6 Damaging Habits That Successful People Avoid

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By Elizabeth Michaelson Monaghan

READ MORE: Career advice, Career development, Feedback, Leadership, Professional development

If you’re frustrated and flummoxed by your inability to finish a project—or to start one—you’re not alone. Even the most hardworking and skilled people sometimes struggle to reach their goals.

What makes success so difficult? Below, leadership and career coach Jen Baggett, CPCC, ACC, the owner of Cumming, GA-based Catchlight Consulting, LLC, discusses how would-be achievers unwittingly sabotage their own efforts—and how to get back on track:

Damaging habit #1: seeking perfection

“One of the biggest ways I see clients hurt their efforts to be successful is [by] trying too hard to make something perfect,” Baggett says. “They spend so much time trying to get it just right, or overanalyzing every move, that they get stuck and end up not doing anything. Trying to get it perfect ends up paralyzing them. What they don't realize is that perfection prevents progress, and progress, however imperfect, is better than staying where they are.”

Damaging habit #2: letting fear get in the way

“Usually when someone is on the verge of something big in their life is when the fear rears its ugly head. What people don't realize is that fear, that little voice in their head telling them all the things that can go wrong, is trying to keep them safe and small. When they give in to the fear, it keeps them exactly where they are.” However, “When they run towards the fear, when they do the very thing that terrifies them, success is usually just past that fear.”

Damaging habit #3: not asking for feedback

“There are a lot of reasons why people don't ask for feedback (for instance, fear, or they think they know what other people think), but the end result is they don't know if what they are doing is actually working,” Baggett points out. “Feedback helps you realize what you are doing well, what your opportunities [for improvement] are, and it shows that you care about improving.”

Damaging habit #4: setting unrealistic goals.

“If it's unrealistic, you aren't going to hit it, your confidence is going to take a hit, and you're more likely to give up. Instead, set small, specific goals and take action, over and over again.”

Realistic goals are those that can actually be achieved in the timeframe you’ve set for yourself, Baggett explains. “For example, if you want to be promoted, it would be unrealistic to think that you would be promoted the day after you started a new job.”

Damaging habit #5: not understanding the reason(s) behind your goals

“It's not enough to say, ‘I want to lose weight.’ You have to understand why you want to lose weight,” Baggett says. So if you know you that want to drop a few pounds in order to keep up with your track star kid, then you’ll also know how to motivate yourself: by thinking about all the runs you’ll go on with your daughter, for instance. “Your why will keep you on track.”

Damaging habit #6: setting too many goals.

“When I was working in talent management [in human resources] I would see employees with 8 to 10 goals that they wanted to hit in a year. It was nuts,” recalls Baggett. “There was no way they were going to accomplish everything, and they ended up all over the place. Pick two to three goals to work on at a time. It keeps your focus sharp and prevents you from spreading yourself too thin.”

Plus, two more ways to improve your odds of success…

  1. Build in accountability. “People play differently when someone is keeping score,” Baggett points out. “Have an accountability buddy or a coach or mentor to hold you accountable for what you said you were going to do.”  
  2. Just do it.  “Stop thinking about it and making excuses, and just move. I love the quote from Amelia Earhart: ‘The most effective way to do it is to do it.’” Baggett also recommends the book The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins.

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Elizabeth Michaelson Monaghan is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in City Limits, Paste, Library Journal, and other titles. She lives in New York City with her husband, son, and many toy trucks.

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