27 September 2023

Kicking the habit: How to work out which habits are holding you back

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Lindsay Tigar* says the most successful women leaders evaluate which habits work for them — and leave everything else behind.

Photo: Manan Chhabra

There are many theories about how long it takes to form a habit.

Whatever the case, some aspects of our routine are beneficial to our personal and professional growth, while others just slow us down.

Paying attention to negative patterns is essential.

That’s why these women, across industries, stopped apologising.

Or adding a “maybe” to every sentence.

Or opted to do things their way — even if it wasn’t the “right” way.

‘I gave up saying “I think”’

Chief Content Officer at Hearst Magazines, Kate Lewis spent many years moving from editorial to HR before taking on her current role, directing content strategy for more than 25 publications.

She says it was a shift in wording that fuelled her career growth.

Specifically, she stopped using the phrase “I think,” after realising she often started emails that way.

“I relish conversation … even dissent — because those things force me to consider my position more carefully,” says Lewis.

“But I don’t need to undercut my own point of view to solicit them.”

“Without adding a qualifier before them, I must reckon with how much I truly believe them.”

‘I gave up feeling bad about “me time”’

Heather Marianna, founder of Beauty Kitchen, makes all-natural skincare and cosmetic products.

Like many entrepreneurs, she loves what she does, but says she came to realise scheduling time for herself wasn’t lazy.

It was necessary.

“I used to feel really selfish when I would take an hour to do yoga or go get a facial,” she says.

“On the verge of pure exhaustion, I began meditating several months ago and reminding myself that I need to take time for myself.”

Now, she feels more centred and focused.

“I’m happier, more proactive, and I’m actually getting more done.”

‘I gave up accepting the first offer’

Samantha Dong’s company, ALLY Shoes, creates accessible luxury footwear for women.

When Dong looked back at the experiences that led her to create ALLY, she says she realised how little she previously negotiated anything.

Even when she knew she deserved more, she wasn’t brazen enough to demand it.

A co-worker once told her he negotiated a promotion and a raise every six months.

“He typically wouldn’t get everything he asked for, but always ended up better than his prior position,” Dong says.

“That was a wake-up call for me and made me realise: You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”

“I realised negotiation is never about winning or outsmarting the other side, but instead finding common ground and creative solutions that benefit both parties.”

‘I’ve given up thinking there’s a right way to do things’

Since starting her line of health snacks, Amazi Foods, Renee Dunn says she has heard all of the advice there is to hear — and is now opting to do things her own way.

Even though “industry experts” may mean well, they may not know her company — or her personal values.

“I was being swayed in so many ways, losing time and progress as a result,” she says.

“[This lesson] has given me the confidence to build the business that I want to build and make decisions that I feel in my gut.”

‘I gave up Facebook’

Sarah Luna, President of fitness company Pure Barre, says she developed a bad habit of paying attention to social media trolls, especially on Facebook.

“Oftentimes, my evenings or weekends would be ruined and I found that people’s comments had an intense power over me that was detrimental and unhealthy,” she says.

“I became unproductive at work and noticed that I would stop my entire day or project to triage and deal with the social media ‘war’ that was occurring.”

So, a year ago she disabled comments and logged off.

The goal was to be more strategic with her time and level of engagement on social media.

In return, she’s noticed a dramatic shift in her ability to focus on leading a team and driving a business.

“Not worrying about who will be displeased by the decisions made has allowed me to make better decisions, heavily rooted in fact and analysis, not in emotional turmoil,” she says.

‘I gave up saying “I’m sorry”’

Raise your hand if you’ve apologised at work (or in a texting convo) in the last 48 hours.

Apologising is a habit that many female professionals develop — and one that cofounder and CEO of TRUWOMEN, Erica Groussman says she’s kicked.

As she was getting her brand up and running, she realised how often she would say “I’m sorry” when asking for something she needed, like an update on a client.

A friend pointed out this habit and she figured out she was trying to subdue her strong and confident work persona.

But what she was actually doing was misrepresenting her performance as a leader.

She wasn’t sorry; she was doing her job.

“Becoming cognisant of how often I say ‘I’m sorry’ has forced me to truly consider my use of words and how people on my team are interpreting my communication,” she says.

“Instead of joining a conference call two minutes late and immediately apologising, I’ve now reframed by verbiage to ‘thank you for waiting.’”

“These small adjustments have allowed me more opportunity to express gratitude, while also giving other women within the company permission to do the same.”

‘I gave up living in my comfort zone’

Melanie Huscroft, cofounder and chief visionary officer of Younique, says she’s had to get comfortable taking greater risks.

“It takes real courage to work through the fear that holds us back, but courage isn’t the lack of fear, it’s the gaining of perspective,” she says.

“I learned that you have to do things that no one else is doing, things that frighten you and that make you question how much longer you can hold on.”

* Lindsay Tigar is a freelance journalist. She tweets at @LindsayTigar and her website is lindsaytigar.com.

This article first appeared at www.fastcompany.com.

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