THE BLOG

Work Smarter, Not Harder by Breaking Your Counterproductive Bad Habits

02/27/2015 02:10 pm ET | Updated Apr 29, 2015

There's a lot to be said for focusing on your strengths. After all, those things you do well set you apart and help you stand out in a competitive environment. But, the idea that you should "play to your strengths and ignore your weaknesses" can be the biggest obstacle to reaching your greatest potential.

While ignoring your bad habits may help you feel good initially, that avoidance will eventually catch up to you. When you don't address the unproductive and unhealthy things you're doing alongside your good habits, you'll stagnate. Despite your best efforts and hard work, those few little bad habits will hold you back in a big way.

Bad habits aren't just about smoking or late night cookie binges. Bad habits can include a variety of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral pitfalls. While some people avoid change and struggle with self-pity, others resent other people's success and don't learn from their mistakes. We're all prone to pitfalls that can hold us back unless we're open to acknowledging and changing our habits.

Avoid Inadvertent Self-Sabotage

Engaging in good habits 90 percent of the time, while indulging in bad habits 10 percent of time, places you at risk of being like a hamster running in a wheel. Despite all the energy you're exerting, you won't move forward. You'll never be able to outrun your bad habits. Instead, you'll simply exhaust yourself and begin to question yourself when you aren't growing and reaching new heights of success.

Imagine a person who goes to the gym every day and works out for two hours. He prides himself on the fact that he sticks to his schedule, even on the days when he doesn't feel like exercising. He works hard, and feels pleased that for the first time in his life, he's finally committed to getting healthy.

But, after a few months, he's not seeing the results he'd hoped for. He begins to wonder if there's something wrong with his metabolism and at times, he assumes his body just wasn't meant to change. After all, he's putting in a lot of work to get in shape.

Despite his hard work, however, he doesn't change his eating habits. In fact, he rewards himself for working out by stopping at the drive-thru on his way home from the gym. He figures he deserves a treat and he enjoys a burger, fries, and a shake as a late night snack. He's so focused on what he's doing well -- going to the gym -- that he overlooks the fact that his eating habits are completely undermining his efforts.

Although that example seems somewhat ridiculous, that's exactly what many of us do in our everyday lives. We focus so much on all the things we're doing right, that we overlook all the ways in which we inadvertently sabotage our best efforts.

Until you acknowledge what you're doing to hold yourself back from becoming your best, following advice like, "focus on your strengths" and "look at the positive," won't take you to the next level. Becoming better requires you to address your counterproductive bad habits.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Time and energy are finite. You only have so many hours in a day and so many days of your life. The solution to using your time wisely isn't about exerting more energy -- eventually you'll run out of steam. The key to reaching your greatest potential is about working smarter, not harder.

Working smarter, however, requires you to address those bad habits that are holding you back. Acknowledging the unproductive thoughts and ineffective behavior that you've tried to ignore can be uncomfortable. But, stepping out of your comfort zone and choosing to proactively address bad habits will skyrocket your ability to create long-lasting change.

Just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, we're only as good as our worst habits. Strengthening our weakest areas is the most powerful way to begin reaching our greatest potential. Letting go of the things that hold you back will propel you forward.

Amy Morin is an internationally recognized expert on mental strength and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.