Are there some personal habits that you find particularly annoying? For example people who speak loudly on their mobile phones in cafes, so loudly that you are drawn into the conversation whether you like it or not? There is a raft of other personal habits that are irritating. What about people who put their feet on public transport seats? The list of annoying personal habits is endless, but could it be that the personal habits that cause us the most damage are ones we practice ourselves? I believe the most damaging of all personal habits is three particular forms of negative thinking.
In my book Dreamers never sleep, I argued that before you set out on any new challenge you need to have a long hard look at your preconceived ideas. Perceptions are so powerful that they can limit the outcome of any undertaking. So if you start a business thinking that it might do moderately well and you should be able to make ends meet, then I predict that your business will do just moderately well, and, sure, you’ll make ends meet. But if you’d gone into that business enterprise believing that it could be tremendously successful and grow rapidly, well you’d have seen a very different outcome. You’d now have a business that is booming.
So if I was going to write a list of the top three worst habits to break, number one on that list would be to focus on changing the perception you have of yourself and your abilities. Do not tell yourself that you are a mediocre performer who is destined to shuffle through life. Tell yourself the truth, you have unique and wonderful talents and are capable of achieving great things.
Failing to recognise our own strength
Unfortunately we limit ourselves by failing to recognise our own strength, tenacity and talents, and chances are, we fail to recognise these skills in other people too. An older woman, in a nondescript dress and worn cardigan, started up a conversation with me recently while I was in a hardware store. My first perception was that this woman was someone’s grandmother and had spent much of her life being a homemaker in the suburbs – we’d have little in common, but she mentioned her time working on the Australian stock market as a broker and soon we were talking about our travels overseas. She had spent much of her life abroad and even worked as a secretary for the editor of The New York Times in the 1970s. She’d clearly led a very full and adventurous life and was still brimming with joy and enthusiasm for this world. My initial perceptions of her were totally wrong. This chance encounter was a gift to me. It reminded me that people are invariably more talented, interesting and brave than we give them credit.
Number two on my list of bad habits to break, is to not pre-judge people. Your friends, colleagues, staff and family members undoubtedly have a sway of talents, passions and skills that you have not yet noticed. Invest some time in getting to know people, personally or professionally and you will be amazed at how much talent, skill, knowledge and experience they hide.
I love watching old mystery movies. When the police move on a suspect, the much maligned person usually mutters, “I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was just minding my own business” or “I wasn’t causing any harm, I was just keeping to myself”. Are you someone who believes you never cause any trouble because you just move through life minding your own business – keeping to yourself? Let me ask you another question, do you think the world’s greatest leaders –Napoleon, George Washington, Martin Luther King – ever told anyone they were just minding their own business? Our attitude to life invariably impacts on other people. Enthusiasm is contagious, at home and work. Joy and happiness are highly infective! So if you think you are doing no harm, because you keep yourself to yourself then you are wrong. You are most likely spreading apathy. Instead, share your enthusiasm for life. Just a smile can inspire another human. A compliment to an employee or co-worker on the quality of their work can boost their zeal for the job. Consider spontaneously inviting a family member to do something fun with you. Remind them how much you love them.
Underestimating our impact on people
Number three on my list of bad habits to break is to stop under-estimating the impact you have on other people – at home and work.
Have you ever read the amazing life story of Colonel Harland Sanders, the man behind Kentucky Fried Chicken? His father died at five and his mother worked in a factory to support her family. After a life of struggles, Sanders, aged in his forties, opened a little roadside diner in North Carolina in the 1930s, but then the war broke out, petrol was rationed and his customers dried up. In the 1950s, Sanders, by now aged in his sixties, was desperate to find a restaurant prepared to serve his chicken. He travelled by car to different restaurants and cooked his chicken on the spot for restaurant owners. For four years, sleeping in his car, he travelled across America and 1009 restaurants rejected his recipe – 1009! Then in 1952 a Utah restauranteur said yes and opened a franchise with the colonel. By 1964, he had a franchise of six-hundred restaurants selling his trademark chicken.
Sanders must have been a man who had broken my top three worst habits of (1) underestimating himself, (2) underestimating other people and (3) underestimating the impact he could have on others. And Colonel Sanders was also an individual with one very good personal habit – perseverance. This individual was rejected more than a thousand times and yet he still believed in himself. That’s one good habit we should all adopt – an unshakeable belief in our own potential.