ‘exercise for 30 minutes twice a week’ is much better than simply ‘exercise more’. And ‘turn my phone off an hour before bed’ is better than ‘go on my phone less’.

2)     Focus on what you want

Shift the focus away from what you want to stop, to a focus on what you want to create. For example, rather than focusing on your bad habit of procrastination, get clear on what you are putting off, and write down exactly what it is you DO want to do.

If you want to stop browsing social media so much to concentrate on updating your CV or researching companies, get clear on what part of your CV needs work, or how you are going to research companies. If you want to cut down on your habit of eating too many takeaways, you could create a new habit of cooking and eating at least five home-cooked dinners a week.

3) Write down how and when you will implement your habits

Most of the time we think through habits we’d like to create, but we don’t write them down. We’re so much more likely to achieve goals that we write down – which makes sense. You’re more likely to buy the right items in a supermarket if you have your shopping list written down!

Block out the time in your diary you want to spend on your new habit, don’t just expect to ‘find’ the time. Our lives our busy, so if we want to do new things, we need to take responsibility and aim to create that time ourselves.

4) Experiment and try a new method if you fail

We will always experience setbacks when we set ourselves goals to grow. How you respond to these setbacks is key. Most people have a negative internal critic that kicks in when we fail: “I can’t believe I’ve done this”, “I’m so stupid, why can’t I just do it right?” and “I’m useless, and this failure proves it”. We wouldn’t speak to our friends or colleagues like this (hopefully!), so why do we speak to ourselves like this?

Adopt a flexible, solutions-focused approach to embedding your new habits. See creating your ideal habits as an experiment, and try a range of methods and be curious as to what does and doesn’t work. If you’re trying to limit your social media usage to allow greater focus on job applications, you could firstly try a week of no social media in the mornings to see if that works.

If that doesn’t work for you, you could then try downloading an app that monitors how much time you spend on each app, or limits your access to them. If that doesn’t help, try keeping a diary to track your progress or share what you find particularly challenging. Reflect on which methods work best, and keep using them, while experimenting with new ones too.

And finally…

Remember your ‘why’ – reflect on why these habits are important to you, and how they will ultimately help you create a career you love.

Here is an example of how you could track the habits you want to create:

 What is it?FrequencyCheck-in 1Check-in 2Check-in 3Check-in 4
Habit 1Make 3 new LinkedIn connectionsWeekly    
Habit 230 mins of researching jobs/employersDaily    
Habit 3Attend networking eventMonthly    
Habit 410 minutes of meditation/yogaDaily    

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