Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Five Key Moves to Overcoming Career-Limiting Habits

Your path to success

Too many people are stuck in a career rut. Getting up in the morning and going to work, for them, isn’t fun and exciting; instead it is drudgery. They feel frustrated and think the boss doesn’t appreciate them, or treats them unfairly. Often, they don’t realize how their actions are holding them back. In fact, a survey of more than 950 people by VitalSmarts found that 97 percent of employees reported they have a Career-Limiting Habit (CLH) that keeps them from achieving their potential at work. VitalSmarts says these habits cost employees raises and promotions they might have otherwise received. The survey, which was reported on the firm’s website, referred to five career-limiting habits (CLH). These include: (1) unreliability, (2) responding with “it’s not my job,” (3) procrastination, (4) resistance to change and (5) projecting a negative attitude. If you aren’t where you expect you should be, consider whether any of these might be holding you back. And if your boss or other superior mentions any of them to you directly, or through the grapevine, take notice!

If you find yourself in a career rut and think CLHs may be holding you back, let’s look at five top ways to pull yourself out and help you find going to work more rewarding:

(1) Write down your desired outcome. Where is it you want to go? Does the role you are in position you well on the path to your desired future? Sometimes we get negative or procrastinate simply because we are doing a job we hate and we can’t see where we are going. Take the time to write down your vision and then commit to work toward it. Keep it in front of you in a noticeable place. Remember that where you are now isn’t necessarily where you will be long-term. Make this a stepping stone, and be as positive and engaged as possible to make it a good step.

(2) Identify your obstacles—capture them in writing. What’s bugging you about the job? The boss? The company? Take a few minutes to air all of your grievances (to yourself!) in writing. Next, organize them into three categories: those within your control, those within your influence and those out of your control. Put a big slash mark through all of those which are out of your control entirely. Now brainstorm what you can do to overcome the remaining obstacles. Many times we act out in negative ways because we feel stuck. This process allows you to identify issues you can control somehow, and then make a plan to address them.

(3) Understand behavioral and communication styles. Pay attention to your own style—are you assertive? Are you a quiet thinker and planner? Are you a talker? Note how you come across. Next, very importantly, pay attention to your boss’ style. Are there differences between the way your boss communicates and your own style? If your boss is direct and “get it done” and you need time to process information and plan, that boss may perceive you as procrastinating. They may think you are resistant to change because you don’t act assertively enough. Modify your approach to match the boss’ style. Use the same words your boss uses, match their tone and approach to the degree you can. Mismatched style leads to many misunderstandings about effectiveness and intention.

(4) Figure out your alternatives. Seek outside experts or inside mentors to talk to about your options for changing. Ask for advice and feedback on what you are doing right, and where you might need to modify. Take a look around the culture—who succeeds and why? Become like a detective, curious and interested to learn more. Many people, once they find themselves engaging in CLH, get stuck there. Refuse to go negative; take this as a learning opportunity to find out more about how you got stuck and look for “clues” to get unstuck. Trying different things to see what works and what doesn’t can be fun, if you take the attitude that you are trying to learn.

(5) Watch your self-talk. Think the boss is a jerk? Hate the company culture? Can’t stand the people in the corner offices? The more you tell yourself how horrible they are, the more you will respond negatively in your behavior. Remember that most people, including company leaders, haven’t had the chance to learn good leadership skills. They are often doing the best they can. Try to give them a mental break. Make it your job or your role to be helpful to them, and to the company overall. If you find you just can’t stand the person or people in charge no matter what you try, it might be time to find another job. Our minds can’t focus on two things at once. If you are convinced your co-workers are terrible, it will be very hard to get up in the morning and get excited about going to work.

Remember that we often control the perception of people around us more than we think. Take the steps to turn your CLH into career-enhancing habits, and look forward to your next review!

More from Beverly D. Flaxington
More from Psychology Today
More from Beverly D. Flaxington
More from Psychology Today