The thing that amazes me about bad habits is that they seem to develop so effortlessly.
They usually start small. You give yourself one night a week “off” from tidying the kitchen after dinner. A few weeks later, it is easier to take a couple of nights off. Soon, your kitchen is a perpetual mess and even worse than that, the clutter has started to spread to the rest of the
Or you start to have a little piece of chocolate every now and again in the evening. Then, before you know it, you’re having a huge block of chocolate every night, and you always make sure that you have chocolate in the house. And when you realize that you forgot to buy chocolate, you experience anxiety and stress.
Often, these bad habits start as a way to escape from boring routines or as an ineffective way of dealing with our stress. As long as we don’t find healthier ways to deal with our boredom or stress, we will continue to start and nurture these bad habits.
So here are some ideas on how to identify and change bad habits, so that you can become happier, calmer and more fulfilled.
What makes a habit bad?
I think we should be careful to categorize every habit as either”bad” or “good”. Too much of a “good” habit is also not good for you, for example, exercising too much and not giving your body time to rest from injury.
Again, there are no hard and fast rules, but basically, a habit is bad when it:
- holds you back from being successful
- causes you mental or physical harm
- affects your wellbeing
- is frowned on by society
- is harmful to others
- prevents you from reaching your full potential
The cost of bad habits
I don’t think that we should all try to be perfect (that’s a bad habit right there), but I do think that bad habits are self-defeating behaviors which hold us back from living our full potential.
Think about it.
Bad habits can ruin your health (smoking or overeating), it can impact your career (procrastinating on tasks), or affect your relationships (not listening to others).
I firmly believe that if you want to change anything in your life, you need to start with yourself. You are (sadly) wasting your time if you wait for anything out there to change first.
To identify any bad habits that you might have, it is helpful to take a step back and first ask yourself, in which core areas of your life can you improve?
Getting a helicopter view of your life helps you see gaps and opportunities where you can change.
There are typically 7 core areas, but yours might look different, depending on your life situation.
Core life areas
- Family / Friends
Examples of bad habits in each core area
I’ve created a list of *mostly* universally recognized bad habits, broken down into each core life area, to help you with ideas around habits you want to change.
Bad Mental Habits to change
- negative thinking
- putting yourself down
- blaming others for your problems
- having a victim mindset
- thinking you are always right
- being a people-pleaser or approval seeker
Bad Physical Habits
- starving yourself
- living a passive lifestyle
- eating a lot of processed food
- drinking too much alcohol
- drinking large amounts of sweetened drinks and not enough water
Bad Financial Habits
- buying things you don’t need
- racking up debt on your credit cards
- making more debt to pay off your debt
- avoiding budgeting
- being oblivious to what you spend your money on each month
- going on shopping sprees to make yourself feel better
- not saving any money
Bad Career Habits
- working too many hours, at the cost of your family or health
- procrastinating on tasks
- waiting for your manager to improve your situation
- making promises you can’t keep
- taking the credit for someone else’s work
- overscheduling yourself
- having a sense of entitlement
Bad Personal Habits
- picking your nose
- picking your teeth
- biting your nails
- spitting in public
- being constantly late
- saying I’ll do it later
- driving while texting
Bad Spiritual Habits
- lying (even if they are only *white lies*)
- worrying about things you can’t change
- judging others
- being ungrateful for what you have
- bullying others
Bad Relational habits (family & friends)
- always picking fights
- not making time for your loved ones
- trying to change your partner
- not really listening to what others are saying
- avoiding talking things out
- neglecting your friends
- often interrupting others
Steps to Change bad habits
- Identify the core areas of your life. You can either choose your own areas or use the ones in this post.
- Spend some time thinking about each area and identify a habit that might have a negative impact on that area.
- Decide on a new habit to replace each old one.
- Start small and choose ONE bad habit to change.
- Write down how your life will change when you have this new habit.
- Change your thinking from “I will stop X habit” to “I will start X habit”
- Link the new habit you want to start, to an existing habit. The existing habit will be the trigger to remind you to do the new behavior until it becomes a habit.
- Give yourself time, and when you are ready, move to the next core area and habit to change.
How to make lasting changes
Remember those bad habits we spoke about in the beginning? How they slowly and over time build up to something which becomes a problem?
The biggest reason why we struggle to change our bad habits is that we think we *should* perfect the new habit immediately. Thinking like this will do two things
- make you give up before you even start
- let you burn yourself out, become demotivated and then give up
Instead, what you want to do is start behaving like a person who has that habit.
Want to become a runner? Put on your running shoes every day, even if you just go for a walk around the block.
Want to be a healthier eater? Add one vegetable or salad to one meal a day.
Want to become an author? Write a few hundred words each day.
Want to become more compassionate? Give one
It can be difficult to change entrenched behavior, don’t expect to change your bad habits overnight. Rather give yourself some grace and remember that with perseverance you can change your life!