Hard Habit to Brake

“Whatever you do, don’t engage the emergency brake.”

That bit of advice came yesterday from Scott, my auto mechanic, when I picked up my car at the end of the day.

He said the emergency brake cables were catching.

This prevents the brake from releasing completely, which explains why for the past couple of weeks, whenever I began driving it felt like I had a bunch of middle school skateboarders hanging onto the back bumper.

Fortunately, Scott was able to free the cable. But he needs to order some parts to make it permanent. Until then, he warned that if I apply the brake, it’s possible it will lock and the car will be undriveable.

Not using the emergency brake when parking a car with a manual transmission is difficult. You don’t necessarily need it (provided you put the car in gear when you shut it off), but using it is second nature.

So much so, that I’ve had to override my subconscious pulling of the handle by jamming a book between it and the center console, preventing me from getting a grip. It’s been less than 24 hours at this point, and I’ve already reached for that handle at least a dozen times.

Habits are Habit-Forming

Habits are not inherently good or bad – it depends on the specifics.

Applying the emergency brake when you park a car: good. Smoking a pack a day: less so.

When it comes to your business, the same degree of “it depends” applies. Some suggestions…

#1. Institutionalize the Good Habits

If you are a small professional service firm or solo, you may have few rules regarding how your business operates. That can be a competitive advantage – fewer rules means more flexibility to respond based on circumstances.

But operating in total seat-of-the-pants mode isn’t a good idea either. If you are not somewhat systematic and consistent in the way you work, you will create more errors, move more slowly, and make less progress.

For example, if you publish a newsletter, you need an established publication frequency – second Thursday of the month, for example. If you don’t create a system – a habit – you’ll postpone publication as soon as you get busy with other things, eventually walking away from your newsletter entirely.

The same rules apply regarding social media publishing, attending networking events, reviewing your financial reports, or calling your mom (don’t make me name names).

These kinds of important but non-urgent things only happen regularly if you make them habits.

#2. Get Rid of the Bad Habits

When it comes to being invited, I’ll pretty much agree to anything six months or more in the future. Want to speak at this event? Sure. Want to work on this project? I’m in. And no, Mr. Smarty-pants, that’s not how I ended up getting married.

I don’t know where this inclination comes from, but it’s happened enough that I’ve learned (mostly) to never agree to anything on the spot. No matter how attractive it sounds, I force myself to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.”

That’s just one; I have other self-defeating habits. You probably do too.

The more you can raise your self-awareness about your less-than-positive tendencies, the more able you will be to counteract them.

#3. Find Some New Habits

Even the good habits can lead to tunnel vision.

The longer you’ve been in business, the more likely you are doing things on autopilot. That may be efficient, but it may also mean you are overlooking ways to improve.

The problem here, of course, is that it’s hard to notice what we don’t notice.

My best solution is to try and pay attention to how other people do things and compare it to my approach.

That might be things like trying a different type of software or app, finding things to outsource, switching up your work schedule, experimenting with new ways to keep in touch with your contacts, or reviewing your recurring expenses to see if the things you spend money on still make sense.

Few of these modifications are necessary. But by keeping your eyes open and continually experimenting, you will uncover improvements, some of which can be significant.

Bottom Line

Habits remove the need to make new decisions about every action, every day.

But they are only useful to the extent they move us in the right direction.

Gotta run, time for my afternoon coffee. On second thought, maybe I should try tea?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you know how to drive a car with a manual transmission?
  2. Have you ever hung onto the back bumper of a moving vehicle?
  3. What negative habit in your life or business would you like to change?

Share your answers below…

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18 thoughts on “Hard Habit to Brake

      1. Deborah Davis

        2. No, but I’ve drafted off a semi on a bike.

        3. Thinking through a sane timeline before accepting a project.

  1. Keanisha Mona Johnson

    I have a couple of negative habits to change in my life.
    1. Fixing my priorities
    2. Organizing my mental thoughts

  2. Kimberly M Rupert

    Yes, I used to drive a red Toyota Spider convertible. I learned how to drive a stick in this car.
    I don’t think I’ve ever held on to a car bumper while it was driving.
    I need to slow down and read the full email; it has caught me a few times and gotten me into hot water.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      My first was a burnt orange used 1979 toyota corolla. Bought it without knowing how to drive a stick. Some uncomfortble moments in Boston traffic!

  3. Suzanne Quigley

    Question 1: Yes, I can drive a manual transmission. Coincidentally, I also learned how in a Chevy Chevette!
    Question 2: As a matter of fact, I HAVE RIDDEN on the back bumper of a moving vehicle. I was about six years old, and my oldest brother had his learner’s permit and was practicing backing up and pulling forward in our driveway. I thought, what the heck? and jumped on. My stunt didn’t sit well with my parents.
    Question 3: Getting hung up on those stupid, trivial things that life throws at you regularly rather than just letting them go.

  4. Lindsay Gower

    1. I bought a manual transmission Corolla and learned how to drive it — in San Francisco! (Talk about “the hills are alive”…!).
    2. My goodness NO!
    3. I just got a water filter pitcher, but I keep filing my glass from the *faucet*. That’s a habit of decades; I will persevere.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      San Fran may be the worst place on earth to learn! But I bet you are pretty good at it as a result.

  5. Barrie

    Thanks for this great reminder about habits.
    Last year, I rented a manual shift car in Lisbon Portugal (no automatics available) to explore the coastal towns on vacation with my wife. I hadn’t driven a stick shift for at least 30 years!
    The towns outside of Portugal (Eviceira, Nazare, Penice…) are hillier than San Francisco! And I had a sore left ankle. Though I stalled out a few times, I never rolled back. A great experience and a success!

  6. Mike

    1. Yes, and I’m the only one in my family who does which defaults me to the driver :-/
    2. No — thankfully as a kid I wasn’t *that* dumb
    3. Moving the needle on my hard tasks — “the big rocks” — first, before the easy tasks “the pebbles”


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