Managing bad habits

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Habits are those patterns of behaviors we exhibit in response to specific situations. They are patterns of behaviors that we are accustomed to. Some of our habits are inherited, while others are developed as a result of repetition over time. How you eat, speak, stare at other people, your attitude to studying, spending time with friends, doing domestic chores, and some of your behaviors which are unconscious are all habits. Not all habits are healthy or positive; some habits can be self-destructive. It is therefore important that you do away with negative habits and build positive habits. 

Negative habits are those accustomed ways of behaving that are negatively impacting our lives and the lives of those around us. For example, smoking cigarettes may be considered a bad habit (although, this is culture-specific), and it may therefore be important to break such habit in order to preserve and increase one’s quality of life. Feeling too lazy to complete your homework, showing reluctance for physical exercises, or playing video games for long hours are habits that you may want to break. But to break negative habits, you need to understand why they exist. 

Negative habits are there for a reason. There is no action that does not respond to a drive or motivator. And a drive exists because it is produced by a certain need. For example, the drive to get some food to eat exists because there is a certain need called hunger. And the drive to interact with other people exists because there is a need called social need. Therefore, your habits, which are actions, are responding to certain drives. And these drives exist because there are needs to be satisfied. Your negative habits, while bad for you, are also satisfying some important needs. You just need to know what those needs are. 

Needs are our natural desires, which are essential to our existence. They are the desires that have been naturally wired in our psych, rather than those desires that have been induced by life experiences. Examples of needs include social need, need for intimacy, need for food, need for respect and attention, need for security, need for fulfilment, need for rest, and need for sex. When these needs are not satisfied, discomfort is experienced, and our health are more likely to be at risk. For example, if our need for security is triggered by feelings of anxiety, we may begin to bite our fingers or tap our feet. And if our need for respect and attention is triggered by feeling rejected and unloved, we may begin to hate and ill-treat other people. It should also be noted that needs are not all we’ve got; there are other desires which may have been induced by our experiences in life (for example, gambling, smoking, drugs, pornographic viewing, and other addictions). 

Negative habits are actions we take to satisfy certain psychological/emotional needs. For example, if you are stressed up after a hectic day at work, you may feel like relieving yourself of all the built-up stress. And one way to do so is by taking a rest. Another way to release built-up stress is to recline on a couch and see an interesting movie. These actions are ways you satisfy the need for some comfort and rest, which has been triggered by accumulated stress. There are of course numerous stressors that affect us every day. The unpleasant behavior of your boss towards you is a stressor, and the constant nagging of your wife is another stressor. Thinking about how to increase your income is a stressor, and preparing for an upcoming exam is another stressor. We respond to stress very differently; while you may take to drinking beer or liquor to deal with the death of your grandmother, another person may simply hit a brothel. 

Negative habits caused by stressors, and triggered by the need for some comfort and rest, can be broken by simply looking for other comfortable and enjoyable ways of satisfying this need. Stressors will always give rise to stress, because they are a part of everyday life. However, what really matters is how you respond to stress when it happens. You must substitute enjoyable but bad habits with enjoyable but good habits. If getting depressed or angry makes you smoke, why not take up another activity you enjoy instead, which can substitute your habit of smoking, perhaps like watching a horror movie or playing a lawn tennis game? Substituting your negative habits with positive habits is one good way of getting rid of them.     

People are also more prone to yielding to their bad habits when they experience boredom. Boredom is sometimes caused by a lack of purpose and direction in life. People who set goals and know where they are going hardly experience boredom. Boredom is therefore brought about by a need for fulfilment. Instead of yielding to negative habits, why not set some meaningful goals and strive to achieve those goals? Having a vision, setting some targets, and making great effort to accomplish those targets will help satisfy your need for fulfilment and prevent the feeling of boredom. 

Another way to avoid giving in to bad habits is to avoid the triggers/stimulants. If you smoke when you hang out with your friends who love smoking, then those friends of yours are triggers. You should therefore avoid hanging out with them; this does not mean you do not love and respect them. If going to the bar makes you feel like drinking beer or liquor, then don’t go to the bar. Avoiding the trigger may not necessarily help you overcome the habit, but it sure helps you avoid manifesting it. And if your bad habits are proving to be too difficult to eliminate, it’s best not to manifest them.