Essays & Confessions

How To Start Defining Yourself By Your Good Habits Instead Of Your Bad Ones

By | Thursday, October 12, 2017

I crack my knuckles at least a few times an hour.

I sometimes put off things I don’t want to deal with so long that they become much bigger problems than they deserve to be.

I can’t stop myself from buying a cookie when I go out for coffee.

I chew my fingernails.

I get annoyed at my boyfriend when he’s busy at work and doesn’t respond immediately to the cute cat photo I sent him.

These are just some of my bad habits, financial and otherwise. There have been many times when I’ve thought of writing a post listing every single bad habit I have and how I’m trying to fix it. But, personally, I don’t see what I would get out of that. Sure, these are all things I need to work on. (And you better believe that, when you crack your knuckles or bite your fingernails, people will remind you of this.) In fact, they’re all things I’m actively working on, most of the time.

But harping on my bad habits — or really, any of my negative qualities — doesn’t feel healthy. Think about how so many of us, as women, feel about our bodies: we spend most of our time fixating on the “imperfect” parts. I find trouble balancing the idea that I want to feel my best without wishing I looked a certain way, something I’m sure many others struggle with. There are simply always going to be negatives, things we wish we could improve but only have so much control over. We’re going to keep going through life as imperfect bodies (according to societal expectations, at least), no matter how much we keep leveling up.

I think the same can be said for other, non-physical parts of our lives. For example, I have a friend who has some minor credit card debt (a few thousand dollars last I checked) left over from when she was a broke graduate student a little over a year ago. It’s a very small amount of debt in the grand scheme of things, which she knew — but it was still making her incredibly anxious. From my perspective, it seemed like she felt like she was failing because of her debt, even though she was doing well in other aspects of her life.

But after talking about it and working out an action plan for herself, she felt a lot better. She even wrote me, saying, “I have to tell ya. I feel a lot better after chatting about my credit card debt with you — I feel like I have a plan now.” (For those who don’t know, I am not a financial expert, and my suggestions were very simple — save up a small emergency fund first, then put anything extra towards paying off debt. It was very basic advice that I certainly didn’t make up and that you can find all over the place here on good ol’ TFD. She’d also already moved her debt to a balance transfer card, which I often think is the right move!)

I honestly think she felt better because she took this small problem — facing the repercussions of her ostensibly bad spending habits as a student — and worked out a plan using one of her best habits. She’s an excellent planner and probably one of the most organized people I know. When she’s paid off all this debt, I hope her first thought won’t be, “Wow, my spending habits were so bad, I can’t believe I got myself in that mess,” but rather, “I set up a plan for myself and stuck to it! I am KICKASS with money.”

There are so many good habits we could choose to focus on — and often, they could be the answer to working through our bad ones. When I focus on the things I’m good at, I feel better about myself and more confident about what I’ve accomplished in life and my career. And you better believe that transmits outward. We don’t have complete control over the image we project to the world — but we have some. And what we do with that “some” is extremely important, not just in how others perceive us, but in how we feel about ourselves. (Not to mention that thinking positively about yourself is super helpful in reducing stress.)

Of course, trying not to define yourself by your bad habits, and instead defining yourself by your good ones, is tricky. It’s something that comes with a lot of active practice. Here are just a few things I do that help me focus more on my good habits and, in turn, continuously build confidence and work through my bad ones.

Write down your good habits like they’re accomplishments. 

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of journaling in all its forms. I don’t stick with just one journaling method — in fact, I kind of jump all over the place. Sometimes I’ll write three pages each morning for five days in a row, and other times I’m lucky if I just remember to check things off my to-do list. But my one constant after nearly two years of journaling is writing down one thing each day that made me happy. The point of this is to remind myself of what I have to be grateful for, even on a small, daily scale, and also to give me something to look back on.

I’ve even started writing down what I do for exercise each day (or at least, for each day I actually exercise). I make a new page for each month (i.e. “October exercise log”) and simply write down what I did and for how long. Then, at the end of the month, I have a big list of all the activities I completed, with minimal effort on my part. (The writing-down part, at least.)

I find this kind of recording is extremely helpful in making me a more positive person because it gives me evidence of having built this habit — even if it’s just for me. It’s easy to say you’re going to do something, but much harder to do it and actually stick with it. A journal or a habit tracker is a simple way to give yourself physical proof of what you’ve accomplished and encourage you to keep improving.

Show off a little, online and IRL.

If you look at my Instagram, you will see a lot of pictures of pie. That is because I love making pies, but I am nowhere near a pie expert — I’m tracking my progress, and I’m learning all the time. But I’m also really proud of them, and I want to share them with the world!

There’s something to be said for getting positive feedback, and sharing your successes with others is a genuine way to encourage that. I’m not saying we all need to become Braggy McBoastful and make every single tweet, Instagram post, or in-person conversation about something we’ve accomplished. But I do think we should be forthcoming about sharing the things we’re proud of. Think of it this way: when a good friend sends you a text about a new job opportunity, progress with her weight loss, or an update on her debt payoff plan, do you get annoyed? Unless she’s extremely obnoxious and only ever talks about herself, probably not. You’re most likely genuinely happy for her and excited to hear more.

Remember — the same goes for you. The people who love you want to see and hear that you’re doing well, with only rare unfortunate exceptions. Don’t be afraid to share what you’ve accomplished and show that you’re proud of it. If someone can’t handle that or thinks you’re “too much” because of it, they’re probably not worth your time.

Start affirming compliments instead of shutting them down.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people (especially women) say they “hate getting compliments.” I’ve even seen it written in a few Twitter bios here and there. And I hate it.

Listen, I know what it feels like to get a compliment that doesn’t do anything to make you feel better. If I’m feeling shitty about how I look on a certain day, a compliment doesn’t magically fix those feelings. If anything, it makes me feel a little like I’m being pitied. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shot down a “you look nice” with an “oh no, my hair is greasy and I’m breaking out, I’m so gross right now.” The same thing for work praise — if someone tells you that you did a good job on a project, is it your instinct to say thank you, or point out everything you did wrong? (I’m so guilty of this.) But most of the time — and I’m not talking about gross catcalls on the street or other forms of harassment, of course — compliments come from a genuine place. When you’re good at something, people tend to notice. And in my experience, learning to graciously accept sincere praise has been one of the best things for getting over insecurities. If you can learn to believe other people when they say nice things about you, you can start to believe those things about yourself, without second-guessing or needing reinforcement.

And one thing that goes hand-in-hand with being good at accepting compliments is being generous with giving them. Notice when you’re impressed with people and why — and tell them. It could be for their work ethic, resourcefulness, guts, integrity, or, yes, ability to put together a killer outfit. Being comfortable giving praise will, in turn, make receiving praise come to you more naturally. You deserve to be good at both.


We all have bad habits we want — and, frankly, need — to work on. That’s a fact, and you’ll find no shortage of articles instructing you how to get rid of them for good. But I do think that only focusing on what we need to improve can be detrimental to growing as a person. Be the person who knows what she’s good at and shows it. Overcoming your bad habits will be much less daunting.

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at!

Image via Unsplash

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