Submitted Date 01/10/2019

Bad habits have several sources. Many begin in adolescence. Some can spawn spontaneously. Others start in response to stress or trauma. And more are initially inspired by the bad behavior of others. In any case, these vices can have an immediate impact on your life, or loom in a slow build up of negative consequences that remain unseen until it's too late.

But have you ever really meditated on the motivation behind these habits? What is the driving force behind them? What void is being filled? What pain is being dulled? What memory is being suppressed?

Vices arise to distract you from uncomfortable feelings. You may recognize it as such yet still feel powerless to fight it. Or you may be unaware of the inner torment or confusion that leads you to self-sabotage or self-harm. But if you took the time to listen to that inner voice speaking to you when you give in to your urges and engage in the behaviors, you could find some compelling and common insights.

What does that inner voice sound like? Is it quiet, seductive or persuasive. Is it loud, demanding or insulting. Does it build you up or tear you down. Is it comforting or critical.

What would that inner voice say? Beneath “drink this,” “smoke that,” “eat this” or “buy that,” what does this voice tell you. “You deserve this” and “this feels good” makes you feel good and less guilty about your poor decisions. “It doesn't matter” and “one more won't hurt” separates you from the consequences of your decisions. “I'll deal with it tomorrow” detaches you from the reality and urgency of your choices or circumstances. “I can make it back” fuels and skews your financial views to keep you in a continuous debt loop.

But one of the more dangerous underpinnings of bad habits is “this will make me feel better.” Because unlike most of the previous excuses, this one bears a bit of truth. Indulging your vice will make you feel better, for now. But it doesn't solve anything and the problem will return. When you hear this translate it into a more honest version of itself. Tell yourself “this will dull the pain for now” at the very least. More truthfully however, tell yourself “this will help me ignore my pain,” or “this will delay me healing my pain.”

In fact, “this will delay me healing my pain” is really the anchor underlying almost any self-destructive behavior. So this could be used to reframe any vice you have; like motor habits, social, emotional, psychological and physiological crutches. These specific vices include but are not limited to:

Diet & Fitness
Poor diet
Binge eating
Nutrition/calorie/food variety restriction
Lack of exercise

Substance Use
Excess coffee/caffeine consumption
Traditional tobacco smoking
E-cigarette vaping
Other tobacco product use
Prescription drug abuse
Hard drug use
Excess marijuana use
Binge alcohol use
Excessive alcohol use

Psychological Compulsion
Excessive gaming
Excessive media consumption
Excessive social media consumption
Frequent gambling
Overspending/compulsive shopping
Excessive/risky sexual behaviors

Psychological Impulses
Eating/drinking non-food items
Nail biting
Skin picking
Hair pulling
Oral fixation
Excessive UV tanning

Emotional Excesses
Excessive worry
Poor attitude
Excessive complaining
Excessive criticism
Short temper
Prone to conflict/confrontation

Excessive caretaking
Excessive people-pleasing
Risky behaviors
Neglecting physical health
Refusing/delaying preventative health care
Refusing/delaying acute health care
Ignoring medical advice/instruction

Interpersonal Engagement
Dysfunctional/toxic relationships
Strained/shallow friendships
Starting/spreading rumors
Manipulating others
Dominating others
Sabotaging others
Emotional/psychological neglect
Emotional/psychological abuse
Physical abuse

But what lies beneath these many distractions are a scant few emotional hurdles. These include but are not limited to:


These struggles and uncomfortable feelings tend to arise from negative or stressful life experiences. These include but are not limited to:

Mental illness
Physical illness
Mental impairment
Physical impairment
Dysfunctional/unstable family unit
Social pressure
Social judgment

Some small steps toward replacing bad habits can mean finding other ways to occupy your time or appease your urges. If you're a smoker who's not quite ready to quit you can switch to clove cigarettes, other herbal tobacco-free products, cigars or nicotine patches. E-cigarettes and vape pens still carry risks and need further study to warrant touting fewer health risks than traditional cigarettes.

If you're a couch potato you can wear ankle weights or use exercise bands to do some simple, light workouts while you're sitting on your bottom and watching your programs. You can add a large salad to your daily order of a burger and fries. You can confess to lies you've told, ask for forgiveness, and ask others to help hold you accountable going forward.

You can open up about your hair pulling or skin picking problem (called Trichotillomania or TTM) to some trusted friends and ask them to watch out for your telltale movements. If they see you picking or pulling they can ask how you're doing, tell you to stop, or recite a distracting code word to retrain your brain and help stop the behavior.

If you have an anger problem you can arm yourself with a batch of emotional vocabulary words and pick out how you feel when you feel an outburst bubbling up. You can do 10 jumping jacks, push-ups, sit-ups,or the like in between each bite of chocolate cake you know you don't need.

Other crutches will need to be examined and reframed to pick the correct path moving forward. Choose to sit with your impulse and find out where it comes from. What feelings are driving it, and what healthy activity could be done to subdue it instead.

No matter what it is you can talk to yourself about what's really going on before you indulge in your vice. Speak to your vice and ask it why it's here, what it wants, and what it thinks it will do for you. Then talk to your body. Ask why you're about to do what you're about to do, and what you think it's going to do for you. When you acknowledge this behavior is not the best way to deal with things and it won't solve your issues you may find you feel less relief from it. And as you experience less and less alleviation you may feel encouraged to explore healthier options that actually work better.

Whatever the root of these coping mechanisms, we are all searching for peace and comfort. As human beings we crave acceptance, connection, attention, validation, support and satisfaction in life. When we don't receive these we grasp at the closest, easiest thing to sooth our pain and fill the void. Bad habits are hard to break because changing a behavior doesn't address the underlying issue.

To break your bad habit you need to analyze and understand your traumas, your triggers and your choices. You must become tolerant of discomfort and resist evading the looming pain you try to dull with short-term gratification. Make an investment in long-term healing. Put your energy into self-care. And eat a damn salad!

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