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6 Ways to Kill Bad Habits One Small Step At A Time

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Every entrepreneur I know has a few bad habits they intended to overcome a long time ago, such as micromanaging, or failure to get enough rest and relaxation. As a result, both their business and their personal lives continue to suffer. Wouldn’t you like to know how to make that big step to get past your procrastination and get to your maximum potential once and for all?

Well, the experts are now convinced that the solution is not to try for a big step at all, but to take many baby steps instead. I just finished a new book, “The Leading Brain,” by Friederike Fabritius, and Hans Hagemann, with the science behind this. Fabritius is a neuropsychologist, Hagemann is a leadership expert, and both speak from extensive experience in the world of business.

They point out that establishing good habits and getting rid of bad ones involves the same basic skills; goal setting and motivation, getting started, and staying on track. Most smart entrepreneurs and business owners I know have no trouble with goal setting and motivation, but because they are overwhelmed with the many business priorities, they never get around to fixing themselves.

That’s where starting small comes in. The way our brains are wired, making a tiny step doesn’t raise all the fears of failure or trigger procrastination, and many small steps increases confidence, and makes the desired end seem enticingly near. This is why a continuous improvement strategy works more effectively in business than the “big bang” theory for moving your business forward.

In my role as a mentor to entrepreneurs, I often recommend attacking bad habits and efforts to improve using the six basic strategies outlined by the authors. I have paraphrased them here, with my own specifics on business realities, all with the emphasis placed on “small.”

  1. Ask small questions. If your habit change goal of a two-week vacation away from the office seems too large or risky, simply ask yourself, “What is one small step I can take toward reaching that goal?” You could start by slipping out an hour early for a school event, or take a half-day every week, until you feel comfortable with a longer absence.

  2. Think small thoughts. Now that you have answered your question, it’s time to visualize yourself acting on it. If you isolate a task that makes you uncomfortable, like doing employee performance reviews, and then gradually visualize yourself writing a few notes on their results, over time your mind’s attitude toward the dreaded task will be reshaped.

  3. Take small actions. Thus small questions and small thoughts ultimately lead to small actions. While writing a business plan always seems like a huge task to be done on another day, if you break it into small steps, and commit to assigning each segment to the right person, you may be amazed at how much content you get in a short period.

  4. Solve small problems. Be honest with yourself about small habits you have which may irritate your direct reports, coworkers, or customers. Strive to do so without punishing yourself. This new awareness alone will reduce the probability that you will repeat the same mistakes. If you find a common issue, that provides further incentive to improve.

  5. Give small rewards. We now know that most of our bad habits were originally triggered by the expectation of some sort of reward. For example, smokers looking for stress relief or relaxation. Thus you need to look for a healthier small reward, like a trip to the gym, to relieve stress. Small rewards can often be a greater source of motivation than large ones.

  6. Identify small moments. The little satisfactions can sometimes mean a lot. Use the positive feedback from a satisfied customer to make sure you do the follow-up with every key customer. The smile on the face of your team when they see you on the floor, rather than hiding in your office, will incent you to break that habit of being inaccessible.

In all cases, if you want to make a change that lasts, good intentions are not enough. You need to attach your new routine to a trigger. Frowns rather than smiles should trigger action, rather than anger and stress. Eliminate those bad habits, one at a time, and start some good ones the same way. Soon you will be achieving a new peak level of performance, and enjoying it more. It worked for me.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 02/22/2017 ***

Martin Zwilling is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides services to startup founders around the world. See more details at

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