A few things I’ve come to realize in relation to habits:
- You should obsess over performing good habits that can potentially lead you toward a heaven-like state, but don’t freak out when you fail to follow your “perfect” schedule on a given day.
- The only way to change bad habits with good ones is to create a bigger gap between what feels good right now and a smaller one for what is actually good for you in the long term.
- We all belong to a tribe and we underestimate how influential that tribe is to our daily routines.
- Emotions can override any form of good intentions.
The attempt to become 1 percent better every day. The belief that it is theoretically possible to reach your full potential on a daily basis. Gives rise to an internal feeling of appalling intolerance.
If you are to subscribe to the beliefs of what the modern gurus project online.1 You are probably convinced that one can be a flawless instrument of almighty productivity. A person who murdered his list of bad habits that hurt your health and finances. And, instead, replaced them with a curated selection of worthy actions that provide you with emotional satisfaction and financial leverage.
However, if it was that easy to not have bad habits. If it was possible to live in a world in which everyone performs exactly what they said they are going to do. We would certainly not be living in a world of humans. It will be a world of machines.
It’s easy to talk about becoming the best version of yourself – whatever that means for you. But it’s astonishingly hard – I even care to say that it is impossible – to follow through with these plans.
Our goal should not be to create a daily regime in which everything is done in a predefined way that is based on a strict schedule. And, then feel hurt when we can’t meet these impossible standards. It is to try to ensure that we will keep our sanity and potentially progress – even slightly – when things don’t work out the way we planned.
In order to do that. To prevent the pursuit of good daily habits based on our noblest motives to become an intolerable emotional hell – because of our inability to stick to our regime.
It cares to focus on understanding our bad habits. Create a list of bad habits – your bad habits. And study them. Figure out why it is so hard to break them and find a permissible dose of badness you can keep in your life.
Below, we are doing exactly that starting with…
What Are Bad Habits?
Bad habits are typically defined as behavior patterns that are performed almost unconsciously and are detrimental to the physical, financial, or mental health of the person.
They are bad because they have bad consequences (duh!).
However, when we look closely. When we examine our daily lives. We can see that they feel good. Great, actually.
That’s the paradox of bad habits.
They lead to bad routes but produce great immediate sensations.
That’s the main reason we keep them. The reason we can’t get rid of them.
Why Bad Habits Are So Popular – And Hard to Break?
Everyone possesses at least several bad habits. Trying to tailor your life around perfection is denying reality. You will fail at some point. And that’s part of being human. Once you accept that bad habits are unescapable, you have a clearer view of how we operate.
But why are bad habits so preferred by our organism?
The answer is kind of obvious when you think about it.
Bad habits are the go-to behavior patterns of your tormented corpse trying to endure the usual daily frenzy because they require less effort to reach some sort of gain.
An example of a common bad habit is smoking compared to not smoking.
Smoking leads to:
- Nicotine is released in your brain which helps you cope with stress more easily.2
- An opportunity to socialize which can potentially unlock all kinds of positive gains – being accepted by the group, talking to a beautiful stranger, etc.
- Gives a task to your hands that are always so out in your way.
Not smoking leads to:
- Feeling embarrassed every time you need/want to approach a group of people.
- Not having a “thing to do” when you are stressed and picking your nails instead.
- Trying to figure out what to do with those hands.
Or in other words, most of what people call bad habits are actually feel-good routines that have devastating consequences. You kind of know that smoking is potentially bad for you at some point in the future. But your current state of mind screams for a cigarette – screams for instantaneous pleasure.
Conversely, good habits have a positive long-term effect. We all know that. Eating a freshly cut salad is dramatically better than absorbing a microwaved burger. Sadly, they require extra effort – extra resistance – which makes them less preferable by our sensation-seeking brain.
This desire to feel good at the current moment is so strong that it overrides your rational behavior. Making delaying gratification one of the most valuable skills.
Examples of Bad Habits:
Here’s a very short list of common bad habits and their consequences:
- Being a couch potato: Being a couch potato is probably the delicate way of saying that someone is lazy. By preferring to lie down for hours. Not only are you not making progress on your goals – if you have any. But the lack of body movement leads to all sorts of complications.
- Overspending: Common way people deal with stress or with uneventful days is by buying things they don’t necessarily need. Why? Well, the act of buying releases dopamine (the chemical that signals brain reward) which makes you feel good. This strong momentary pleasure becomes desirable to be re-experienced and can lead to compulsive shopping.3
- Smoking: Smoking needs no introduction.
- Binge drinking: Entering a drinking frenzy can cause all kinds of complications not only to your health. But also to your relationships with your friends, family members, and your bank account.
- Binge-watching shows: While Netflix’s streaming supremacy is being challenged by other big players entering the market. It’s becoming harder and harder for the average person to fend off and resist these temptations. It is no longer only about what to watch. But also, which platform to watch on.
- Negative self-talk: Negative self-talk is this little voice inside your head that has great damaging consequences. When we methodically deny our skills and our contribution to something. When we prefer to focus on the bad side of things. We crush our self-esteem and we enter a downward spiral of negativity.
- Procrastinating: Procrastinating is knowing what you need to do but purposefully avoiding it. Usually, it’s because a project is too big which makes us feel overwhelmed.
- Emotional eating: I know I’m guilty of this. Too often, my feelings transport me to the fridge almost automatically. And these feelings are often not even bad. I’m just bored and I’m looking for ways to entertain myself – through eating.
- Hoarding: Compulsively collecting items and “storing” them all around your house is not only a bad habit. It’s a mental disorder.
List of Bad Habits And How To Break Them
Above, I’ve mentioned bad habits we are all familiar with.
Below though, I’m making it a bit more interesting.
I’ll share a list of bad habits of not-so-popular vile behaviors. Plus, add a starting point to fix them.
My intention is not to make it sound like it’s easy to cease these bad behaviors – it’s not. It’s never easy.
The biggest aim is to help you create your own negative behavior detector. In the modern world where bad habits are often disguised as good. It’s becoming more and more evident to identify dangerous patterns and begin your journey to remove them from your life.
1. Justifying Your Beliefs
Commonly, we simply don’t know what we don’t know. But that’s not only related to concepts or historical facts. It’s also the case for us as individuals. We should study ourselves to a point where we can easily point out our own delusions.
For instance, just because you read a story about a 100-year-old person who is smoking for more than 80 years and he’s in good health condition doesn’t make it OK to smoke. It’s just you justifying your negative behavior.
How to break this bad habit:
What do you think/say? Is it true? Or do you want it to be true?
Becoming more aware of your own blindspots can help you see what you are actually dealing with.
In the case of smoking. You first need to tackle your own belief about the act itself. You can’t quit smoking if you believe that smoking is good for you. You first need to stop defending the bad habit and then make steps to remove it from your life.
2. Pursuing Too Much
The temptation to have “just a bit more of that” – where that, can be anything. Is a curse of the modern world.
Theoretically, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – stopping me from immersing myself in a 48-hours YouTube-watching marathon. Or, going to the nearest store and buying a shelf of chocolate bars.
When I was younger. It wasn’t like that. At a certain point. There was no longer TV. At around 10:00 PM – from what I remember. The program just ended. “Want to watch more TV? Sorry, you have to wait for tomorrow.”
It was the same scene at the store. “Want to have a chocolate cake? We only have two and I can only sell you one.”
Before, things were finite. Now, we are in a constant battle of declining… Declining more social media. Declining more food. Declining everything.
But it’s hard to convince yourself not to watch “just a bit more”. How can you not watch? These modern mediums are designed to hook you. To make you want to spend a bit more scrolling.
How to break this bad habit:
If we leave it all to our willpower. We are dooming ourselves. Lowering your internet use. And potentially quitting social media – the channel trying to make you feel that you are never enough. Starts with setting restrictions.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article. It’s about increasing the gap between the behavior that is bad for you and reducing the gap between what is good for you.
If I want to stop spending so much time online. I can delete the apps that waste my time. I can reconfigure the settings on my phone to prevent me from accessing certain apps after using them 30 minutes, for example. Then, I can plant books across my apartment and potentially increase the likelihood of reading books instead of watching videos online about reading.
3. Blind to Your Own Faults
We are all blind. Blind to our own faults. What’s worse is that we try to cover them. To protect our mistakes with layers of conviction. For instance, “No, it’s not my fault that my report is wrong. It was because of James. He gave me the wrong data!”
The reason the inability to see our mistakes is damaging to us is that this keeps us away from improving.
Since you can’t see that you have problems. You stay in this area of okness. You don’t think you need to change your behavior. Therefore, you don’t.
You wholeheartedly believe that you are doing fine but probably others – people who have an outside perspective. Can’t agree with the view you have created for yourself.
How to break this bad habit:
Have a sober look at your life. Are you actually that good? Are you not full of sh*t?
Try to answer this: What is one thing you say you perform well, but the results aren’t satisfactory?
But even if you did well in the past. If you won championships and others did praise you for what you’ve done. The goalposts of success constantly shift. As world records are regularly improved by younger athletes. If you want to stay ahead of your game. The first step is realizing that improving is an ongoing effort.
4. Focusing On The Wrong Things
Focus is a big and important topic. The person who focuses on the right thing at the time wins. Sadly, we tend to concentrate our attention on things that don’t matter. On things that bring us instant gratification.
If you focus on keeping yourself entertained. Constantly inside your comfort zone. You’ll likely stay indoors. Idle behind a screen. Scrolling endlessly till obliviousness numbs any thought about directing your life towards somewhere more meaningful.
If in contrast, you direct your focus on something worthy. You can make substantial progress if you maintain this focus.
The recent pandemic is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when attention is highly targeted. During the outburst of Covid-19, amongst many things, the focus was on creating vaccines. This concentration speed up the process tenfold. Instead of the usual time needed for the development of a vaccine – 10 years. It took 1.4
How to break this bad habit:
The complexity in relation to the habit of focusing on the wrong things is that it’s not a single event. You don’t just exercise once and become healthy. You don’t just say no to fast food once. You don’t just invest a lump sum of money. You need to keep doing these things. Keep focusing on the good things which, as you can imagine, requires a lot of willpower.
However, say that we do become healthy and wealthy. If this happens. When our life is relatively stable. We become optimistic. We become more comfortable with breaking our own rules. So, we start to hesitate. “Oh, I can skip a workout today, I’m already strong,” we say. Or, “I can take another loan. I have a stable job!” When we do these things. Our life destabilizes.
Therefore, it’s not enough to only focus on doing the right things today. The goal is to keep concentrating on doing these things. Nothing too good or too bad lasts indefinitely. It’s our job to maintain stability.
5. Overlooking Details
Being careless about the details can be quite a wasteful and dangerous habit.
I’m not talking about not checking the terms of service when subscribing to an online service – nobody does. I’m talking about having the tendency to simply glimpse through things and never taking the time to understand the real meaning of ideas, feedback, tasks, and concepts in depth.
When I started writing online. I was mostly concerned about covering a topic I was interested in at that moment. I didn’t give much thought to the outline of the article. The structure. The actual words I’m using. Whether this article will be found by others. I was simply stitching random words and calling it an article.
After a couple of unsuccessful online projects – i.e., a couple of years. I learned from my mistakes. I realized that it’s not just writing about anything without having a plan or a writing method. The difference between just writing and good writing is exactly in the details.
What to say? How to say it? How this article relates to your other articles? How to start and how to end articles?
I took various writing classes that though me how to express my ideas in a way that people are delighted to read.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m a great writer. But I’m definitely way better than when I started years ago. And this improvement was possible exactly because I took the time to disassemble the concept of writing into smaller pieces and make improvements in each one.
How to break this bad habit:
It’s important to know the difference between just doing something and doing something good.
If you want to become a good basketball player, for example. It’s not enough to just practice in the nearest park. You need to deliberate practice.
Meaning, that you need to get extremely concentrated on mastering all the little details in relation to the sport. To find a couch. To constantly push your limits – i.e., go outside your comfort zone.
So, pick a behavior you want to get better at. Note down the main tasks. For example, if we return to the example of basketball. You can write down dribbling, movement, and shooting. Then, you can evaluate your current condition and create a plan on how to improve at each of these routines.
Being good at something and becoming the greatest at something are different things and require different skills. The main difference is that the latter happens by focusing on mastering the details.
Some Closing Thoughts
Listing all of your bad habits. Thinking about them. Surely won’t help you remove them all. It’s hard work. It’s insulting to your intelligence to say that you should “simply replace your bad habits with good ones.”
Yes, potentially you should. But there is nothing simple in making good habits stick. It’s absurd to think that you will, at some point, have zero bad habits.
The point here is to understand bad habits properly. To see that they exist in your life. To uncover them. Determine what needs improving and prioritize.
We tend to admire the successful people media giants constantly talk about. We look enviously at the online influencers who present themselves as bad-habits-free. But what they purposefully omit to share – so they can protect their seemingly faultless persona – is their quirks.
Everyone has an unhealthy habits list. The question is: What do you do with it?
- A) Proudly keep it glued to your refrigerator? Keeping it there for motivation. To help you keep improving.
- B) Or do you prefer to sweep it under the rug? To pretend that everything is perfect (while it’s not)?
Answering this question is the starting point towards the never-ending journey of self-improvement.
“The best cure for one’s bad tendencies is to see them in action in another person.” Alain de Botton
Add to your good daily rituals toolset by reading the following:
- The Curse of Habit Stacking – Are Your Current Habits Slowly Destroying You?
- Keystone Habits: Or How To Adopt 100 Good Habits With Just 1 Habit
- Healthy Brain Habits To Maintain Sanity In Our Mad World
- How To Overcome The 7 Worst Habits For Your Brain
- Why Micro Habits Are Better Than Typical Habits
- Defining Implementation Intentions and How to Make Them Work In The 21st Century
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.
- Here, by saying self-help gurus I mean the famous online people who make it sound like it’s astonishingly easy to correct your daily behavior and reach almighty glamour. The ones who try to convince you that success is just an Ebook away – their Ebook.
- Levy, S. MD MPH. (2021). Nicotine addiction explained — and how medications can help. Harvard Health Publishing. One the web: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nicotine-addiction-explained-and-how-medications-can-help-202107272554
- Roberts, P. (n.d.). Compulsive shopping and spending – a sign of shopping addiction? Priory. One the web: https://www.priorygroup.com/blog/compulsive-shopping-and-spending-a-sign-of-shopping-addiction
- How have Covid-19 vaccines been made quickly and safely? Wellcome Collection. On the web: https://wellcome.org/news/quick-safe-covid-vaccine-development