One recent crisp fall morning, while out running hill sprints in the old forest grove near my family farm, I caught myself thinking about you (as I often do). I spend so much of my time thinking about how I can get people to change, to take action, to finally achieve their goals and dreams.
And then it hit me.
With all of this this talk about you changing, why am I not leading by example?
What could I start improving in myself that very day? It was time to put my money where my mouth was – literally.
Almost immediately I identified one of my worst habits: cussing, as the country and western songs my parents listened to would call it. Cussing was one bad, bad habit that I could drop for the better.
Wasn’t it strange, I thought, that I can go on stage and speak in front of up to 450 people, and I would not swear. Nor have I ever, ever used a curse word in front of my mother, and I only allowed it to happen a few times in the presence of my father. Clearly I could control myself in certain situations, so why not all of the time?
Why did I need to swear in the first place? I was no longer a 13-year-old trying to impress anyone. And surely I’ve learned to get my message across without relying on a curse word to emphasize my point. No one needs to use a curse word as an adjective in their argument. After all, if two bitter rivals can debate for the position of Leader of the Free World without cussing, then surely I can get through a day without swearing.
And if I’m “wise” enough to give you advice everyday, why don’t I take some of my own?
So it was that day, during a tough workout on a wooded trail at 8:30 in the morning that I finally decided to stop swearing for good.
But how long would it take? As legend has it (and I say that because I haven’t actually read any research to support this belief), you need 21-days to create a new, good habit. I still remember hearing a coach tell our gym class that “fact” back in 1989.
Would it take 21-days to drop a bad habit?
The answer will surprise you.
But before I could find out, I also realized that I needed an incentive. In addition to sharing the goal with the world, I also thought it would be appropriate to have a $10 punishment for every lapse in behavior. It was an updated version of the old “swear jar”, that you might have had in your home growing up or seen on TV.
A quick text to a friend arranged the punishment. The friend was to choose a charity (I still don’t know what charity it is) that my ‘donations’ would go to. And I was put on the honor system to keep track of each occurrence of the bad habit. At the end of a 6-week period, a donation will be made to the mystery charity. It could be one I’d support anyways, or it could be one that I’d prefer never to give money to. We shall see.
(There’s actually a website called StickK.com that helps you do this. See today’s American Dream box for more information on how it can help you change your behavior.)
And so the challenge began that morning. It was tough at first. That’s why it’s called a bad habit. It’s easy to find yourself slipping into your old ways. But as the first 48 hours progressed, I noticed something remarkable. Most of my cussing was done in the form of exaggeration. It wasn’t at all necessary (not that I expected any of it to be). It was juvenile behaviour, and I needed to change it to be a better person.
When you start changing your bad habits, mark down when you do the offensive activity. As you become more aware of your offending behavior you’ll start to notice a pattern. You’ll identify how ridiculous your actions are and you’ll have no choice but to come up with preferred alternatives. (I now say, “gosh” and “geez” a lot more. Turning into a real “Beaver Cleaver”, I am.)
As you drop your bad habits, you’ll become a better person. Within a week my vocabulary and conversation etiquette had markedly improved. I was less inclined to exaggerate or raise my voice, and I engaged in less of the common hyperbole we hear so much of today. And if I do say so myself, what I do say in conversations now is more insightful and thoughtful. Swearing, I realized, had made me lazy and stupid. The changes have been all for the better.
Now I haven’t been perfect. The other day I saw a giant bug in my house, and sure enough, the words “That thing’s huge” was preceded by a curse word (albeit a “minor” one). It was unnecessary and immature. I paid my $10, became more self-aware of my behavior, and probably won’t make the same mistake in the future. That’s generally all there is to it when you try to drop a bad habit.
As you go along, you might also watch others engage in your former bad habit and you’ll be surprised at how unnecessary the bad habit is for them as well. Being aware of how often others use curse words has opened my eyes to how downright uncivilized conversation becomes when every other word is unsuitable for a Disney movie.
But think back to the greatest orators in the history of the world. Did Cesar, Churchill, Martin Luther King, JFK, or Roosevelt rely on cuss words to make a point? Of course not.
That bad habit added nothing to my life. The shock value of swearing expired years ago. It only denigrated my message. You’ll likely find the same for your bad habits.
In fact, I was so buoyed by my experience with cussing that I quickly added a second bad habit to my list to stop. Over the last few years I had built up a compulsion to apply lip balm almost ten times each day. I was dependent upon having a stick in my pocket at all times, and I don’t like depending on anything but myself. So I added that to the $10 punishment list, and this too had a fast success rate.
What I’ve found, albeit in my experiment of just a single subject fixing two bad habits, is that it takes about 6-10 days for you to make massive progress (cigarettes and booze not included, as those both involve physical addictions far beyond the level of lip balm).
It’s possible to almost eliminate a bad habit in just 10 days. But to be sure, let’s extend the challenge a little longer. And so I invite you to join the EarlyToRise.com 6-week “Bad Habit Transformation Contest”, starting today, November 1st. Because as Dan Kennedy says, “You could just as easily change your life today as any other day. You don’t need to wait for January first.” Let’s see what we can get done before New Years, rather than waiting until after.
Drop by the ETR website here and tell us what bad habit you plan to drop. In 6 weeks, I’ll send you a reminder to post your results and I’ll pick three winners that will receive a $150 Amazon gift card. But in order to be eligible to win, you have to you’re your plan today and your results in 6-weeks.
This mini-contest gives you a little taste of the possibilities that lie ahead in our future Transformation Contests coming in 2014. More about that in a few weeks, but for now, let’s make small changes first and start dropping bad habits and replacing them with good habits. The keys to your future success are your daily habits today. Start dropping the bad habits and implementing new positive behaviors today. That’s how you’ll create a better future.
[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with a web-based business that you can operate from anywhere in the world – including a coffee shop, your kitchen table, or anywhere around the world where there is Internet access. Discover how you can achieve the American Dream and your financial independence here. You’ve never seen anything like this before.]Ten of These Cure a Bad Habit,