Build Great Habits (And Bust Some Bad Ones)

We all have habits – some good and some bad. My guest author Dave Neal provides some tips on how to create new good habits. The same process can be used to break old habits as well.

To the Greatness Within You!



Build Great Habits (And Bust Some Bad Ones)

By Dave Neal

Best-selling author, John Grisham, was a practicing defense lawyer in 1984 when he began writing his first novel, A Time to Kill. Because his job demanded 60 to 70-hour weeks, he came to work several hours early for three years to work on the book. Some mornings it was the last thing he wanted to do, and no one was forcing him (only his wife knew about it). Still, he did it, and three years later he had a book that no one wanted to publish. By that point, though, the habit of writing every morning was so strong that he started his next book, The Firm, the very next day.

Big accomplishments, and the habits that bring them, don’t come quick or easy. But the rewards can be phenomenal. Grisham, for instance, has written 23 bestsellers and sold over 250 million copies worldwide. Here are some firm habit-building (and busting) tips.

Shine a light

Bad habits steal our life; they sneak and tempt and deceive and betray us from the shadows. The best way to bust them is to call them out. Confront them in the full light of day. Be honest with yourself: what actions and thoughts repeatedly, reliably, predictably keep you from going where you want to go, keep you from being who you want to be? Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony? Others? They’re safe in the dark, and they know it. Open up. That’s first.

Summon the hero-habit

Are they shaking in their boots yet? Not likely. Our bad habits got us where they want us, don’t they? They’re easy and comfortable and so deeply entrenched in our lives that they know it’s going to take a hell of an effort to wrench them out. Our most powerful weapon is a good habit, a hero-habit, to go toe-to-toe with the villain: like a steely-eyed Clint Eastwood riding into that lawless frontier town. How do we summon such a hero-habit? Heroes fight for a cause, a purpose, a mission, something to fortify the courage and determination they need to defeat the bad guy. We have to be really clear about where we want to go, who we want to be, and we have to really mean it. Bad habits ride roughshod over listless, timid souls with half-hearted goals, and our hero is apt to ride on past.

Beware shortcuts

Now. Which path to take? The mountain pass ahead is shorter, more direct, but it’s risky: you don’t want to get caught up there when the weather turns, which it can do in a second. The longer road around the mountain, through the foothills, that’s probably the better bet. It’s certainly safer; those shortcuts will get you in trouble more times than not (ask Marion Jones and Floyd Landis). Don’t get in too big a hurry. Don’t set an unreasonable pace you can’t maintain. Focus on just a few goals and actions at a time, and keep it simple, honest, straightforward. Plan to do little things every day to build progress, momentum, confidence, and belief in the journey. You’ll be surprised how far you get, before you know it.

Be consistent and persistent

Like Grisham, sometimes building our new, good habit is the last thing we want to do. We tell ourselves, “Just this one lapse won’t matter,” when, in truth, each little slip can slide us back to the bottom of the hill. And recovering from these backslides gets tougher and tougher over time. The key is to make a reasonable plan then do it and do it and do it and do it, and keep doing it. (Little things every day, remember.) Popular wisdom says it takes 21 days to form a good habit, then as much as 10,000 hours to master a significant skill. That’s quite a row to hoe. And we’re going to trip and make mistakes along the way, too. It’s inevitable: we’re exploring, we’re learning. We’re also improving, getting a little better, getting a little closer.

Watch for other wheel-spinning ruts

Perhaps you don’t think all of Grisham’s 23 bestsellers are the model of excellence or that his writing has improved with each new book. Regardless of our literary tastes, I think the author has been relatively pleased with his progress and outcomes, and that’s what really counts, right? But even our great habits need to be looked at occasionally, lest they become not-so-great habits as the world changes, as we change. Stay on your toes. Keep your eyes open. Keep your mind open. Just because it’s the way we did it yesterday doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it tomorrow. A rut is a rut when we stop moving forward as we’d like.

Happy habiting!

Dave Neal is a senior partner at 4th Street Training, a premiere instructional design group that helps move individuals and organizations to new levels. Learn more at

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