(A favorite blog post from 2013)
On the first day of 2013, I read an article in Forbes by Pat Brans detailing Benjamin Franklin’s approach to changing his habits. Apparently Franklin wrote down a list of thirteen virtues he aspired to. He then spent a week working on each virtue, one at a time, through a thirteen week cycle. At the start of each day, he would think about how he would reinforce this new habit that day. He would note daily his successes and failures. While he had lapses, he also saw progress. Franklin continued this for an entire year, cycling through thirteen weeks four times.
Here are five tips to breaking bad habits based on Franklin’s system:
- Focus on one behavior at a time. Don’t multi-task! Trying to change too many things diffuses your focus and can be overwhelming with the result that you simply slip back into your old habits. Don’t attack an entire list at the same time. Start with one habit you want to break or improve upon and work on that only. Wake up every morning like Franklin did, thinking about how you plan to be better on ONE thing.
- Write down what you plan to change. Prioritize them and focus initially on the one item you think will bring you the largest payback. Do not move on to the next one until you have spent the time to change the first bad habit. Writing your goals down makes it more likely you will attack them.
- Give yourself time to change. In this fast paced world we live in now, there is constant pressure for instant gratification. Unlike Franklin, who only took a week on each virtue, I suggest you spend at least two months on each habit. True behavior change takes time. Don’t rush it. The goal is to create a new habit to replace the old, “bad” habit. This will take time.
- Use visual cues as reminders. For the one item you are working on, create a visual cue that is meaningful to you. Post this somewhere that you will see frequently throughout the workday. I’ve had clients use smiley faces, a picture of a “frog”, or a stop sign as visual cues that worked for them. Put your reminder on your computer, your phone or your planner – wherever you will see it often. You can make your visual cues fun or irreverent, since behavior change is hard work, at least have some fun with it!
- Seek feedback. Identify someone you really trust who will be honest with you and sees you in your work environment. Share with them the item you are working on and ask them to give you feedback, both good and bad.
Write down your list and in March, start your first two-month cycle of the one bad habit you want to improve upon. Use Ben Franklin’s time-tested method to effectively change your behavior!