10 toxic habits freelancers need to unlearn

A simple guide to replace toxic work habits with positive ones.
10 toxic habits freelancers need to unlearn

Hero image by Isha Gaines

When does a habit become toxic? 

Have you been feeling drained lately? Look at your habits. There could be a link between your daily habits and how you’re feeling. When you don’t feel like your best self, it is often a change in choices that lead to a happier and healthier you. You have hundreds of daily habits, how many of those habits go unchecked? Toxic habits can be actions, behaviors and traits that you believe are negatively affecting you. 

What are some ways toxic habits show up for freelancers?

Toxic habits can look like:

The behaviors above take a heavy toll on my energy and sabotage my ability to seize the day. Embracing the lifestyle tweaks I’m sharing with you today have been life-altering in a good way. 

Here are 10 toxic habits to unlearn: 

1. Trying to control the uncontrollable 

You’ve heard it before: Don’t take things personally. When a client you’re excited about cuts off communication without explanation, it hurts. I’ve been there. I went solo to our scheduled meeting and my emails were ignored.

In those moments, I questioned my choice to be a freelancer because of the, I’m-not-enough shame stories that followed. Being ghosted taught me how to make focusing on what is within my circle of control a daily choice.

A client or potential client ghosting is outside of your circle of control. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, what you offer, or your pricing. People have their reasons for vanishing and they’re rarely about you. Give yourself closure without self-blame. What is within our control, is making sure our relationship with ourselves is a healthy one.

A positive habit to develop:

Be mindful of the stories you’re telling yourself when you’re sitting with uncomfortable feelings. According to WebMD, “toxic shame comes from constantly being told you’re not enough.” Allow yourself space to process difficult feelings. You are enough.

2. Overworking

Overworking does not have to be a part of your freelance experience. Taking time off in a 9–5 job doesn’t mean you lack passion or dedication, so why should it be any different working for yourself? 

A positive habit to develop:

Plan for time off. Let your clients know when you’ll be unavailable. Update your website contact page. Include in-the-meantime content like blog posts they might have missed, freebies, or videos in email reminders. 

3. Failure is unacceptable 

The mindset that says “failure is always bad” doesn't allow space for flexibility. Shifting your thinking about failure can help you stop making failure an enemy. Failure and learning can’t be separated. <tweet-link>Failure offers opportunities for new perspectives.<tweet-link>

A positive habit to develop:

Adopt a growth mindset

Dr. Carol Dwek, a leading researcher on mindsets, teaches that fixed mindsets say your abilities are carved in stone and obstacles are just more proof that you don’t have the abilities you need. A growth mindset means challenges are information to help you grow. 

4. Resisting change

Change can be scary. The Status Quo bias explains why we stick to the status quo and prefer our habits to remain as they are even when change benefits us. 

Knowing which behaviors you want to change doesn’t make changing them easy, but it does mean you’re one step closer to adding more positive habits to your day. 

A positive habit to develop:

Bring a beginner mindset to your everyday life. Being a beginner again has its benefits. You’ll remind yourself daily you are always open to learning something new and your priority is choosing progress over perfection. 

5. Relaxing your boundaries

Sometimes your clients’ wants are not aligned with your services. Other times clients don’t pay their invoices on time. When clients have requests beyond the project goals or change their minds a dozen times, remember “No” is a complete sentence. 

A positive habit to develop:

Have a detailed proposal and contract in place that makes firm expectations and deliverables clear. Include your payment terms and your non-negotiables. Have a plan for scope creep by providing pricing and options for more of your time and additional services.

6. Not staying hydrated

You’re busy, I get it. Your organs are also busy working extra hard to get nutrients to your body when you’re dehydrated. I used to have a toxic habit of carrying one full water bottle everywhere I went and only taking a few sips throughout the day when I was thirsty.

According to Cleveland Clinic, the best time to drink water is before you’re thirsty.

A positive habit to develop:

Keep track of how much water you drink and talk to your healthcare provider about how much water you need. Everyone is different. You’ve probably heard you need 8–10 glasses a day. However, how much water you drink can depend on several factors, including the climate of your environment, your age, weight, and level of activity, says Cleveland Clinic. If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. 

7. Holding your breath

Are you holding your breath unintentionally? It’s a mindful question to ask and one that can deepen your connection to your body. 

You take an estimated 20,000 breaths each day, says UCHealth.org. Many people hold their breath without realizing it.

Good breathing habits are important because they bring us more energy, relieve anxiety and stress

A positive habit to develop:

Notice your breathing when you’re sitting for long periods of time, staring at a computer screen for hours, feeling stressed, pressured, anxious, and excited. 

8. Believing you’re behind other freelancers 

Other freelancers are not “ahead” of you, because it’s not a race. You’re allowed to go at your own pace. Comparing your journey to others’ is self-defeating and not a fair comparison.

A positive habit to develop:

The best way to stop believing you’re behind other freelancers is to zoom out. When you only focus on the external accomplishments of others, you miss the bigger picture.

Yes, we’re all finding creative ways to fulfill our personal goals and visions. We’re going to different places at different paces, but we share a common goal: Helping others. What matters is that someone is benefiting from the positive impact we collectively make. <tweet-link>The world needs ALL of us and there’s more than enough room.<tweet-link>

9. Refusing payment

Working for free is an expensive decision. Your time is precious and finite. Just because you enjoy what you do doesn’t mean you have to “gift” your services. Sometimes we turn down payment because it feels safer to explore our workflows, systems, and processes without the financial aspect involved. 

Even if you have zero experience freelancing, you still have expenses to cover and financial goals to meet.

A positive habit to develop:

Make a list of the benefits of saying “Yes” to your values, prioritizing your feelings, and honoring your boundaries. Moxie can help with improving your invoicing process

10. Making your work your identity 

“I’ve learned making a living is not the same as making a life” — Maya Angelou.

It’s tough to stay inspired when you’re convinced that the only thing that counts is your ability to produce results. In a Psychology Today article, Jeffery David M.A. says that “basing your life’s meaning on your work is not the same as crafting meaning in your work.”

<tweet-link>To be worthy, you are not required to be productive. You are inherently worthy.<tweet-link>

A positive habit to develop:

Challenge thoughts that measure who you are by what you do.

Final thoughts 

Make the decision to prioritize your inner health, so you can break free from toxic habits that aren’t serving you.

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Amber Malone
Amber Malone
I’m inspired by weird and non-traditional approaches to creating. I read energy, coach and share insights to help people who follow what nourishes their soul.
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