6 Bad Habits You Picked Up In The Military & How To Get Rid Of Them

6 Bad Military HabitsVeterans come out of the military with years of training in one particular mindset and way of doing things.

A lot of that mindset is positive, even in the civilian world.

Much of the military attitude will serve you well.

But there are a few bad habits of thought and behavior that are common stumbling blocks for transitioning veterans.

Take a look at your behavior and see if you’re struggling with any of these six common problems.

We’ve offered two specific issues for each of these six habits — and two solutions that can help you overcome them.

Click here to view Six Bad Military Habits | How To Get Rid Of Unwanted Habits And Change For The Better video on Youtube

1. Language

Problem: Swearing is Expected in the Military

 high speed low drag soldier speechYou ever hear the phrase “swears like a sailor”?

Well, it’s not just the Navy vets that have mouths on ’em. Members of the armed forces love their swearwords.

Military obscenities come in every flavor and variation imaginable. Every branch of the service has its own internal favorites (“friggin'” in the Marine Corps, etc.), and everyone uses the curse words we all know, along with the dozens of acronyms they’ve crept into (FUBAR, etc.).

The internal culture of the military normalizes swearing. It’s more of a faux pas to creep around bad language than it is to use it — if you make an obvious substitution (“dang it,” “crud,” etc.), you can probably expect to get made fun of for it.

So just about everyone that gets out has reflexive use of swear words drilled into his or her speech. It’s internalized and natural, much the way that even a Yankee northerner starts to drawl a little after years of living in Texas.

Problem: Swearing Sets You Back in Many Civilian Fields

Outside the service, swearing will get you in trouble — and not just with finger-wagging school teacher types.

The problem isn’t so much one of people being shocked when you cuss. Almost everyone you deal with in any walk of life has been exposed to curse words. They’re not going to faint.

The issue is one of mindset, perception, and that nebulous idea of “class.” Someone who can’t control his mouth — someone who’s letting a lot of swear words slip out — is going to be seen as a dumber, lower-class, undisciplined guy.

It’s an appearance thing. Entertainment and pop culture have tied the idea of swearing to the idea of a thuggish, unintelligent man. What you’re actually like doesn’t matter much if people have a negative perception of you to begin with.

There’s also some truth to the idea that swear words are basically “filler” — they’re like saying “um” or “er,” only more vulgar. It’s a sign that you don’t have anything else to say on the subject. That may not always be the case, but it is a good reason to trim them from your vocabulary — you want your words to have weight, and the more you swear, the more accustomed people get to tuning half of what you say out as irrelevant filler.

Solution: Immerse Yourself in “Proper” Speech

A lot of the swearing habit comes from socialization. If it’s what everyone else around you is doing, you do it too.

Once you’re out of the military, you can break that habit by constantly listening to people speaking without using swear words.

Easiest way to do that? Listen to the news, at home or in your car or at your office. Broadcasters are famously obscenity-free, at least on the major news networks and radio stations. They’re trained to sound like “average Americans” — whatever that means — and the result is a bland, socially-acceptable form of speech.

Another good option is listening to recorded books, assuming the dialogue isn’t loaded down with four letter words. Again, it’s just a way of having spoken English constantly surrounding you, getting you used to people talking without casual cursing.

By the same token, it’s worth staying away from gritty crime shows or trashy reality TV where people are swearing all the time, at least until you’ve got the habit mostly under control. You don’t want to start talking like a tough-guy cop (or like trailer trash) when you’re trying to get a job in, say, finance or business or computer science.

Solution: Read to Learn Your Industry’s “Jargon”

When you were a soldier, you talked like a soldier.

If you’re still talking like a soldier, it’s a sign that you haven’t made the full switch yet. One good habit to get into is talking like an “insider’ of whatever industry you entered (or are planning to enter) after leaving the service.

Grab yourself some books related to the field or fields you’re working in (or looking at working in) for your civilian career. It’s useful knowledge, but it’s also useful exposure to the industry jargon. That’ll help build both your vocabulary and your habits of speech so that you sound more comfortable to people in the industry.

And hey — if you can combine the two pieces of advice and listen to industry-specific audio books, go for it! It’s the best immersion you can get.

2. Following Orders

Problem: Enlisted Soldiers are Trained to Obey without Questioning

 high speed low drag soldier trainingBasic training is famously all about breaking your old self down and building up a new one. And let’s be honest — the focus isn’t on building a creative thinker.

When people obey orders from superiors automatically, it makes things much more efficient. In a military situation, that efficiency can mean life or death for a lot of people.

But once you’re outside of those high-stakes situations where there’s little time to think or evaluate, the enlisted soldier’s mindset becomes less useful. Veterans often find themselves hitting a “soft ceiling” in many corporate settings because they’re thinking like followers, not like leaders.

It’s a problem that leads to stagnation. Civilian companies value obedient employees, but there’s a limit to how far they can promote them. “Thinking outside the box” is prized in nearly every industry — and it’s not something you tend to get a lot of experience with in the military, where there’s already a “right way” to do everything, and deviating from it is frowned upon.

Problem: Officers Were Trained to Evaluate Orders, Then Follow Them

Officer training results in a slightly different mindset from the enlisted man, but one that’s still based on the assumption that everyone around you is in a fixed chain of command and knows their role and authority clearly.

A good officer does evaluate his orders, but it’s usually an internal check and nothing else. You’re still probably not in the habit of questioning superiors directly.

Officer training mostly focuses on how to best execute — and give — orders. That can be more of a strength than the enlisted mindset, and in fact tends to make former officers good employees to have in charge of small group projects, but it can still be a limiting factor when you’re trying to rise in a large companies ranks.

It’s even more of a problem if you decide not to go with a job that has a strong corporate hierarchy or an “org chart” mentality. Entrepreneurs, the self-employed, and workers in unstructured workplaces like many new software firms don’t get any benefit at all from thinking in terms of “order” or “superiors.

A mindset that’s based on a world where everyone is either giving orders or obeying them is one that needs some adjusting for most civilian fields.

Solution: Learn to Question Directions from Above

You’re going to have to learn how to rethink your relationship to “orders” now that they’re not actually orders in the military sense of the word anymore.

But how do you do that?

It depends a little on whether you’re working for someone else or starting your own business. For most people, you’ll still have some form of “superior,” generally a boss or a manager.

When you receive direction, try to view it as an objective rather than an order. Snap obedience isn’t necessarily the best reaction (though we don’t recommend arguing every little point just because you’re not in the military anymore, either!).

Instead, you’ll be contributing the most when you can think of the instructions you receive as objectives to achieve in whatever way you think best. You’re not bound to a specific course of action — just to a specific result.

Of course, this may differ from workplace to workplace. Some corporate or bureaucratic settings are just as strict as the military about having a Right Way to Do Things, and punishing people who deviate from it. In those settings, reflexive obedience isn’t a bad thing — but they tend not to be the sorts of jobs that have a lot of upward mobility, and it’s easy to dead-end if you’re only ever doing what you’re told in a direct and literal way.

Remember, objectives not orders. No one’s a superior officer anymore. You’re allowed to use your initiative.

Solution: Remember Your Relative Experience

This is more a piece of advice for guys who find themselves chafing under civilian management.

Because the reality is, if you end up somewhere with what we think of as a “traditional” management structure, you’re going to be dealing with mid-level managers who frankly don’t have the best leadership skills in the world.

They’re not going to be military quality. If lives were on the line these guys would be a serious hindrance.

But lives aren’t, and the worst they can be is frustrating to deal with. Resist the trap of thinking “that’s not how we would have done it in the service.” The way things are done in civilian fields isn’t always the most efficient way — and that’s not always a bad thing.

The military is really good at getting things done directly and efficiently, but it has a lot of external support that private ventures don’t have. When you’re getting “orders” that seem inefficient, unclear, or just flat-out dumb, take a deep breath and remember that the guy giving them — even if he seems like a total idiot — probably has years more experience in this particular field than you do.

That doesn’t mean his leadership skills are good, and that doesn’t mean the directions are good ones. But you need to evaluate them in the context of the workplace, not in the context of the armed forces.

You’ve been trained one way. Remember that the people you’re working for have been trained another way, and acknowledge that there may be some merit to it, even when you can’t see it. It’ll make you happier, and easier to employ.

3. Reliance on Institutional Support

Problem: Active Service Members Don’t Provide for Themselves

 high speed low drag soldier eatingThe days of the Army cook are mostly gone now — those jobs are increasingly farmed out to private contractors. They’re cheaper (and often not very ethically hired or treated), and it saves the government the expense of “wasting” full military training on a cook.

That may or may not be a good thing in terms of effectiveness, but what it definitely means is that there are basically no soldiers or servicemen left who have done any regular domestic support roles during their military careers.

It just doesn’t happen. The major expenses that civilians spend the most of their time and effort providing for — food, lodging, and transportation — are all provided by the government.

That doesn’t mean servicemen and servicewomen aren’t working. Far from it! But after a couple years, you get out of the habit of thinking about where food comes from, or how to get from Point A to Point B. Someone’s going to make those decisions for you, and provide the necessary supplies.

A lot of times people don’t realize how complete that dependence is until they get out. It’s not just food and housing — it’s health care, supplies for whatever task you have at hand; even the clothes on your back. You’re expected to take decent care of what you’re given, of course, but even when stuff breaks there’s going to be someone to fix it for you, or a replacement (obviously that’s not always true in combat zones, but for the most part the government does a pretty good job of keeping everyone fed and supplied).

The result is a brain that’s just not all that focused on domestic issues. It’s out of the habit of assigning priority to things like food and clothing. As a result, a lot of vets when they first get out tend to make do with whatever’s easiest — which may not be the most cost-effective option, or the healthiest, or the best for their careers.

Problem: Service Members Are Used to a High Discretionary Income

There’s plenty to say about army pay, but it ain’t that it’s too high.

Servicemen and servicewomen don’t live particularly extravagant lives — there wouldn’t be time for it even if they were getting paid the big bucks.

But what soldiers and sailors do have is a fairly high percentage of their income as what’s called “discretionary” — money that can be spent for fun, rather than paid toward necessary expenses.

That’s why you see so many businesses crowding around military bases, especially ones that encourage you to spend your cash now, now, now. Tattoo parlors, bars, and strip joints are catering to that “burning a whole in your pocket” mentality. It’s an easy sell to young guys who have lots of money on hand — relative to what your average 18- or 19-year old has seen in his life, anyway — and who don’t really have a feel for what real adult expenses are like.

Even older and wiser servicemen can struggle with the transition from a small income with relatively few expenses to a larger income but a much higher percentage of it going toward expenses.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed even if you’re lucky enough to move from the military to a higher-paying job. And veterans who take a low-paying job, or who find themselves temporarily unemployed, may have to ration limited savings very carefully in a way they’re not used to until the situation stabilizes.

Solution: Put Most Income into Savings

Unless you were a very responsible serviceman or servicewoman, you probably weren’t putting the majority of every paycheck into a savings account.

Try to change that once you’re out. As far as your situation allows, put income into savings rather than spending it on a higher quality of life. It can be tough, but if you start by squirreling away 10%, 20%, even up to 50% of your paycheck every time right from the start, it becomes much easier to live on the remainder.

Don’t ever get in the habit of spending more than half your paycheck, in other words, and you won’t have to break the habit down the line.

Now, that’s obviously not possible for everyone. If you’re working a minimum-wage job, it’s going to be tough to save anything at all once you’ve paid the bills. But try your best — set your deposits up so that half of each check goes into a savings account anyway, even if you’re always emptying that account at the end of the month to pay bills.

It’s about building the habit as much as it is about saving money. When you’ve started to think like someone who plans for the future, you find yourself having a much easier time of it when you’re actually planning for the future. At that point it’s just continuing to do what you’ve already done, rather than changing your whole way of life.

Solution: Use Veteran’s Benefits and Post-Military Support

There are also a lot of support systems out there for veterans, both official government benefits and not-for-profit advocacy groups that can put you in touch with veteran-focused businesses.

Know your health care entitlements — this can be a massive cost, even if you don’t have wounds from service! Just an infected cut that requires a couple of tests and some prescription antibiotics is enough to bankrupt someone that doesn’t have any medical insurance. And paying for private insurance is going to be upwards of $100 a month for the cheapest, most limited benefits.

If you don’t know what forms of insurance and health care you’re entitled to as a veteran, visit the VA website (www.va.gov) or call your local VA hospital to ask. Either one can get you pointed in the right direction.

And while health care is one of the marquee benefits, it’s far from the only one. Veterans may qualify for assistance with education or job training costs, home loans, life insurance, and financial counseling and services, in addition to pensions and compensation for wounded veterans.

Again, the best starting place is the U.S. government’s website, in this case the homepage of the Veterans Benefits Administration (www.benefits.va.gov)

Know what you’re entitled to, and don’t be shy about claiming it. You earned it, after all.

4. Expectation of Respect from Civilians

Problem: Most Civilians Do Not Acknowledge Veterans’ Service

 high speed low drag soldier walkingIt’s pretty common for military men to come out of their service with the expectation that people will be aware of what their service meant.

And it means a lot — you spend years training and working under intense condition, always prepared to give whatever it takes, up to and including your own life. In combat situations that becomes a real possibility, sometimes for days, weeks, or months at a time.

People outside the military don’t necessarily have a good awareness of that mindset. They’re not necessarily going to make any outward recognition of a veteran’s experiences. And that can stem from a lot of different things — they might think of military service as just another job, or they might look at it as a training and educational experience similar to college.

Those perceptions are hard to swallow. It’s easy for recent veterans to come out of the service with a real chip on their shoulder. And getting beaten down into a grudging mindset where nobody seems to respect your service is a tough negative influence to overcome — and one that makes you less likely to work well in civilian-dominated fields.

Problem: Some Employers and Co-Workers May Look Down on Military Service

Far less common but still prevalent is the problem of people who think of military service as not “just another job,” but as an active negative.

That can come from a couple different places. In most cases it’s a very dry, bureaucratic sort of disapproval: the idea that the military doesn’t train people well for functioning outside of the military, and that servicemen and servicewomen are therefore not very good employees.

Much more rarely it will stem from ideological hostility toward the institution itself. There are people out there who genuinely believe that the military is a bad or immoral institution, and that people who take a job with it have lent themselves to something “wrong.”

It can be hard to work with someone (or for someone) who has that hostile of an attitude toward your work and your sacrifice, whether it’s motivated by business interests or philosophy.

Solution: Focus on the Job, Not the People

Realize that your service on its own is in the past. Even if your bosses or co-workers thought it was the most admirable thing in the world, it wouldn’t have much effect on their current interests.

What’s important to them is how you’re performing now. And while it would be nice to rest on a laurel wreath for the rest of your life after serving in the military, that’s not how the world works, and everyone knows that.

So instead of focusing on the treatment you get, even when it seems clueless or dismissive, focus on what people need from you. If you’re getting things done, and done well, you’re making the impression you need to without the help of your military record.

And if you do preform well, you’re almost guaranteed to hear people turning around and praising your military experience for it. It may not be true, but you’ll hear things like “wow, was that the kind of leadership you learned in the Army?” or similar statements (from people with no idea how things are done in the Army, usually).

Solution: Honestly Consider Other People’s Views

A much harder row to hoe is not just accepting but actively thinking about why someone might hold your service against you.

Resist the impulse to just get angry — even when it’s justified — and look deeper to try and figure out what it is they’re really objecting to.

Is it a training or organizational complaint? If someone is giving you grief for doing things “like you’re still in the military,” it mostly just means that you’re not doing things the way they want. If you’d come from another company they’d be making fun of that instead. It doesn’t make them a great person — but it does mean they’re not really attacking your service, just your current performance. Fix the performance and the criticism will probably go away too.

Harder to accept and understand are people who just don’t like the military. They’re the most likely to seem ungrateful to you. Resist the temptation to get drawn into arguments. Just take a deep breath, accept that this person is coming from a completely different place than you are philosophically, and that it’s going to be that way.

It’s not fun, but if you can turn the other cheek and let it go, even when someone says something offensive, the more considerate people around you will see it — and respect it. Blowing up, on the other hand, feeds any negative perceptions of you that may be lurking in people’s minds.

5. Treatment of Subordinates

Problem: Officers are Accustomed to Automatic Obedience

 high speed low drag soldier joggingAbout 89% of servicemen are enlisted. Officers are, quite frankly, elite, at least within their world. They’re used to the vast majority of people around them being automatically obedient.

That can be a serious tripwire when you get out into the civilian world. Enlisted men don’t have quite as much trouble here — they’re more likely to face the problem we described earlier, of being a little too obedient — but officers can face a real struggle adjusting to office life.

The reality is that there’s a lot of politics in your average workplace. People don’t just do what they’re told.

That can be a struggle for officers who are good at sitting down, figuring out who needs to do what to achieve a task efficiently, and then handing out assignments. As soon as you start bringing things like “committees” into the equation, the assignments never end up handed out quite the way you expected. You end up needing to convince people that your method is the best one, rather than having it be assumed by virtue of your rank.

It’s a major adjustment to go from someone who orders to someone who persuades — but it’s the adjustment that has to happen to succeed in most civilian fields.

Problem: Civilian Positions Can Look Like Ranks — But Aren’t the Same Thing

Military ranks are more complicated than movies make them seem, but it’s still a relatively simple org chart. Jokes about whether the admiral gives the general his orders or vice versa aside, it’s usually pretty clear who gives orders and who takes them.

That’s not necessarily true in a civilian company, even when the positions and titles are clearly defined. To use the upper management as an example, a CEO technically “outranks” a CFO — but he can’t just give the CFO an order and say “make its so.” That CFO is there with real authority of his own, and too much pushing and pulling can turn into a company-wrecking (or at least career-wrecking) power struggle.

The same is true at pretty much all levels. The fact that you get paid more than someone, or have a more prestigious title, doesn’t necessarily mean you get to tell them what to do. That’s especially true at larger companies with multiple branches, where you may have layers of bosses, managers, and employees for five or six parallel divisions all at one.

A senior manager from the IT department isn’t going to have much authority over an intern from Accounting. The manager “outranks” the intern, but it isn’t a direct relationship.

Solution: Treat All Subordinates as Your Equals

 high speed low drag soldier with gunDon’t worry if that sounds hard — it’s something civilian managers struggle with all the time. Some of them never do learn it.

But it really is the best way to become an effective leader in the workplace. Don’t assume that you have any inherent authority. Instead, start with the assumption that no one has authority over anyone else, and that you have to earn people’s willingness to do what you say.

In practice, of course, there usually is at least a little bit of authority. A boss can tell a subordinate “no, we’re doing it my way” and the subordinate has to take it, even if he grumbles. But to get good results out of people, you have to convince them that they want to do what you say.

It’s always worth remembering your own position as a veteran. Unlike in the military, you have the option to tell people “no,” and to just walk away from lousy jobs. Think about how awesome that freedom is — and remember that everyone you’re working with shares it. Don’t make them want to walk away from the jobs you give them.

Solution: Don’t Interpret Titles and Positions Literally

Advancement in many companies is as much a matter of seniority as it is anything else. You could find yourself dealing with someone who has one of the best educations and professional backgrounds in the world for his job, but who has to start on the bottom rung like everyone else.

That means that a “Junior Assistant to the Deputy Manager,” or whatever, could actually end up being a pretty important person, while the “Senior Manager” is basically a middle-management lifer of no real consequence.

Just learn to ignore the words — and to a great extent the salaries, too, if you know what other people’s are. They’re based on a more complicated form of evaluation and organization than the military’s. You can’t treat them as equivalent to rank, even when they look like ranks (and in some cases are even called ranks).

Much like the strategy for managing people, try to assume that everyone is your equal, especially people who seem “lower” on the chain than you. Just because you “outrank” the IT tech doesn’t mean you won’t need his help when your e-mail goes wonky. Be nice to him, and you’re a lot more likely to get timely aid than you are if you’ve been bossing the people on the bottom of the totem pole around.

6. Reliance on Forced PT

Problem: Active Service Members Never Have to Schedule Their Exercise

 high speed low drag soldier with gunLike a lot of things in the armed forces, you don’t have to think about when to work out. They’ll tell you when to do that. And even when you’re not being told to put in some PT, the weight room is one of the big social hubs of most bases — the culture is already a work-out culture.

That means that an active service member is always getting his or her exercise needs taken care of. It’s as much a part of the routine as brushing your teeth (maybe more so in combat zones, where you’re getting plenty of exercise but toothpaste and water are in short supply).

Once veterans leave the military, they lose both the structured PT and the culture of casual work-outs. If they don’t find a replacement for that, it’s easy to get out of shape. You see a lot of flabby vets, and it’s mostly because they never had to think about being healthy while they were in the service — it just happened as a natural part of their lifestyle.

When the lifestyle changes, the thought process has to change too, otherwise your body starts to suffer pretty quickly.

Problem: Most Veterans Never Had to Deal with Being “Out of Shape”

A veteran who does let himself or herself slide is in for a pretty rude shock. For most of them, this is literally the first time being anything that can be considered “out of shape.”

That’s not universally true, obviously, but for the most part servicemen and servicewomen joined when they were young and fit, and got fitter as part of the service. You’ll get some guys here and there who barely passed the physical requirements, and who really needed the shaping-up that basic training gave them, but mostly veterans have always enjoyed good health and physical condition up to the time when they get out.

That makes it hard to deal with the idea of getting out of shape. It may go unnoticed for a long time, simply because the vet hasn’t ever considered the possibility of getting weaker or gaining weight. The physical strength and endurance to get things done has always been there to draw on.

Solution: Establish a Routine

The reason it’s so easy to stay in shape in the armed forces is that it’s part of the schedule. Everyone has at least some scheduled PT, and most people add a regular gym routine of their own as well.

That’s something you need to keep up when you’re out of the service and there’s no one else setting the schedule. Don’t phrase it as “I’m going to work out every day.” Phrase it as “Every morning at 6:00 AM I run before breakfast.”

One is a goal; the other is a schedule. It’s much easier to build a habit with a schedule.

The nice thing about being on your own time is that you can make it any schedule you want. Hate getting up and exercising? Schedule your work-outs for the afternoon instead. There’s no one to tell you otherwise. Just have the fixed time, whenever it is, and stick to it religiously.

You’ll find most people pretty understanding of a workout routine. “Can’t make it then, sorry; that’s my jogging time” is a socially acceptable reason to miss something (not work, obviously, but no one will hold it against you socially).

There are some good “routines” out there for people that do better when someone else is picking the exercises for them. P90X and Insanity are both popular examples right now — there’s a structure and a “course” already in place; you just start from Step 1 and follow along. If that’s your thing, there are lots of online sites (both free ones and paid membership sites) dedicated to tracking your performance and comparing it to other people in the routine — a useful motivator for the competitive sorts.

Solution: Find an Exercise Culture and Join It

 high speed low drag soldier excerciseGet yourself some positive reinforcement in the form of other people exercising. The “let’s go hit the gym” military mindset is as important for keeping soldiers in shape as the formal training. There’s a reason bases work hard to keep exercise facilities available, and why troops start improvising them as soon as they’ve been in one place for more than a day.

Look for other people who view exercise as a social event as well as a necessity to find yourself a similar culture in civilian life. Joining a gym is the obvious and easy solution, though it can take a couple tries to find one with the attitude you like.

It’s also worth asking around your workplace to see what other people are doing. You don’t have to have the same routine as them, but you can find overlapping ground — ask the marathoner if he wants company on his practice runs, or the racquetball fanatic if he’ll meet you once a week.

Immersing yourself in a mindset where exercise is “normal” is one of the best ways to make sure you keep doing it. By contrast, surrounding yourself with people who think it’s weird, or who laugh it off, is one of the easiest ways to fall off the wagon — and the results of that tend to be pretty unsightly.

Click here to view Six Bad Military Habits | How To Get Rid Of Unwanted Habits And Change For The Better video on Youtube