As the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, people often ask me why I would write a book about what not to do. While I outline the personal story of how I developed that list in my TEDx talk, the simple answer is this; it only takes one bad habit to keep you stuck.
One Bad Habit Outweighs a Dozen Good Habits
During my first year of college, I developed TMJ--a painful jaw condition that made it hard to chew. My doctor suspected I developed TMJ because I was grinding my teeth in my sleep.
My doctor recommended I see my dentist. My dentist prescribed anti-inflammatory medication, but that didn't help. So the dentist sent me to another dentist who specialized in TMJ.
The specialist fit me for a night guard that would prevent me from grinding my teeth in my sleep. When that wasn't effective, the specialist sent me to a physical therapist. The physical therapist recommended jaw exercises and ultrasound treatment. But even three physical therapy appointments per week didn't give me any relief.
I went back to my family doctor to discuss a referral to a surgeon, because surgery seemed like the only option left. But, as we were talking about all the treatments I'd tried already, he abruptly interrupted me and said, "Don't do that with your mouth!"
"Do what?" I asked. "That thing you just did where you move your lips back and forth. That's going to make your jaw worse," he explained. I had no idea what he was talking about but I said, "OK, I won't." My doctor referred me to a surgeon but it took several weeks to get an appointment.
In the meantime, I started to notice what my doctor had meant about the 'weird thing' I was doing with my lips. It was like a nervous habit that involved moving my teeth back and forth.
But, now that I recognized the problem, I could stop myself from doing it the second I became aware. And then over the next week or two, my jaw felt better. By the time the appointment with the surgeon rolled around, my jaw was back to normal.
My good habits--and expensive treatments--weren't able to be effective because of my one bad habit. The answer to getting better was simple--focus on giving up my bad habit.
Let Go of What Is Holding You Back
As a psychotherapist, I see many people who want to change their lives. They commit to good habits, like going to the gym or practicing better self-care.
But after a few weeks, they feel like a hamster in a wheel who doesn't get anywhere. They grow tired and consider giving up on their goals. They have to identify what's holding them back if they really want to move forward.
When you let go of those things that are weighing you down and dragging you back, your good habits will become much more effective. You'll see better results and you'll stay motivated when you see progress.
Bad habits don't always involve smoking or inactivity. Bad mental habits will sabotage your success too.
"Thinking positive" won't help you solve a problem if you refuse to admit your mistakes. Or, writing in a gratitude journal won't change your life if you also spend time each day feeling sorry for yourself.
You have to recognize those bad habits and put them on your not-to-do list before you can really change your life.
Work smarter, not harder, by eliminating the habits that are holding you back. After all, you're only as good as your worst habit.