Unwanted Habits
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Like a messy relationship, unwanted habits can stick around a lot longer than they should. This is your break-up brief!


Global (27 August 2023) — Unwanted habits are a lot like bad relationships that stuck around way longer than they should have. And in many ways, letting them go for good is a lot like a breakup; a necessary difficulty. But why do we keep around the habits we know aren’t good for us, and why do they feel impossible to cut off?

Whether it’s an unhealthy relationship with sugar, caffeine, social media, or habits around how you interact with others (like being too much of a people pleaser) or even yourself (like intense procrastination), unwanted habits are hugely personal, as are the reasons you hold onto them. However, there are also broad reasons that lead them to make like velcro.

Some Part of You Likes What the Habit Gives You

Ever been in a relationship where the highs are high but the lows are pothole-worthy? Unwanted habits follow a similar road!

Dopamine, our Dangerous Friend

Some habits are likeable for obvious reasons, and most of the time the reason is linked to our chemical pal dopamine. Dopamine, or our happy chemical, is the reason we do a lot of what we do. But, dopamine doesn’t always come from good things.

Take chocolate over-indulgence. The dopamine levels we get from chocolate cause a spike in our dopamine levels and the reward centre in our brains.

So, when you crave more, sometimes what you want isn’t even the thing itself, but the dopamine you associate it with.

Identity Crises

In other cases, we stick to our unwanted habits because of the identity that the habit has helped create for us (or so we think). Take smokers who associate smoking with being less anxious—the association with something good (like being less crippled by anxiety) is made with smoking and not as something that can exist without it (which is totally possible). The good news about habits and their relationship to identity is that we can create new, better ones when we identify ourselves with a version of us that doesn’t do the thing we’re trying to kick.

When we know why we like certain habits whether it’s obvious or takes a little digging, it becomes easier to check in on ourselves. The problem then, is not always that you simply can’t stop doing the thing, but that your brain thinks it is unsafe to.

So, How Do We Let Them Go?

As it is with a breakup, we usually only let go of things when we make the mental connection that something no longer serves us or the impact of how we feel in the bad times doesn’t outweigh the good anymore.

Tackle letting go of your unwanted habit similarly.

  • Decide that the scales are skewed—i.e. too much social media makes you feel more insecure than inspired. Or too much people pleasing makes you feel more anxious than helpful. Weigh how much something is worth, and really think about what it is taking in return—like your peace.
  • Start to associate the habit with the negative instead of the positive (so that your brain can learn it is actually a red flag).
  • Commit to ‘no contact’, cold turkey quitting or downscaling your unwanted habit (depending on how much of a red flag it is in your life).
  • Envision your new identity without that habit. Get comfortable with that person and think about how they would act, and what they would do.
  • Find a healthier alternative to fill the dopamine gaps and create a better habit for yourself! Ie: find something else that gives you dopamine through something rewarding, like a passion project. Instead of reaching for the vape, reach for something else that sparks wholesome joy.

Sources: GTG
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About the Author

Ashleigh Nefdt is a writer for Good Things Guy.

Ashleigh's favourite stories have always seen the hidden hero (without the cape) come to the rescue. As a journalist, her labour of love is finding those everyday heroes and spotlighting their spark - especially those empowering women, social upliftment movers, sustainability shakers and creatives with hearts of gold. When she's not working on a story, she's dedicated to her canvas or appreciating Mother Nature.

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