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How Parking Tickets Helped Me Change Habits

I’ve written a lot this year about setting goals, measuring success and eliminating habits that hold you back, replacing them with new ones that support where you are now.  There are so many ways to do this but first you have to know where to start and what to change and that requires ruthless self-reflection.

Eventually every self-help program, counseling program, or coaching program will bring you to a point where you need to look into the truth mirror, accept what you see and then decide if you want to change it or not.

For me, those moments have been incredibly helpful and have transformed my life in countless ways.  So much so that I am willing to peek in the mirror as frequently as necessary, in order to grow and take on new challenges and opportunities.

One such moment occurred almost 5 years ago.  I was in Washington D.C. for work; my first trip to be exact.  I was so excited to be there. I had always dreamed of going to D.C. and I decided to make the most of it.

I only had a few hours free when I decided to go see the Lincoln Memorial.  In my excitement and hurry to get there, I didn’t pay attention to any signs so when I found street parking, I just thought that the universe was acting on my behalf. I parked and made my way to the Lincoln Memorial.  I was so excited to see a landmark that I had only seen in movies or pictures.  I remember feeling a buzz of elation and reverence as I made my way up the steps and read Lincoln’s words inscribed into the granite. I stayed as the sun was setting, taking it all in. As I made my way back to my car I was filled with thoughts of all the people who had visited this site and how many significant moments in history occurred on those steps.

Parking tickets Washington DCIt was with these happy thoughts that I arrived back to the street where I parked my car only to find that it wasn’t there.  At first I thought I was on the wrong street, but then I realized that was not the case. I asked a hot dog vendor nearby what happens to the cars that get towed.  He tried to tell me they were 100 miles away and for $200 he could get me back my car, but I am not that gullible so I asked a guard who was standing by the building I was near, and she sent me around the corner. There was my car with 2 tickets on the windshield. Each ticket was for $100, with the second ticket issued 30 minutes after the first. They sure don’t mess around in D.C.

My first reaction was anger. I couldn’t believe that I received 2 tickets and that they were for $100 each.  I decided I was going to challenge it. I pay taxes. This was a travesty!

Well…I did not challenge the tickets, nor did I respond within the required 30 days, so the actual price I paid was $400. Each ticket doubled after 30 days.  Since I had a rental car, they had my credit card and it was automatically charged to my account.

Here is what I know about myself. I tend to act in the moment and move in the direction I want to go, sometimes with reckless abandon. Many great moments in my life have occurred like this.  I also hate paperwork and I have a problem with following through on declarations that I make in the moment, unless there is someone there holding me accountable.  These were the two bad habits that colluded that day resulting in a $400 lesson.  It was most of the money I had made and it was a painful lesson to learn.

I posted the tickets to my bulletin board in my office (see image) as a reminder to me of what happens when I procrastinate, fail to follow through, and act in the moment without slowing down a few minutes to think.  I am happy to say that in the past 5 years since I received those tickets, I have greatly improved in the areas I need most– following through and stopping to think before I act.  It has made a significant difference in my life and because of that success, I am encouraged to keep going.

I almost took down those tickets recently which is what prompted this post, but I decided to keep them there as a humble reminder of what can happen if I am not paying attention.  It helps me stay focused and self-aware so I can build new habits to replace the ones that no longer serve me.

The tip I give to you is this: find a physical manifestation that reminds you of a bad habit that you are trying to change. It can be a picture or an object, something that has the same effect as those tickets have on me.  I can look at them and it reminds me to make that follow up call or finish what I am working on.  

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Living Forward, LLC is a coaching and training company founded in 2006, that "inspires lifelong learning". Our qualified coaches specialize in workplace communication, change readiness, and performance improvement. We also offer individual coaching, group coaching and conflict resolution/mediation.

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