3 career-inhibiting habits and how to break them

Oftentimes, it's just one bad habit that stands between you and your highest career aspiration.

A VitalSmarts study of nearly 1,000 managers found that 97 percent have at least one career-limiting habit — behavior that prevents us from achieving greater success or satisfaction in our career, Joseph Grenny, New York Times bestselling author and cofounder of VitalSmarts, wrote in the Harvard Business Review. The same study found that while most people are aware of the deficiency that is holding them back, few make much progress in ever overcoming it.

"When our efforts to change fail to change us, it's usually because the cure doesn't match the cause, and often even the diagnosis is wrong," Mr. Grenny wrote.

Here are three common career-limiting habits and how you can break them, according to Mr. Grenny.

1. Unreliability
A leader can give a team member who is 100 percent reliable a task with the confidence it will be done well. However, for those who fail to meet the 100 percent mark, the boss carries psychological ownership of the task even when it is out of his or her hands.

The underlying cause: Lack of reliability can be a failure of organization, but more often the problem stems from poor communication, according to Mr. Grenny. People who consistently fail to carry out promises often have a hard time saying no — they'd rather risk disappointing you later than provoke your disapproval from the start.

The bad habit buster: Becoming comfortable with saying "no" is integral to becoming more reliable. To avoid situations in which you feel pressured to say yes, slow down the conversation by breaking eye contact and taking a pause to breath. Mr. Grenny also suggests having a scripted response ready to go, such as, "I'd love to help, but let me look at what I've already committed to and get back to you by the end of the day." Then count all of the existing commitments you've made and think realistically about how much you can achieve.

2. Procrastination
The myriad of technology at our disposal — email, text and the internet — often give us the illusion of supporting productivity, when in reality these tools slow us down.

The underlying cause: According to Mr. Grenny, procrastination is almost always a result of fear of failure — we are inclined to avoid the tasks we believe will cause us pain or tedium.

The bad habit buster: Realize your level of motivation is malleable. One way to maximize motivation is to break up a large, dreaded task into smaller parts. Additionally, stop working when you feel the project is becoming too emotionally taxing. "If you grind it out until you stagger across the finish line, the final misery will linger," wrote Mr. Grenny. "It's better to stop when you're still feeling engaged," he said, and pick up where you left off at a later time.

3. Selfishness
When someone comes across as selfish, others don't perceive them as a team player, and certainly not someone who could lead effectively and advocate for the rest of the team.

The underlying cause: While you may be giving adequate attention to your personal goals and aspirations, you may not be paying enough attention to the goals and aspirations of others. If you become more conscious you will become more considerate, Mr. Grenny wrote.

The bad habit buster: Small actions can yield big results. Be aware of your body language and how the physical signals you send convey your level of empathy, patients and selflessness. Make eye contact with people when they talk, square your body to face them to show you are listening and watch for signals of emotion. Additionally, showing sincere curiosity about others will allow them to cultivate a more favorable perception of you and help you learn about them.

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