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Succeed in your firefighter career by breaking these 10 bad habits

Change these behaviors to practice relational leadership that will advance your professional and personal exchanges


Research shows most of us need about three months to substitute a new behavior for a bad behavior. Some people need longer. Some people need to find a gentle but powerful way to stick with a project for the rest of their lives.


Each of us have habits, both good and bad. While no one is perfect, we wish that we didn’t have any bad habits. We work on trying to change or rid ourselves of bad habits, spending less time at work and more time at home with our families, trying to lose weight or quit smoking.

Research shows most of us need about three months to substitute a new behavior for a bad behavior. Some people need longer. Some people need to find a gentle but powerful way to stick with a project for the rest of their lives. It depends on the habit, your personality, your level of stress and the support you have in place.

Bad habits can be broken. The key is to begin. Change these 10 bad habits to succeed in your firefighter career and personal relationships.

1. Stop thinking you are the victim

Toxic leaders sometimes blame others for their problems or circumstances. Leaders must take personal responsibility to change things for the better. No one can make you a victim, so stop blaming others for your predicaments. Get rid of that victim mentality attitude, because it doesn’t help anything. In fact, it acts as an obstacle to success. Realize that you, and only you, are responsible for your destiny.

2. Stop thinking that you can change other people

You can’t. I had to learn this the hard way. There was a time in my life when I thought I could motivate and inspire people to be their best. It took me a while to realize that the only thing that can change other people is themselves. If they don’t want to change or don’t know how to, then all of your efforts will be wasted. So don’t worry about other people. If you don’t like them, then you have the choice to not hang out with them anymore. But you don’t have the right to change them.

3. Stop focusing on what ifs instead of what is

Some things you can change. In fact, a lot of things you can change. You can lose weight. You can find a better job. You can go back to school. You can work on your marriage. But there are some things you can’t change. Those things are simply what is.

You can’t change that your boss is a jerk. You can change jobs, but you can’t change your boss. But you can stop resisting it. Resisting the unchangeable does nothing more than frustrate you and make you miserable. So change what you can, and accept what you can’t.

4. Stop thinking that the grass is always greener on the other side

Just because you think someone else has it better than you doesn’t mean they do. The grass is not greener on the other side. So appreciate the grass you have. It’s your grass. So love it.

5. Stop having expectations of other people

Expectations can be deadly to happiness, even if you think your expectation is reasonable. Just because you expect it, doesn’t mean they will do it. Realize that your expectations come from your personal experiences and biases. They are not necessarily other people’s priority. You probably don’t like being expected to do things that you don’t want to do, so don’t impose your expectations on others. If you don’t like their behavior, either accept it or move on.

6. Stop feeling that you always need to prove that you are right

I always wonder why people will fight to the death to prove they are right. What’s the point? I think it’s because they don’t want to look weak ... or vulnerable … or stupid. But I think admitting you are wrong is a much more noble and mature thing to do. Besides, everyone has a different opinion. So why not have yours and let them have theirs?

7. Stop worrying about what other people think

Why do you care? Do you think they are judging you? I’m going to let you in on a little secret. No one is judging you as much as you are judging yourself. Other people are too busy judging themselves just like you that they probably don’t even give you a second thought. So do what makes you happy. And if others are judging you, then it’s their problem, not yours. Ignore them and be happy anyway.

8. Stop thinking there is only one right and one wrong

We live in a world where we like to think there is an objective reality. But guess what? Objective reality is an illusion. It doesn’t exist. Only subjective realities do. What one person thinks is the truth is not the truth for someone else.

For example, who’s right – the Republicans or the Democrats? Well, it depends on who you ask, right? Everyone thinks something is right because it fits their life and the way they look at the world. And that’s it. Period. End of story.

9. Stop worrying about the future because you feel unprepared

I love this saying; “worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.” And if you believe in the power of prayer, then you know that sending out positive thoughts and emotions into the universe (or whatever your belief system) works much of the time. So instead, be here in the now. Now is all you have. So be present and stop worrying about the future, because you can only control it to a certain extent.

10. Stop believing the past determines your future

If you have labeled yourself as a failure because of your past, then you will only continue your failure attitude into the future. And if you’ve heard of the self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon, then you know that what you think, you become.

None of us are perfect. Almost everyone slips up. You are human. Humans make mistakes, fall down and hopefully get back up and push ahead. A slip or fall provides information. When you fail, dig deep to examine the reason, and don’t let a slip impact your future success.

This article, originally published in January 2019, has been updated.

Chief John M. Buckman III served 35 years as fire chief for the German Township (Indiana) Volunteer Fire Department, and 15 years as director of the fire and public safety academy for the Indiana State Fire Marshal Office. He is the Director of Government and Regional Outreach for Buckman is a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs and a co-founder of the IAFC Volunteer and Combination Officers Section. In 1996, Fire Chief Magazine named Buckman Volunteer Fire Chief of the Year. Buckman is an accomplished photographer, a co-author of the Lesson Learned from Fire-Rescue Leaders, and the editor of the Chief Officers Desk Reference. He is also the owner of Wildfire Productions. Buckman is a member of the Fire Chief/FireRescue1 Editorial Advisory Board. Connect with Chief Buckman on LinkedIn or via email.