"The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Dieters: Powerful Lessons in How to Avoid Losing Weight"What’s better, to know what to do or to know what not to do?

Fifteen years ago, Stephen Covey wrote a best-selling self-help book titled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change . Originally targeted at business leaders, the principles Covey articulates were later applied in various settings—for example, government, home and family, law enforcement and sales personnel.

A teen version of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens , was written by Covey’s son, Sean. And recently, several hundred elementary schools began introducing The Leader in Me, a behavioral education program based on Covey’s principles that is designed to develop character and leadership skills in young children.

Yet even though Covey’s principles stress the importance of knowing what to do, doesn’t it make equally good sense to know what not to do? If this isn’t the case, then why are nine of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, certainly one of the more enduring self-help books, framed as proscriptions (you shall have no other gods, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, and so on)? Evidently, the authors of the Old Testament shared my contemporary view that knowing what not to do is pretty darn important.

If you agree, then you may wish to study the seven habits of highly ineffective dieters so you can avoid their mistakes.

Habit 1: Be passive. Wait for a miracle medical solution or a quick-fix weight-loss product. Transfer the responsibility for your weight loss to others, perhaps your physician. After all, that’s what you pay him or her for. Or blame a spouse for feeding you too much, or maybe your parents for the fat genes you inherited.

Habit 2: Be vague about your goals, such as “eat less” or “move more.” If you accidentally become specific about what you want to achieve, set the goals unrealistically high (e.g., lose 40 pounds in the next six weeks).

Habit 3: Postpone the start date. After all, the holidays are coming, and you have lots of treats to enjoy and tasks to accomplish. Put self-care, including daily exercise, at the bottom of your to-do list.

Habit 4: Adopt a lose-lose perspective. Strike an attitude of deprivation, despair and discouragement. Focus on what you are giving up rather than what you will gain from a fitter, healthier body.

Habit 5: Share with others how impossible it is for you to lose weight and how little you eat. Close your mind to any ideas they might have that could be helpful.

Habit 6: Tackle weight loss as a loner. Don’t get any outside help (like a personal trainer or dietitian) and don’t join an exercise class. Don’t even tell family members about your plan. Forget enrolling a friend to walk with you.

Habit 7: Revert to extreme, unsustainable weight-loss fads you employed as a teenager. Don’t learn any new cooking tricks in the kitchen to reduce calories. Continue to live in a chronic state of fatigue, denial and self-recrimination.

If you study these dysfunctional habits on how to be highly unsuccessful at weight loss, you will quickly conclude that to be successful, you will need to flip the ideas upside down.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, follow Mr. Covey’s powerful advice on personal transformation:

1. Become proactive.

2. Begin with the end in mind.

3. Put first things first.

4. Create win-win scenarios.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

6. Create synergy by combining the strengths of others to support your goal.

7. Seek balance and renewal.

See how easily you can adapt Covey’s seven habits in support of your weight-loss goals? Hm, this gives me an idea.

Maybe I should write a best-selling book featuring the application of Covey’s ideas to weight loss! I could title it The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Dieters: Powerful Lessons in How to Lose Weight. What do you think?