Jan 22, 2024
You are not the problem, your systems are




One day in high school, a friend of mine called me out for using one particular word over and over. She asked me to stop saying it.

Most of us have a couple words we use prevalently. Adjectives, filler words, swear words, etc.

As communicators, if we are constantly using the same words over and over, they become less meaningful and they lose their power. Our audience also might lose interest. Just like using a myriad of colors when painting a beautiful sunset landscape, our words become much more interesting and engaging when we diversify our language.

When my friend pointed this word out to me, I realized she was right. I did automatically say it all the time.

It was a habit.

Though I didn’t believe the word was bad, I knew the importance of having the ability to choose my words and control what I say. As healthy leaders, we want to communicate with pinpointed precision and clarity. Our tongues have the power to tear down and build up. We want to build up those we lead.

So I decided to break the habit.

I had an idea. I decided to slap myself in the face every time I said that word. Most people put a rubber band around their wristband and snap it. But I wanted to break the habit and I didn’t think a rubber band was going to be effective.

Shortly after making this commitment, I was talking with a different friend in front of our lockers in between classes and I accidentally said the word. So, without skipping a beat, I smacked myself on the cheek right in front of her.

Of course, I got a strange look from my friend, who asked what on earth I was doing. It was embarrassing as I explained myself and, believe me, I broke that habit really quickly.




Developing a system of habits is key to not only accomplishing our goals, but becoming the person we want to become.

"The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity,” writes James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. “It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this."

In high school, I wanted to be the type of person who made a positive difference in the lives of other people. I understood the power of words and wanted to become a person who intentionally used words to impact and inspire others. That’s still true today. I want to encourage and challenge people out of their comfort zone to be the amazing person they are designed to be.

By intentionally dismantling that bad habit, I was actively becoming a better communicator. I was becoming more of who I’m designed to be.

We can also develop good habits that propel us closer to our goals and transform us into the person we want to become.

What habit do you need to establish?

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear marks out a guide for developing effective habits that stick:


Make your habit visible. Think about the simple habit of charging my phone every night. The charger is in plain sight, sitting next to my bed. I also keep a journal and a puzzle book on my nightstand. That way, I see those books in the evening when I get in bed. This allows me to keep my mind sharp with a quick puzzle and then clearing my mind by writing my thoughts down so I can have a restful night's sleep. Make your habit obvious.


Most habits we want to implement are things that are good for us but not something we want to do. That’s why good habits are so hard to stick with for the long term. By pairing our new habits with something fun, we are much more likely to do it. Our family has the habit of going for walks after dinner. Unless it’s 0 degrees outside, of course. My son did not enjoy going on these walks so we made it more enjoyable by having him bring a remote control car or kick a soccer ball. Make your habit attractive.


The less effort we need to exert, the more likely we will follow through with our habits. When I set out my exercise clothes the night before, I’m more likely to put them on the next morning. I store my running shoes by the front door and rather than putting my weights away in the case, I leave them on the floor, ready for my next workout. Make your habit easy.


Over time, we want to experience results that are satisfying. By tracking our habits, we can look back and see our progress. Make it visual. One example from Atomic Habits was how a successful salesman would have a jar of paperclips. Everyday he would make a sales call and remove one paperclip until the jar was empty. Turning an abstract habit into a tangible win is motivating. Make your habit satisfying.

If you want to break a bad habit, do the opposite. Make that habit invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying.




Building a house doesn’t happen in a day; it takes laying a solid foundation, brick by brick.

Developing pivotal habits involves making small, intentional changes. Brainstorm ways to make simple tweaks to your day in order to make your desired good habits obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying (or the opposite for breaking a bad habit).

Simple changes like buying fresh fruit and salad that’s ready to eat to make an easy lunch will propel you closer to eating healthier. Moving the bags out of the cabinet and placing them next to the cat box is a small, intentional step to streamline the process and make the habit of cleaning the box easier.

Create a space where habits are obvious and visual. Find a location where you can stay focused and motivated.

As the editor for the Speak with People blog, I regularly write articles as well as edit ones written by guest contributors. It is easier for me to stay in the habit of editing and writing effectively when I schedule time to be at the library, focus and do deep work. When I edit in my home office, I often get distracted by other work related tasks or other things like my cat and that one holiday decoration I forgot to put away. Find the best place for you to implement your habit.

Your turn. Whether you’re breaking the habit of using filler words or implementing a habit to improve your health, how can you make your habit obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying?

Then tell someone who can keep you accountable! They will cheer you on when you succeed and give you a loving kick when you don’t follow through and need the push. More on that next week!


By Caitlyn Neel - Cofounder, Speak with People

As a Certified Life Coach, Caitlyn uses proven tools and powerful exercises to customize a journey of personal and professional growth so that you can accomplish your goals. For one-on-one coaching, learn about Speak with People's Life Design Program.