What Creates Bad Habits?
Bad habits are the things and behaviors we constantly do. They can ruin our health, waste our time and energy, and even destroy our relationships with other people. But why do we keep doing them? What creates bad habits in the first place?
Well, bad habits don’t just pop out of nowhere; they are a result of certain triggers, not simply because you lack willpower. So if you are thinking about breaking a bad habit (which would be one of the best decisions you’ll make), you must be aware of the cues that trigger your bad behavior.
The Habit Loop
Author Charles Duhigg, in his book titled “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” shared a framework that explains pretty well how we form habits. He calls it “The Habit Loop.”
First, there’s a cue that prompts our brain to be in automatic mode and tells us which habit to use. Next in the loop is the routine (either physical, mental, or emotional), and then there is a reward, which helps the brain decide whether this loop should be remembered for the future.
“Over time, this loop – cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward – becomes more ingrained and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges,” he wrote.
Bad habits provide us with perceived benefits (rewards), which is why we keep on doing them. At the conscious level, we may know they are not good habits, not in our best interests. But at one time or other, our brain got a dopamine hit when we did whatever the routine is, and our subconscious mow thinks it is serving us well to repeat it.
For example, you tend to reach your smartphone whenever you have idle time or when you are bored, because scrolling through your socials make you feel connected. At the same time, you know it can be a major source of distraction that can harm your productivity.
Stress and boredom are two of the biggest culprits in creating bad habits. Stress and boredom, however, can themselves be rooted in deeper issues, which you need to think about more clearly when you want to change your habits.
Everybody Is Doing It
Meanwhile, there are bad habits that we learn to do because everyone else is doing it. These are behaviors that you know are bad for you but have been generally accepted and people have been rationalizing doing them. So if you are trying to fit into a social group or wanting to be more accepted, you tend to do what everyone else is doing.
There are five main categories of cues that trigger a bad behavior: environment/location, time, emotional state, other people, and immediately preceding action.
Your surrounding is a huge influence on how you develop your behaviors, as well as the day or time they manifest. The bad habit of drinking too much alcohol, for example, can happen when you are at a bar, or every Friday and Saturday night.
How you feel at any given time is a regular trigger for many habits. Maybe you drink sweetened drinks when you are tired, or smoke cigarettes when you are stressing out about something.
Your social environment is also a huge contributor. Think about the people you are with when you indulge your bad habit. For instance, you tend to smoke when you are around certain people, or you tend to binge-eat when you are alone.
Then, the events that typically happen before you enact your habit can also be huge triggers. Maybe you immediately open your social media accounts after setting off the alarm in the morning. Or you tend to drink soda immediately after turning the TV on at night.
Find the Triggers
These are some of the things that can trigger or shape bad habits. Most of the time, we are not even aware that what we are doing has become habitual because habits put our minds in autopilot, bypassing the logical thought process. Until some people point them to us or we see the consequences.
When we know that these habits are doing more harm to us than benefiting us, it is important to make conscious efforts to change them. So the first thing to do is to be honest with yourself and recognize the cues to these bad habits. Then, you can start changing your environment and schedules, so the triggers are less automatic.