Beating back bad habits? I feel like I’ve had a lifetime of practice. And though I’ve never been a drinker or a smoker — no need to wrestle those demons to the ground — I have indeed struggled with self-destructive staples like lousy attention to eating, sleeping, and exercise.
Then there’s that old standby — workaholism. For decades I threw so much of myself into my work life that I shortchanged healthy habits, family time, and “me” time, all in the pursuit of the highest quality performance I was capable of.
My Personal Bad-Habit-Go-Round
Other behaviors I’ve had to swat away, tamp down, or battle outright more often than I like to admit?
Here’s an equal opportunity offender that plagues so many women across a breadth of demographics — emotional eating. While I’ve had decades when I’ve managed this issue, I’ve had other extended periods when emotional eating seemed to monopolize my life. And this issue is exacerbated by gaining weight easily, which sets off a painful, detrimental cycle of self-contempt, followed by more eating to soothe the negative feelings, more self-contempt… an altogether too familiar routine.
Now, I’ll venture one more habit that you could deem dreadful if you like — and some do — though I have found it useful to me. When I’m dealing with difficult issues, I go inward, I become very quiet.
Possibly the mood management methodology of the introvert, this is and always has been my healing habit. Some are critical of this mode of processing emotion overload or letting go of grief. For me, shutting out the world for a bit expedites my ability to arrive at a place of acceptance of issues I cannot control. Often, what appears as retreat allows me to construct new approaches, new goals, new resolve. But from the outside looking in, my habit of choosing quiet time makes others uncomfortable.
Which Habits Hurt Most?
Should I flagellate myself over my bad habits? Should you? How hard should we work to undo those habits that truly are — we all agree — unhelpful, unhealthy, and undermining our dreams?
There is a surprising (and entertaining) amount of “literature” on the Internet pertaining to bad habits we should seek to change. I was amused by this list, Buzzfeed’s 19 Bad Habits You Should Quit Before You’re 30, and while that “age 30” ship has sailed for yours truly, it’s an interesting list. The items included definitely reflect the norms of our Millennials when it comes to device and socializing habits, but we who are older are no less subject to the addictive nature of these (and other) dopamine spikes.
And isn’t that what makes almost anything habit-forming? Isn’t it the immediate hit of pleasure that we can’t get enough of?
Sure, psychological factors come into play — matters of identity, security, coping mechanisms formed in childhood. And yes, there are practical underpinnings as well; good habits taken to an extreme can eventually become harmful.
Among the items on Buzzfeed’s list:
- Ignoring everyone around while on your phone
- Holding grudges
- Obsessing over finding a relationship
- Ordering way more food via take-out than you need to eat
Um… Forty-somethings? Fifty-somethings? Everyone? Aren’t we just as guilty of these bad habits? Aren’t they worth beating back?
Habits Harmful to Productivity
Another list of common bad habits is this, with a focus on improving productivity. It is Entrepreneur’s 10 Bad Habits You Must Eliminate From Your Daily Routine, and let me say, the opening paragraph is a pointed reminder.
Author Travis Bradberry writes:
You are the sum of your habits. When you allow bad habits to take over, they dramatically impede your path to success.
Bingo! For me, that nugget is worthy of copying onto a sheet of paper and taping to my fridge.
From Mr. Bradberry’s list of bad habits:
- Using our devices in bed at night (our phones, tablets and laptops emit short-wavelength blue light, interfering with sleep)
- Checking our phones in the midst of conversations (not only rude, but impairs concentration and consequently, performance)
- Saying “yes” when we should say “no” (Ah… the People Pleaser’s drama…)
- Comparing ourselves to others (which may cause us to hesitate, not take risks, not feel confident)
That last is potentially more damaging than we realize, isn’t it? There’s a good deal more on this list that I find relevant, so pop over and read it.
Most Common Bad Habits
This list of common bad habits points out the (negative) impacts on how we look. (Let’s remember that poor nutrition, too much alcohol, too little sleep and so on wreak havoc with our appearance.) Mama Mia’s bad habit list reminds us of exactly this, not to mention what I heard from my mother a few decades back!
Among these usual suspects:
- Too much alcohol
- Too much sugar
- Too sedentary a lifestyle during the day
- Too much weeknight partying!
That point about remaining sedentary during the day? That’s a big one. For any of us who spend most of our time sitting, we need to remind ourselves to stand up!
A few other common bad habits?
From my own experience, try these: complaining, focusing on the negative, and getting stuck in analysis paralysis, which I see as a variant of insecurity and related fearfulness.
And what about relationship choices? To what extent is our tolerance for enduring destructive relationships a matter of habit? Can we remember that habits are patterns that we repeat. They are learned. They can be unlearned. And that includes all sorts of destructive patterns we absorb in childhood, as we repeat our parents’ mistakes in our own adult lives.
How Long to Break a Bad Habit?
Kicking unhealthy behaviors to the curb is hard, but not impossible. However, the Rx requires a bit of patience, and naturally, there is a distinction to be made between addictions and unhealthy habits, though certainly there is overlap.
21 days to change a habit? Not quite, we’re now told. As explained in this article on changing habits from Science Alert, referencing a small 2009 study:
the time it takes to form a habit really isn’t that clear-cut…
Right, but… I do know I kick my sugar habit in roughly one week. I do know I reset my exercise habit in approximately the same amount of time. As for other, more entrenched, more psychologically conditioned bad behaviors?
Ah, yes. Not so fast!
Science Alert continues:
Experts agree that there’s no typical time frame for breaking a habit, and the right recipe is going to be a mix of personality, motivation, circumstances, and the habit in question.
Recipe for Success?
Clearly, what we’re trying to change is a key determinant in understanding what it will take to succeed at the change. And getting it done.
Who we are as individuals — our personalities, our support systems, our circumstances — also factor into our success or failure in redressing bad habits. And possibly more so, certainly for me, the motivation to make a change. This is particularly true when my behavior is well entrenched, long held, and convenient to rationalize.
- Do you find old bad habits creeping into your routines when life gets more stressful?
- As you’ve grown older, is it easier or harder to knock off a bad habit?
- What habits — to do with health, socializing, work life, family life — are you looking to renew or reinforce?
- When it comes to beating back a bad habit, what works for you?
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