Good Habits for Career Success
By Chelse Benham
“Breaking deeply imbedded habitual tendencies such as procrastination,
impatience, criticalness, or selfishness that violates basic principles of human
effectiveness involves more than a little willpower and a few minor changes in
our lives.” – Steven Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective
There are many habits good and bad incorporated into work life. The good habits
qualify as productive, effective and conducive to one’s ability to get their work
done. Other less positive habits also exist. Negative behavior can impact work
productivity, reputation and relationships with others. Understanding what a habit
is and learning how to cultivate the skills to channel energy toward positive rather
than negative behavior is a tremendous talent in self-awareness. Covey defines
a habit as the “intersection of knowledge, skill and desire.” According to him, one
must have all three to build a pattern of behavior into the form of a habit.
“Any habit can be negative if it is done mindlessly. Mechanical behavior void of
cognitive effort constitutes a habit,” said Dr. Etzel Cardena, professor in the
Department of Psychology and Anthropology at The University of Texas-Pan
American. “Personality traits, based on a person’s innate temperament, may
make some people open to new experiences and conversely, temperament may
affect the personality trait so that there are people who are not open to new
experiences. That personality trait may determine the habits that person forms.
Furthermore, good habits could become potentially negative when circumstances
change. Habits are fine as long as people do not become mindless about them.
Re-evaluating a habit may lead a person to change the behavior, but it should be
a conscious decision.”
At the core of the habit is temperament. Behavioral scientists agree that
temperament affects internal choices people make that create patterns of
behavior into habits. In her article, “Thinking About Wellness,” Dr. Dawn Elise
Snipes, a mental health counselor, writes, “Temperament affects how we learn,
interact with others, approach and deal with situations and generally manage our
time and our lives.” Scientists categorized temperament in five major types:
introversion, extroversion, emotionality, psychic involvement in work and
“Temperament conventionally refers to stable behavioral and emotional reactions
that appear early and are influenced in part by genetic constitution.” This
definition is found in “Galen’s Prophecy Temperament in Human Nature” by
Jerome Kagan. Recent studies, understanding the role that temperament plays in
human cognition, have helped to diminish the extreme view that “environmental
events explain all forms of psychological variation – thought and emotion as well
as habit,” according to Kagan.
However, he does argue that temperamental differences are malleable by
experience. “There is no rigid determinism between the inheritance of a particular
temperament and a later behavioral profile,” he writes.
Snipes further supports the influence of temperament upon personality when she
writes, “The people dimension is concerned with how we relate to others and
interact with the world in general. Understanding people's preferences in this
dimension will help you understand what sorts of environments and situations
they will prefer and what will cause them stress.”
Covey suggests that by focusing on the motivations driving the actions one is
able to “break through old paradigms that may have been a source of pseudo-
security for years.” Breaking bad or outmoded habits is a personal growth shift.
Covey identifies these breakthroughs as progressive movements along a
“True independence of character empowers us to act rather than be acted upon,”
writes Covey. “Independence without the maturity to think and act
interdependently with others will not allow a person to be a good leader or team
Therefore, according to Covey, it is not good enough to be independent. It is
equally necessary to be able to interact well with others. Good habits, according
to experts, are demonstrated with how well a person is able to integrate
responsibilities, relationships and emotional reactions into each other for overall
well being and happiness.
Many good habits are self-evident even if they are not easy to cultivate. Habits
such as working well with others, efficiently managing one’s time, consistently
setting obtainable goals, ethically meeting responsibilities are all forms of good
habits. It is the bad habits and negative behaviors that must be tamed. Without
self-control, destructive behavior can cost a person his or her career.
“The Dirty Dozen: Career Paralyzers You Should Avoid” by Kathy Simmons
found at www.black-collegian.com highlights some bad habits and harmful
behaviors to avoid in the workplace. She identifies the following:
• "We-They" thinking toward management – Referring to
management as ‘they’ creates barriers that prevent positive
exchange and openness between management and staff.
• Taking advantage of company policy – Malingering by using sick
time indiscriminately, conducting personal business during
company time and incorrect reporting on expense reports are all
opportunistic activities that point to unethical behavior.
• Behaving like a professional critic – Criticizing and identifying
problems rather than focusing on solutions breeds negativity. It is
better to be known for your ability to change things for the better
than for your whining skill.
• Taking credit for other’s ideas – This bad habit can create untold
resentment from your co-workers. Instead, generate a few great
ideas of your own and do not neglect to give enthusiastic credit
where credit is due.
• Refusing to set goals – Others can not set your career goals for
you. Goals are important and yet, according to research, an
estimated five percent of people actually write down their goals.
Goals provide focus and career growth.
• Dropping the ball – Biting off more than you can chew is a
common tendency for ambitious people. If you fail to follow through
on your promises to others the damage to your credibility can have
lasting repercussions. The best advice is to make promises
sparingly and be sure to keep them.
• Using profanity – Rather than risk offending those you work with,
stay away from profanity and express your thoughts in a more
• Fading into the background – Corporate America is full of people
who quietly do a good job every day and wonder why they are not
further ahead. To move forward, you have to be noticed. Do not be
afraid to take risks, get out of your comfort zone, and toot your horn
occasionally. Management likes shakers and movers, and they are
invariably the ones who end up getting promoted.
• Not supporting your team –Troublemakers who undermine their
own team cannot be trusted. Loyalty should be established and
protected with other members. Without the trust of co-workers,
roadblocks, born from distrust and suspicion, can create formidable
challenges that prevent productivity.
• Failing to take care of the customer – Most customers leave
companies because of lack of concern shown by personnel. People
will not stay if they do not feel valued. Make sure you are never the
cause of ill will between your company and a customer.
• Dodging responsibility – Do not blame others or make excuses
for failing to do your job. Equally, do not play the victim. Shifting the
blame to others or situations beyond your control relinquishes your
power to affect change and grow from the experience.
• Allowing your moods to take control – Moodiness is not a good
professional trait. Unpredictable and erratic mood swings cause
people to avoid you. It is a poor reflection on your self-discipline if
you are prone to bad moods or behave impulsively.
The work place is filled with opportunities to build good and bad personal habits.
The key to success is how mindful a person is about whatever he or she is doing.
Self-awareness is at the core of improving emotional maturity, habit forming
behavior and interactions with others.
“As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his
straying thoughts.” – Buddha