From childhood we are alerted to the dark path of the bad habit.
Don’t suck your thumb
Don’t bite your nails
Don’t twirl your hair
Don’t fidget, sit still
Don’t pick your nose…
Of course in these examples it is the parent speaking, the adult. They have decided this behaviour is ‘bad’. For many, this is because they were conditioned as children to believe these habits were bad, by their own parents, by ‘society’. It is as if we have passed the judgement ‘bad’ down through the generations.
But what is a habit? Convention might say a habit is a practice, a manner, a behaviour that has become a pattern. A pattern that is hard to give up. Change requires the exercising of that thing we call ‘will power’.
I have spoken before here about behaviour being purposeful, having a structure. Trigger, behaviour, reward.
Those childhood habits I have mentioned might share similar triggers … a sense of worry, anxiety, restlessness, feeling exposed, alone, needing comfort? They might also share a reward? They all seem to have a property of physical connection to ourselves, be it thumb, hair, fidgety bottom, fingers, nose. Maybe a form of comfort from connecting to our own bodies?
So why bad?
One definition of a bad habit is one that has the potential to be detrimental to our physical or mental health.
Convention in the adult world might list such things as smoking, eating too much fast food, gambling, drinking too much, late night snacking as bad habits. Again, maybe it is society that creates this assessment, this valuation of bad? Not just invented though, not just handed down in stories and tales from elders, we have researched the medical implications of smoking, drinking, over-eating. We have hard evidence. We know.
Take a smoker. They know it is harmful, yet they persist. Why? Lack of will power? Maybe. Maybe that’s just another way of saying the reward is too important to me?
I was once in a training, where we were asked to list the benefits or rewards from smoking. Many were social – an opportunity to socialise, connect with like-minded people. Some described it as relaxing. We listed over forty benefits, from a room of sixty people, only a quarter of whom smoked. But one delegate offered a very powerful benefit. They described how it helped them remember their father – who had died of lung cancer. An odd behaviour at a logical level? But, that’s a very powerful reward. I suggest it might trump will power every time.
So paying attention to the triggers and rewards, might be useful here? It is these that drive the habit. The rewards can be well hidden, logically hard to rationalise and so hard to unearth. Seeking them out can be tricky. Be persistently curious. Keep asking ‘what do I get from behaving like this?’ Finding another way to get that reward will help you change the habit.
Maybe we need to talk not so much of ‘bad habits’, but more of ‘rewarded habits’?
So, what IS your worst bad habit?
Not because society labels it bad, but because it carries a reward you very much want or need. Your most rewarded habit? And, if you would like to change the habit or behaviour, how might you get that reward another way?