Early to rise

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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.

Tell us the bad habits you plan to drop.

[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, 4.4 out of 5 based on 115 ratings


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  • Marta, in Guatemala

    I will stop letting my house get cluttered. I have reminders on my agenda and I see the mess EVERY DAY, but something in my head always blocks me. This is a good opportunity to beat that.

  • Monica

    I disagree about quittting cigarettes and booze. Both totally doable. I quit smoking after considerable struggle, by simply changing my mind. I declared myself a non smoker. I’ve never smoked again and have had no cravings or withdrawl.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Well done!

  • Lynne

    I WILL NOT eat even ONE protein bar at night (or any other time during the day!) if I get hungry.

    I WILL choose instead a tablespoon or two of cottage cheese, a few raw almonds, or a few bites of my vegetarian meat. DONE!

  • Benjamin Hu

    I plan to finish everything off my plate every meal, no excuses. I hate finding leftovers in the fridge every time.

    I plan to cut my time on the internet down to four hours a day. I spend too much time there procrastinating and not enough time doing work.

  • helen


  • Tu

    I will give up snoozing and get up every morning at the time I planned. Especially on weekends when I need to go to the gym or run errands. This bad habit leads to arriving late to work and other events. Positive outcome: Always be on time & will never skip the gym again.. for sleep. =)

  • Kathy Gunn

    To compete in the 6-week “Bad Habit Transformation Contest”. Starting in the morning I will stop skipping breakfast and have my Turbulence Training 2.0 workout done before I go online to do anything other than to collect that days workout. I will also drink 1/2 the number of my weight in oz. of water completely spreading that process out over the entire day and evening. This is half an hour of focused body and mind daily. I can do this.

  • Brandi Wilder

    Well in the last 2 years I have already given up 2 of the worst habits that are legal that is! First was heavy drinking then I quit smoking, it has been almost a year sense I quit smoking. I still have a beer now and again but it is very rare. So to you all out there what ever bad habit you are getting rid of YOU CAN DO IT!!

  • Kathy Gunn

    I do not understand why it is important to put all of that extra stuff into smoothies. Protein powder and stuff. I use frozen banana frozen pineapple and almond breeze unsweetened I know that the almond milk is 30 cal a cup the fruit is free of calories I think. Those smoothies in the recipes are high 300 to over 400 calories each. I can’t follow that stuff. every thing added after the fruit is excess. I was going to change my recipe to get a healthier smoothie but I like what I have. It fills me up and keeps me going. I will work on getting my protein out of meat, fish, poultry and eggs. I will bring up my protein levels.

  • Barbara

    To compete in the 6-week “Bad Habit Transformation Contest”. Starting in the morning I will stop first thing in the morning reading my email and keeping up with my online discussions. I will replace my night walk, that often gets put off because I am too tired, with a day walk in place of the time I had spent reading email etc. Third, I will make the effort to accept that practicing the piano is not a treat only done after all work tasks are complete but rather, an important goal task that I will schedule before I start my work tasks.

  • Ann

    Craig, you’ve inspired me to give up my salty mouth! I certainly am very careful when and with whom I sound more like a sailor (no offense to my sailing friends) than the person I am striving to be. I will find a way to be more creative in my speech when I am particularly passionate or perturbed and I have a dear friend (also a sailor in times of distress) who will be happy to take my 10 bucks-a-slip-up for a cause that we both care about.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Stay strong Ann!

  • jonicbri

    Staying up late! That is the habit that I am going to break. I usually either watch some mindless tv or wander Facebook or Internet. It’s not productive and certainly not worth the lost hours of sleep that are essential to setting the tone for the next day’s productivity. I open my studio at 500 am every weekday and need to have at least 7 hours of sleep to be at my best for myself and my clients. Thank you for setting this challenge!

  • Christina

    I have bitten my nails for as long as I can remember. I hate it. It makes me look like I am an insane person, gnawing on my fingers. I hate my stubby chewed up nails. I want to stop. I will stop. I want to have a baby in 2014 and don’t want to pass this on by example.

  • Carrie Simoneit Colombo

    I have a bad habit of eating after dinner. After reviewing my day I realize that this is my time to relax and spend a little time by myself. It is also the time that I eat snacks, ice-cream and junk food. I need to replace this bad habit with something that is still for me, but doesn’t involve food. I am going to stop eating as soon as dinner is over (and maybe that might include dessert too on special nights) and replace that with reading alone, watching a show with the kids. So long to late nights of me and popcorn, ice-cream, chocolate and all the other fitness sabotaging snacks that take over at night.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      To your success Carrie!

  • ast6372

    My “Bad Habit Transformation Contest” goal is to :
    1) Go to bed by 10.30pm, lights out by 11pm & up by 6am everyday
    2) Meditate for 15mins everyday

    3) Read for 30mins everyday
    4) Exercise in the morning, instead of late night
    I will put $10 in a jar for each slip-up.

    • Craig Ballantyne


  • Rai

    I plan to stop eating unhealthy snacks at work. There is always some type of party going on or coworkers bringing in fatty snacks and I have gained 26 pounds in 2-1/2 years by indulging in these. I can’t fit any of my clothes and it’s time to change this around and I know I can do it. I will begin by saying “no thanks” and when hungry choose healthy options.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Stay strong Rai!

  • Gillian Holding

    Ok. Stopping biting my nails! A classic! But also stopping eating standing up.

  • oliver

    my plan is to start work in my home office eery week day at 7:00 am and to complete at least 39 Hrs of productive work per week

  • 60kck

    I will stop picking my nose.Yes it is gross but it is a habit from childhood 60 years long. I have tried to break many times unsuccessfully.
    I will donate $ 1 to a charity. For every infraction. I will focus on not contaminating my body with toxins.

  • Chrisanthia

    The bad habits I plan to stop are three things I love that have turned into habits gone wild. These are sleep, coffee, and the internet. First I have to stop hitting my snooze button 5 times before finally getting out of bed. Then the only thing that finally gets me up (besides possibly being late for work) is the thought of my first sip of morning coffee (which leads to at least 3 cups) while surfing the net. I so love this morning habit that I will arrive to work a few minutes late before skipping it. On my days off I will spend a minimum of one hour doing this. I really want to…I really must change this habit into a more productive habit and don’t like to be controlled by such things so my plan is as follows:
    >hit snooze only one time
    >my first drink of the day will be water and/or warm lemon water
    >followed by my morning stretches, meditation, reading something inspirational and at least 15 minutes of writing and planning my day.
    >work on my studies and/or business for one hour when not working
    after this I can then take a break and surf a bit with some green or herbal tea.

    My punishment for not doing this is already built in and that is that I will not accomplish any of my goals and will get nowhere if I keep these bad habits up.

    Namaste and best wishes to everyone else on the challenge.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      best wishes, keep pushing!

  • Lizzie

    I want to stop skipping meals (particularly breakfast). I have a bad habit of justifying skipping meals because I have so many things to do, that I just jump straight into working first thing in the morning and almost always skip breakfast, and sometimes I work through lunch as well and don’t eat my first meal of the day until 4:00 pm! Its not good at all. I want to stop this.

  • Kathleen

    Eating a large and unhealthy lunch from a neighboring Indian takeout “joint” has become a bad habit for me – a reward to help combat workday stress. This habit is inhibiting my progress with my fitness regime, and I want to eliminate it and replace it with the good habit of packing and eating a healthy, well-balanced lunch. This will not only help reduce my waist-line, it will also help increase my bank account – a win-win all around!

  • kelly

    I asked my partner for my bad habits and after reeling off LOADS ;-) lol she said my worst is looking at my stomach in the mirror and picking apart how my abs look. It made me think that this isn’t necessary as many times im doing it – 3 + times a day. Its sooooooo draining and such a waste of time.
    The plan which I WILL complete – I will cut down and get to the point where I will take a picture once a week.
    Let the challenge begin.

  • Vemapris

    My number one bad habit is biting my nails! You’d think I’d be over that in my 30s…well might as well get on it now!

  • anita

    I plan to stop the “clean plate habit”. Growing up during the Depression, my mother insisted we finish eating everything on our plate “because the children in Europe were starving”. Starting with the next meal, I will leave food on my plate and not feel I am being wasteful. This will help me reduce my weight and improve my health.

  • Vance Akins

    overeating, self-sabatoge, negative gossip, & neglectied relationships – replaced with paleo/primal eating, disciplined fitness, gratitude, & practiced meditations/engaged friendships. Seems short and sweet, but these are foundational and generational failures in my family.

  • Theresa

    I also tend to cuss when I am emphasizing a point, but not in certain company. This is the habit I am changing, starting right now. Congratulations on overcoming your habit!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you, keep on pushing!

  • FACE

    Okay, folks…

    First off, best wishes for success to everyone engaged in the challenge!

    I’ve decided to pursue changing three habits, which I’ve had only marginal success at attempting to deal with thusfar…

    1) A variety of exercises every morning, 20-30 minutes, in order to shed 20 lbs by the end of the year (and also to facilitate being able to do a few chinups/pullups, after recovering from a rotator cuff injury)

    2) Making sure that I get at LEAST 6 hours of sleep nightly (other than occasional naps, I cannot remember the last time that I’ve had 6 solid hours of sleep!)

    3) And lastly, trying to finally let go of the remaining toxic feelings of an 8 year relationship, which ended about half a year ago; in particular, to no longer focus on what I allowed myself to tolerate (in the name of love)…but to send forgiveness to the universe – and to promise myself that if I ever see her again, the absolute worst I’ll allow myself to do verbally will be to remind her that she was responsible for the choices she made…and that there really is no reason to ever expect any interest or concern from me again.

  • Deborah Pelletier

    Interesting timing of this post. I’ve been appointed the site coordinator for the United Way at my workplace. So, I’m trying to think of ways to fund raise. Aside from the rounds of Golf I have to auction off I thought of a swear jar! Although it makes me cringe when others swear I know for a fact I will be a major contributor to that jar! lol!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Great work!

  • NitaB

    Just saw this contest. I try to drastically limit my computer time on the weekends. (and semi-drastically during the week) Learned that from ETR!
    For the next 6 weeks I will STICK to my workout instead of just talking about it. I will do at least 50 push ups (whatever level I am able at the time) and 15 pull ups (with the strap until I don’t need it.) every other day. I will do 50 lunges, and 50 squats (or burpees) every other day as well. I will do 3 plank sessions (to include side planks) I will also do some form of stretching routine Every day (yoga or such). And 50 reps of some form of Ab builders. I tend to not stick to those because I get bored. But if I mix them up…. maybe I’ll get em done. I mean… I WILL get them done!
    I’m also trying to learn to meditate. No promises there, but I am going to keep trying until I feel I’m There. I might already have it mastered for all I know (doubtful) but I don’t FEEL that I have, so therefore… I haven’t. Right?

    • Craig Ballantyne

      You rock!

  • alex_mp

    How’s it going so far Susan? I am on day 3 with no snooze… we’ll see how it’s going by the end of the week :)

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Nice work!

  • Kyla Barton

    so far 2 nights down with one infraction. Yes, I did give into my ‘disordered’ habit of overflowing my protein shake with water (to fill about 3 protein shaker cups). This is harder than I though! Thats $5 set aside to the ASPCA foundation in honor of Bally the dog. Im not giving up though!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thanks Kyla! (from Bally!)

  • Kathy Gunn

    The list just keeps getting longer. I am not promising anything that I do not believe that I can not produce. I will consume the recommended water intake, I am no longer practicing Self Sabotage, I am working out before I use the internet each day. I have taken wheat and milk out of my diet and feel really better without the milk. I feel very happy in my chest. I feel proud of myself for enjoying this. It is good to feel good about myself.

  • Tana Lane

    I pledge to quit raising my voice at the kids. I know it doesn’t work but I just keep doing it. For every infraction – I owe a dollar to the “jar”

  • Barbara

    wow the hardest thing for me is of all things to practice the piano before I start my workday or get on the computer – the piano had always since childhood been the candy that if I do my choirs well I get to play or as a stick that if I do not do what is expected well enough than no piano. I felt like a kid not wanting to be wayward as if sneaking a no no…I wonder if I do this with all my goals and why I complain about being stuck…hmmm

  • Stormy

    I’m going to take the stairs instead of the elevator. It’s 72 steps from the ground floor to the 4th floor where my office is. I can handle those, even with backpacks, computers, lunches, etc.

  • Rodrigo

    I’ll stop drinking beer every day. I’ll stop smoking marijuana and cigarettes.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Yes, you can’t succeed on that lifestyle. Stay strong!

  • Ereni

    I will stop saying “i’m too old” for this or that

    • Craig Ballantyne


  • http://honoluluaunty.com/ Honolulu Aunty

    I will not play those useless internet games on Facebook – like the stupid Bubble Witch Saga and Candy Crush Saga – or limit the playing time on them to later in the evening.
    Also, I will not watch Korean Dramas during the day.

    Instead, I will treat my businesses and investment activities like a 9-5 job, and during those “working” hours, I will be working rather than interrupting it with “play breaks.”

  • Ben

    What a great idea!!
    I will also start mine with the bad words that make me feel tough, and sound stupid!
    Meant to be positive, and not critical, one for you: Misspellings being missed by your spell-check. I’ve seen a couple today: “there” instead of “their”, and “you’re” instead of “your.”

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thanks for catching that! – Craig

  • Kelly

    Completed my challenge. I no longer obsess looking at my stomach and thinking it looks horrible. I track my progress with pictures now every other week or so. It was such a tie feeling that I needed to look everyday, a few times a day. Thanks for the challenge. I will continue

    • Craig Ballantyne

      great to hear!

  • Seth

    I will stop eating late at night, and I will stop eating foods that serve no purpose other than to make me want to keep eating.

  • alex_mp

    I DID IT!! Thanks for the challenge. I did not hit snooze once during the challenge… my money stays with me and I’m up 10 minutes earlier each day.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Great to hear!

  • Nina Malinda Atan

    i have many times , now and again tell myself to stop lying to my husband. yet i do it so many times a year….at least once a week. But i find myself doing it again and again ,out of fear. Lying is wrong, there’s no excuse. …

  • noddy

    pray-at least 30mins morning and night
    sleep-at least 6hrs nightly (10pm-4am)
    eat-breakfast, lunch and dinner(incorporate water)
    time-early to work(6am-2pm), early to church(9am-1pm), early/on-time for all engagements.
    Starts TONIGHT, PLATOS in 3days…..3wks, 6wks,…..and in 3 months I possess a NEW DOUBLE LIFE!!!
    Pay-off-great confidence, boldness and powerful/valuable talk by the special help of the Holy Spirit. LOOKING FORWARD TO IT – THANKS EVERYONE FOR SHARING. WISH YOU ALL THE VERY BEST!

  • anonymous in need of help

    is this contest still going on?? I have 3 bad habits that control my life and despite my best efforts they always go back. I need incentive I need this contest or another just for me please. Alot to ask and sounds desperate maybe even self absorbed to think you would create one for me.. but if I explained my reasons..and the way its slowly ruined my life little by little and then all at once.. you would understand why.. -Anonymous person who has alot to live for and cannot stop the cycle

    • ttcert

      The contest is over, but keep on pushing on. Make the changes. Please, keep on pushing on.

      • http://www.miamibeachvacationrentalhomes.com Harry James Johnson Jr

        Thank you ttcert! Although I cannot send you a personal thank you card, I appreciate you. Even though the contest is over, and maybe you are getting paid to do this, your genuine enthusiasm shines through. These are not just rote words I hear and feel from you. You make a difference with your encouragement. Thank you ttcert!

    • Motivated

      I’m with you. And I am going to do this anyway. And you can, too. My own charity will be a program for the handicapped in my church. My big issue is smoking. I will be 60 in December and have had this nasty habit since I was 16. I am tired of the smell & feeling like others hate to get close because I smell like cigarette smoke. The money I spend on this dastardly habit could definitely be put to better use. When I am at meetings or church functions, I don’t crave them, even if it is several hours or even days. There are only a handful of people I will light up in front of. If I can go for days without them, I can go for life. But, trying to change more than one thing at a time is not the wisest way to do things, as it leads to feelings of overwhelm and deprivation. Pick one and when you have that under control, go for the next one. That’s my plan. All the best to you in your endeavors. You will be in my prayers.

      • ttcert

        Stay strong. You must do this for your health!

  • scotirish

    I found your particular habit interesting because I had it bad, cussing. Of course I was in an environment where cussing was the norm. I left prison behind for the last time 36 years ago after spending about 17 1/2 years imprisoned in about a dozen penitentiaries across America. I guess you could say I broke that habit. A Prison school teacher told me God could change my life, she was right and He changed her life as well. She has been my wife for 34 years. I was playing cards with some fella’s and thought this one guy was keeping score, when he stopped abruptly and said “Thomson, if you ever stop cussing you are going to have to learn to talk all over again. Out of 300 words about 15 aren’t cuss words. When God changed my life he changed that first. As I near 70 and after many attempts, and in fact even with success on occasions, I have stopped smoking. Today is Day 33 value $396 and there is my incentive.;

    • ttcert

      Really appreciate the feedback, congrats on your changed life.

  • Eco

    I have the bad habit of going to bed very late read, and type on the computer; and then as it is so late I wake up often and wake to get up in the typical morning hours. I am therefore tired and do not have a great day or put in the best hours with family. Just thinking how much I could accomplish by getting to bed earlier and to not be tired the next day moves me to break this habit.

    • ttcert

      Yes, stay strong and disciplined!

  • Eco

    Thanks I named myself Eco as I see the echo in many of the family. Some seem to make up the lost hours and some don’t and seem as fine. Extra stress and being computer bugs don’t help. We have a habit of wanting to learn much and now need to apply what we’ve learned. So I can now discipline with these also. Thanks.

    • ttcert

      Stay strong!