by Paul Casey

Common Career-Limiting Habits and How to Break Them

by Paul Casey | October 18, 2021

You are performing well at work, hitting your productivity goals, and even taking on extra work. Over the last couple of years, you’ve been passed over for promotions by people with less experience. Scratching your head, you wonder, “What gives?” It’s possible that you have taken on one or more career-limiting habits.

According to VitalSmarts, 97% of us have at least one ingrained habit that keeps us from achieving our true potential. These habits can be subtle and so familiar to us that we may not see them as being a problem. Or we may not even be aware we are doing things that others, especially our boss, perceive as negative or problematic.

If your feel like you are doing everything right at work and still aren’t progressing the way you would like to, it could have something to do with what you ARE DOING rather than something you AREN’T doing. In this situation, it’s a good idea to take a look at yourself and some of the career-limiting habits you may have adopted. They could be overshadowing your skills and keeping you from expressing your true potential.

Let’s explore the five most common career-limiting habits and some ways to overcome them so you can improve your chances of getting that next promotion and becoming your very best self.

1. Unreliability

Being unreliable isn’t something any of us strive for. However, we can unknowingly build a reputation of unreliability if we are not transparent, routinely miss deadlines, are always late to meetings, or demonstrate inconsistent or poor quality in our work. When these things happen consistently over time, it’s a sign that you aren’t taking responsibility for yourself. You may end up blaming others when you fall short. You can see the downward spiral with this one, can’t you? If more than one of these behaviors is the norm rather than the exception for you, take heart, there are several ways you can reverse this habit.

How do you break this career-limiting habit?

  • Organize and prioritize:

Sometimes unreliability is a result of being overwhelmed. Maybe you are trying to juggle too many tasks or trying to please everyone by saying yes to everything. Being accommodating may seem like a good idea and a direct path to success, but if you can’t keep up with your commitments, it ends up hurting you in the end. Start by managing your commitments. Take a look at what you have on your plate and make time to prioritize and organize your work. If you simply can’t take some things on, it’s better to say no upfront, than it is to take the task and risk contributing to the perception that you are unreliable.

  • Be a proactive communicator.

When you communicate with your boss that you are behind on a project before the deadline, that shows you are taking responsibility and ownership for your work. Taking responsibility helps build reliability.

  • Finish what you start.

Some people are great at starting projects but can’t seem to get them to the finish line. If this sounds like you, take some time to think about what process, support, or system you need to put in place to help you complete what you start. Just think how good it will feel when you list off your completed tasks or projects to your boss. Your reliability rating will grow like crazy!

  • Honor yourself.

What I mean by that is, respect your time and your values. When you do things that make you look unreliable, are you really honoring what you stand for? Probably not. Take some time to reflect on your values and let them guide you as you make decisions throughout your day.

2. “It’s Not My Job” Attitude

This attitude is a sure way to alienate yourself on a team. It may help you avoid doing extra work, but in the long run it will prevent you from advancing in your career. If it’s said often enough, you may never be given a chance to grow because people will stop asking you to do new things or take on extra work. Another problem with this attitude is that it can create the perception that you are lazy and unaccommodating. Team members with this attitude aren’t really team members.

How can you break this career-limiting habit?

  • Learn how to say no.

Being a great employee or team member isn’t about saying yes to everything; that habit has its pitfalls as well. However, it is about learning to say yes or no in a way that works for you and the person requesting your help. Instead of saying “That’s not my job” when a teammate asks for help with a report, consider if you really can help them. If not, try saying something like, “I’d really like to help you with that, but I just don’t have the capacity in my schedule right now.”

  • Separate your job from your role.

Another way to get out of this mindset is to look at your job separately from your role. At an organization, everyone really has the same “job” – to contribute to the organization by applying their unique skills and talents in their role. Your role may play out differently depending on your position, title, or specialty. Making the distinction between job and role can help you see that contributing to the organization is in fact your job, but the way you do it will be determined through your role.

Have you Heard about Bull’s Eye? 
Bull’s Eye is a members-only community for busy managers that gives you a constant flow of everything you need to grow and develop you direct reports. I provide new content every month to help keep you and your team growing forward!
Sign up Today!

3. Procrastination

Otherwise known as hesitancy and a lack of urgency. You cannot grow forward if you continue to stay where you are. Putting off action items that have the potential for payoff only causes regrets and lost time/opportunities. A habit of procrastination goes hand-in-hand with not finishing what you start and can create a perception of being unreliable.

How can you break this career-limiting habit?

  • Replace excuses with action.

You can either make excuses or make progress. To put an end to procrastination, start by replacing your most common excuses with action steps

  • Avoid overwhelm.

Do you find yourself putting things off because “there’s too much going on”? When feeling overwhelmed, it’s natural to put things off or to only do the quick and easy tasks so that you feel some sort of accomplishment. Try ranking your tasks by priority level so you are spending your precious time on what’s most important. Breaking large projects into smaller chunks can also make your workload feel more manageable and less overwhelming.

  • Organize.

Sometimes simply getting organized can help get you motivated. This could look like organizing your workspace, maximizing a planner or calendar and strategically scheduling your day or setting bite-sized goals.  It’s important to remember that taking time to organize, plan and prioritize your work is not selfish. It is necessary to help you truly be the best you can be.

4. Resistance to Change

“The greatest discovery of all time is that a person can change his future by merely changing his attitude” – Oprah Winfrey

Nothing will limit your career opportunities faster than the inability to adapt or embrace change. Without change, there would be no growth, no forward momentum. If you find yourself always being the one who says, “We’ve already tried that and it didn’t work” or “We’ve done it this way for 20 years, why change now?” then you might want to consider how this attitude could be impacting the way your boss or team members see you. An inability to flex with changes could be impeding your ability to grow or advance.

How can you break this career-limiting habit?

  • Get clarity.

Change is hard for all of us, and it happens in every aspect of our lives. To better handle change, get clarity on what exactly needs to change. When change is vague it can be overwhelming and sometimes paralyzing. Try asking questions until you have a clear picture.

  • Focus on the positive result.

Whether it’s an organizational change or making personal changes, like shedding the career-limiting habits, that you have difficulty with, keep your focus on what will improve because of the change

  • Start small.

Change can be scary and filled with lots of ambiguity. If you’ve gotten clarity about the change and can see the positive result, the next thing to try is to create small action steps and keep slow, steady progress. Breaking down what you need to do to flex with the change into small action steps with steady progress can make the process of changing feel more manageable and improve your chances of success. When your boss or your teammates see how you can handle change, they will naturally want to be right alongside you rather than avoiding you or passing you over when the next promotion comes along.

“Realize that if you have time to whine and complain about something, then you have the time to do something about it.” – Anthony D’Angelo

5. Negativity and Cynicism

If you notice that you tend to shoot down new ideas, act as a roadblock when others need help, or just feel a general sense of negativity about your job, this is another sign that some self-reflection is needed. Constantly complaining or shooting down ideas is a sure-fire way to alienate yourself and keep you from being perceived as a team player or even a leader.

How can you break this career-limiting habit?

  • Ask yourself “Why?”

Once you notice that you are the “Negative Ned or Nancy” on your team, a great question to ask yourself is simply “Why?” Keep asking yourself “Why?” until you get down to the core of the negativity reactor. You might discover that you’ve lost passion for the work you do, or the stressors you have going on in your personal life are bleeding into your work life, or maybe you are experiencing burnout? Taking time to ask yourself this question is time well spent and can lead to greater self-awareness. Once you understand the “Why,” you can then make an informed choice.

  • Boost your positivity.

Finding ways to boost your positivity is also helpful. This could look like practicing gratitude – finding three things every day that you are grateful for and writing them down or journaling about them. Connecting with people that you love, taking time to laugh, and doing something you love every day are other ways you can connect with the positivity in and around you.


As we noted in the article, change is hard. Addressing these career-limiting habits may take some time and some self-reflection, but the payoff will be so rewarding. Chances are you will not only improve your performance at work and be a rock-star team member, but you will feel better about yourself and more positive about life in general. Start by recognizing the career-limiting habit, set small action steps to change it, and ask for feedback from your boss or peers about your progress. With these steps in place, your career path will be limitless.

Paul Casey has been a professional speaker, leadership coach, and author for over 25 years. He is an ACC-certified coach with the International Coaching Federation, a Master Trainer, and is a member of the National Speakers Association. Through his company, Growing Forward Services, Paul partners with his corporate and individual clients to transform their vision, their habits, and their lives. Paul is married to Lovely Laura, has two grown children named after state capitals, owns a cat named Sasha, and has lived in the Tri-Cities, WA, for over 20 years. For fun, he enjoys golfing, hiking, and bicycling—and orange slices—and he reads about 40 books per year. Contact Paul for coaching, team building, or speaking engagements.


4 minutes a month to ask yourself questions, see others giving back, and be inspired to grow a little bit more everyday. Directly in your inbox.

Culture Drives Your Business

Where is yours headed?

Get a glimpse at your corporate culture with a free culture audit. Do your mission, vision, and values truly drive your organization?

Download your free 2024 Culture Trend Report now!