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The Habits That Hold You Back at Work - Sylvia Baldock


Habits are learned behaviours that have been so ingrained in our psyche that we often don’t even notice we are doing them.

They are hard wired in the Striatum of the brain and are very difficult to eradicate by pure will power alone. The most effective and lasting way to get rid of bad habits is by replacing them with new empowering ones.

Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith have identified 12 habits that hold us back: these are discussed in their great book entitled - ‘How Women Rise’.

Although these were written with women in mind, they absolutely apply to men and I am sure you will resonate with many of them.

86% of women handle all the primary family responsibilities

(Bright Horizons Modern family Index report)

Because of these pressing demands on their time and energy and the later starts because of school runs, women often adopt habits to overcompensate at work to keep up with their male counterparts

Surveys show that men are generally more driven by financial reward, position, competition and winning whereas whilst women appreciate the rewards, they also want to enjoy their work, to be happy at work and to be liked.

They want to encourage collaboration, build strong relationships, have good work/life balance and to feel they are making a difference.

Whilst juggling their many diverse responsibilities, women can fall into regular habits that ultimately prevent them from progressing in their career at the speed of their male colleagues if at all. This can leave them feeling undervalued and overlooked.

Let’s look at some of the self-limiting Habits in more detail and the impact they have on our career pathway.

  1. Reluctance to claim your achievements.

We are brought up to be modest, to be humble and particularly as women, to nurture and care for others.

I well remember my father saying “Don’t get above your station young lady” when I was excited about achieving great results at school.

This hardwiring from childhood means we naturally default to deflecting praise, feeling we don’t deserve it.

Hearing good things about ourselves can often make us feel uncomfortable or even embarrassed.

We handle this by making light of what we have done or hiding it altogether by saying things like – “It was nothing” or by shining the light on others or praising the team.

Socially, we instantly deflect compliments on our appearance, particularly our clothes with typical responses such as -

“This old thing – I have had it for ages”


“It’s only Primark” or “it was £5 in the Charity shop”

When we do this, it is like throwing the compliment back and it is deflating for the giver. When people respond to praise or a compliment with “thank you, you have made my day’” there is an exchange of the feel-good hormone, Oxytocin, and both people feel uplifted by the interaction.

THE IMPACT of deflecting compliments at work is that we play small, minimise TRUST and will stop ourselves being seen as a major player. This can lead to us being stuck in the same role for years because we show no signs of progression or personal growth.

To overcome this habit, start consciously saying ”thank you” when you are praised or complimented and feel the flow of Oxytocin as you receive and relish the gift that has been given to you. Watch the impact it also has on the giver and I guarantee you will soon get rid of the deflecting habit that leaves everyone feeling deflated.

Also, by accepting the praise for work done well – you will be seen as a major contributor to the success of the team and ultimately of the business.

  1. Expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your achievements.

When people want to get noticed, they often default to working long hours, taking on multiple tasks and beavering away doing everything they can to excel in their job. They often go above and beyond the call of duty and do it all under the radar whilst expecting to get noticed.

The impact of this is that you keep a low profile and your efforts can often go largely unnoticed.

Sally Helgeson tells a story of 2 Associate solicitors who are being considered for Partner, one man and one woman. They both deliver excellent results and are well respected by their peers however there is only one position available.

The Senior partner started the discussions by extolling both their virtues and then saying he felt the role should go to John as he felt they would lose him if he wasn’t promoted now.

The only female partner in the room challenged him and asked why Laura should be overlooked, the response was that Laura had never expressed any interest in Partnership whereas John had made it very clear from day one that he wanted the promotion within his 1st year with the firm.

How to overcome this habit of expecting to get noticed by working hard

Set out your expectations from day one in your new job or role

Ask about the career pathway and make it clear you want to keep stepping up.

Find out-

Who you need to talk to get the best advice and support to keep evolving?

Who do you need to model?

What do you need to learn? Are their qualifications you need?

Make your ambition clear.

  1. Overvaluing expertise. Feeling a need to know everything about your company’s products/services/industry sector/competitors/history etc.

Many women, when promoted to a new role, feel they have to spend hours studying everything about that role so they can become an ‘expert’.

Often this is because they question their own ability to do the role effectively and often feel they have to ‘keep up with’ their male counterparts.

The impact of this is that you can seem remote and detached because you are more interested in being an ‘expert’ than leading or collaborating with your colleagues and producing results.

Sally Helgeson references a woman promoted to lead a Marine engineering team.

She knew there was some resentment in her appointment and questions around her expertise and ability to do the role and she also had very little knowledge and expertise in this field.

She decided to study Marine engineering for her 1st 3 months so she could get to grips with the industry and the many challenges that might come her way.

She failed to connect with the team and seemed out of touch with many of them complaining about the lack of contact and direction.

The CEO eventually stepped in and challenged her on what she was doing. When she explained she was trying to become an ‘expert’ in Marine Engineering, he told her that was not what she was employed to do. She had been appointed to the role because of her leadership skills not for her knowledge in this field.

When she fully appreciated this and understood that she was failing the team, she started to make the right connections through networking in the Marine Engineering arena. She started tapping into the knowledge of experts who could offer specific advice and guidance to her team and clients and everything changed.

She started to lead the team and exceled in the role she had been brought in to do and she gained the respect and co-operation of even the most initially resentful members of the team.

What can you do to break the habit of needing to be an ‘Expert’?

Ask yourself the following questions –

Why was I given my current role?

What unique value do I bring to the workplace?

What help and advice can I tap into to help me excel?

What connections do I need?

Finally – always value people first over any learning and expertise.

  1. Failing to enlist allies from day one.

Women can often take a while to make ‘friends’ at work – preferring to keep a low profile and take time to integrate quietly into the team and their role.

First impressions count and being friendly, helpful and interested in others from day one, will go a long way to how you are perceived and how quickly you are accepted as ‘one of the crowd’.

Taking time to get to know people at a deeper level will pay dividends in your progression through the ranks

When we work in isolation we can be seen as an ‘island’ or a ‘loner’ rather than a team player.

If we want to be considered for a more senior role – we need to display the ability to get on with others and to gain their TRUST.

IMPACT - We just blend into the background and remain relatively unnoticed and unknown and get ‘stuck’ just doing the same old job for way to long.

How to break this habit?

Make a real effort to get to know the people you work with as soon as possible.

Invite them for coffee/lunch/drinks and ‘listen’ to what they have to say.

Giving the gift of ‘undiluted listening’ goes a long way to making people feel heard and valued.

Be a ‘team player’ supporting your colleagues when they are stretched and stressed and being a reliable sounding board when they need a reliable and trustworthy ear.

  1. The perfection trap. Working long hours to hit deadlines. Researching and fine tuning to achieve 110% whilst your ever increasing to do list just keeps growing.

‘Perfection is the thief of ‘good enough’!’

Perfectionists will agonise over every project/task/presentation/email etc. – They can feel they have to over-achieve to be taken seriously and to be accepted as a key player in the team.

This often results in the disease of ‘Paralysis of Analysis’ where they find it almost impossible to sign work off or to make important decisions as they endlessly weigh up the pros and cons or embark on just another piece of research or a final ‘proof-read’.

IMPACT – you are perceived to be the block to flow in the business because other teams/colleagues cannot proceed with their actions due to your perfectionism and procrastination. This leads to frustration and ultimately to exclusion from major projects and tasks and your future success.

How to break this habit?

Plan time for each task, set a deadline and stick to it.

Adopt the mindset that good enough is good enough!

To ease your transition away from perfectionism – run your good enough work by a trusted colleague to get their assurance it is good to go!

Enlist other ‘experts’ to take on part of the tasks and help you meet your exacting standards in the desired time frame.

  1. The disease to please. Always considering others. Doing tasks you know they can do but saving them stress. Afraid to say no. Always in rescuer/helper mode thus hiding your leadership qualities.

Feeling we belong is one of our basic needs, however our desire to be liked can mean we often neglect our own needs and remain playing small.

You will end up being spread too thinly and not excelling in any area

IMPACT – you are seen as a people pleaser, someone who always says ‘yes’ to everything to the detriment of your own output. You can also be perceived as someone who is drifting along with no plans for yourself or your future.

How to break this habit?

Think about what this disease to please is costing you.

Analyse your days -how much did you do for others and did you do anything to advance yourself?

Enlist an accountability buddy and ask them to regularly ask you to do things to which you always say ‘no’ so you can get used to turning down request for help that don’t serve you or the business.

  1. Talking too much – too much detail and speaking without thinking first. -women utter an average of 20,000 words/day. Men utter around 7,000 words/day

Women like to give the ‘back story to ideas and suggestions rather than getting to the key message. They can go on at length with no empathy for the people in the room that just want them to get to the point!

IMPACT – Frustration at the waste of time and meetings going on way too long and eating into an already busy schedule. The women who do this can be seen as lacking focus and clarity and of being inconsiderate to the needs of others.

How to break this habit?

Decide what your objective is and what outcome you are seeking to achieve.

Minimise your delivery to 3 key points with suggested actions to be discussed.

Plan out what you are going to say then summarise, practice and bullet point it.

Only deliver what you have prepared – if they want more info you can answer any questions.

Be outcome driven and action orientated rather than verbose.

8.Messy desk, messy mind –

IMPACT - Clutter lowers self-confidence and can make us feel like we no longer have control over our lives.

If you have a shared office space, the state of your desk affects the productivity of everyone else around you.

UK workers waste on average 7 days/year looking for documents at work. Research

Walking into a cluttered office desk creates a stressful day from the start. You feel like you’re behind before the day’s even started.

Clutter causes distractions and according to research, we look at papers on our desk at least 15 times/day. It may just be a glance but it is enough to register that whatever we looked at needs our attention.

A study even showed that 57% of employees and leaders judge their co-workers by the state of their desk.

When you have a messy desk, part of your day is wasted just looking for things. You have to dig through the piles of paper to find the one that you need only to realize it’s actually in a drawer. You have to constantly rearrange the mess just to find the sticky note with that contacts number on it.

By enforcing cleanliness and order in your office, you’ll create more time to get the tasks done that really matter.

How to break this habit?

Create space for your files and papers that is close enough to put things away as you complete them. A filing cabinet is perfect – if you don’t have room, use Box files. You want to be able to access everything within a couple of minutes to stop you storing things on your desk.

Have a ‘blitz’ of your desk and be ruthless about throwing everything away that you don’t need (recycle)

Take time to label and file everything – I know you will probably hate doing this, but the extra time and increased productivity you will gain are more than worth the pain!

Move your ‘in-tray’ off your desk – after you have emptied it. When it is on your desk, you will be tempted to pile it up again.

Get into the habit of clearing your desk every night so you can start the day with a clean slate.

If you have a manic week and it starts piling up again – schedule time ot The Friday to have another blitz so you start the next week as you mean to go on.

Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

This psychological phenomenon, known as imposter syndrome, reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.


This keeps us playing small, questioning everything we do and hiding our true value. We get ‘stuck’ in the same role doing the same things for years because we don’t feel we are good enough to step up.

Dr Valerie Young has categorised people who suffer from Imposter Syndrome into 5 different types – here is a summary or her findings plus some tips from me.

Perfectionist – we have addressed above

For perfectionists, success is rarely satisfying because they believe they could’ve done even better. But that’s neither productive nor healthy.

Owning and celebrating achievements is essential if you want to avoid burnout, find contentment, and cultivate self-confidence.

Learn to take your mistakes in stride, viewing them as a natural part of the process. In addition, push yourself to act before you’re ready. Force yourself to start the project you’ve been planning for months. Truth is, there will never be the “perfect time” and your work will never be 100% flawless. The sooner you’re able to accept that, the better off you’ll be.


This is the ‘I can do everything’ syndrome

These people seek validation from their work and feel at a loss when they are not working.

They often work long hours and stay late even when they have completed their tasks for the day

They have often let your hobbies and passions fall by the wayside, as they are not nearly as important as work.

They often feel they haven’t truly earned their position (despite numerous degrees and achievements), so they work harder and longer than those around you to prove their worth.

If this is you, an ideal solution would be to work with a coach. Someone who can help you connect with the unique value you have to offer and to empower you to recognise and play to your inherent strengths.

As you become more able to nurture your inner confidence and self-esteem, you will see the value of investing time in your health and wellbeing and the pressure to work all the hours God sends will ease.

The Natural Genius

If you have been tagged a ‘Genius’ this can actually become a bit of a ‘cross to bear’.

You may well avoid stretching out of your comfort zone for fear of failure.

You may feel that working with a coach or mentor shows weakness and inability to work things out yourself.

When faced with a setback, your confidence may slump because not performing well provokes a feeling of shame. (you’re meant to be a genius)

To address this, “try seeing yourself as a work in progress. Accomplishing great things involves lifelong learning and skill-building—for everyone, even the most confident people. Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your impossibly high standards, identify specific, changeable behaviours that you can improve over time.

For example, if you want to have more impact at the office, it’s much more productive to focus on honing your presentation skills than swearing off speaking up in meetings as something you’re “just not good at.”


Sufferers who feel as though asking for help reveals they are a fraud are what Dr Young calls Soloists.

It’s OK to be independent, but not to the extent that you refuse assistance so that you can prove your worth.

Not sure if this applies to you? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you firmly feel that you need to accomplish things on your own?
  • “I don’t need anyone’s help.” Does that sound like you?
  • Do you frame requests in terms of the requirements of the project, rather than your needs as a person?

The Expert

Experts measure their competence based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do. Believing they will never know enough, they fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.

  • Do you shy away from applying to job postings unless you meet every single educational requirement?
  • Are you constantly seeking out trainings or certifications because you think you need to improve your skills in order to succeed?
  • Even if you’ve been in your role for some time, can you relate to feeling like you still don’t know “enough?”
  • Do you shudder when someone says you’re an expert?

It’s true that there’s always more to learn. Striving to bulk up your skill set can certainly help you make strides professionally and keep you competitive in the job market. But taken too far, the tendency to endlessly seek out more information can actually be a form of procrastination.

Start practicing just-in-time learning. This means acquiring a skill when you need it–for example, if your responsibilities change–rather than hoarding knowledge for (false) comfort.

Realize there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. If you don’t know how to do something, ask a colleague. Mentoring junior colleagues or volunteering can be a great way to discover your inner expert. When you share what you know it not only benefits others, but also helps you heal your fraudulent feelings. We teach what we need to learn.

No matter the specific profile, if you struggle with confidence, you’re far from alone. To take one example, studies suggest 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their career.

I believe it is actually higher and many of the senior Execs I work with say they are sure they will be ‘found out’ some day and people will realise they don’t have all the answers.

If you’ve experienced ‘Imposter Syndrome’ at any point in your career, you’ve probably chalked up your achievements to chance, charm, connections, or another external factor. This will only serve to keep you playing small.

It’s time to start recognising and celebrating your natural abilities and the unique value you bring to the workplace and to life.


All of the above habits will keep you just where you are as everything you are doing is to succeed in the role you are currently doing not for the role you aspire to.

Recognising your unique skillset and natural talents and playing to those strengths 70-80% of your time will have the following benefits –

You will –

  • Spark up your creativity
  • Solve problems like never before
  • Be more productive
  • Be more collaborative
  • Exude a magnetic, positive energy

Bring the best version of you to work every day by making self-care a regular HABIT.

Invest in yourself through –

  • Good nutrition
  • Regular exercise
  • Continually evolving and growing
  • Scheduled time out just for you
  • Quality sleep
  • Regular time with family and friends

Wherever you are be totally ‘PRESENT’ – give people the gift of ‘undiluted listening. You cannot change one iota of anything that happened just a nano-second ago, so don’t waste your brain space on the useless emotion of regret. Learn from your mistakes and move on.

Equally, none of us know how many tomorrows we have, so play full out wherever you are and with whoever you are with.

When we live totally in the present, life becomes so much easier and we start to notice the beauty and magic that is all around us.

Remember - Habits are hard wired in the Striatum of the brain and are very difficult to eradicate by pure will power alone. The most effective and lasting way to get rid of bad habits is by replacing them with new empowering ones.

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Sylvia Baldock, Maximising Personal and Team Talent,

Team Engagement & Collaboration Specialist, Personal Impact Thought Leader, Professional Speaker & Presentation Skills Expert, Business/Personal Coach/Mentor, ‘Time to Think’ Facilitator, Author and Best-selling International Co-Author,

Sylvia enables Business Leaders, Teams and Entrepreneurs to recognise the unique value they bring to the workplace and to lead with confidence and purpose. Sylvia pinpoints your natural strengths and challenges and works with you to ensure you are playing to those strengths 70-80% of your working time.

Sylvia has extensive experience working with Business leaders, CEO groups, Senior Managers, Senior Women, Entrepreneurs, Charities and Social Enterprises, SMEs, CIMA, AAT and NHS supply teams.

Qualifications and Experience

Neuroscience Professional Development Certification

Professional Speakers Association Professional Member

Executive Coach (The Coaching Academy)

‘Time to Think’ Facilitator/Coach

Harmonizing Alignment Consultant

Authentic Charisma Coach

NLP Diploma,

Association of Coaching member

Sylvia Baldock 07909 914815

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