How bad habits develop

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

Why do lots of people fail to break bad habits?

Most people decide to break a bad habits after they get a positive charge of motivation that motivates them to break the bad habit.

As a result of thinking that will power and persistence is all what’s needed to break a bad habit people try to use them both to stop the habit but they end up confused when they finds themselves returning to the bad habit once again. (see How to stop bad habits).

After people return back to the bad habit once again they blame their will power because they don't understand that there are lots of other psychological factors behind bad habits that are not by any means related to will power.

Understanding the dynamics of bad habits

Do you know that sometimes a bad habit can be an unconscious declaration of defeat?
The person who fails to achieve a certain goal in life might give himself the unconscious permission to do the bad habit. The person thinks that his life is already going in the wrong direction and so it wouldn’t make a difference if something else went wrong.

This happens on the subconscious level in such a way that the person never notices that the desire to do the habit was just a declaration of defeat and not a will power issue.

Bad habits can also be the result of being unable to tolerate bad moods, wanting to escape, lacking control of one’s life, having emotional unmet needs, denying something that happened or giving up your dreams. (see Underlying causes for bad habits).

In my book The ultimate guide to break any bad habit i explained how people develop bad habits to cope with the unwanted emotions they have without being aware that their bad habits are the result of the lack of their coping abilities.

In order for those people to break bad habits they need to learn how to cope with life events that results in the emotional turmoil that forces them to do the bad habit.

A part of your wants the bad habit

In many cases a person can develop a bad habit because of a part of him wants to do the habit. When both the subconscious mind and the conscious mind disagree the subconscious mind usually wins. See Why you can't wake up in the morning.

In other words sometimes the subconscious mind feels like doing something that the conscious mind doesn't want to do. In such a case if the conscious resistance wasn't really strong then a bad habit could be developed.

In such a case understanding this unconscious desire is crucial if you want to break that habit.

Repetitive behaviour turns into habits

If a person repeated the same behaviour over and over then it is very likely to turn into a bad habit. When a person keeps doing something over and over certain neural pathways are activated in the brain and thus it becomes much easier for the brain to do the same thing again.

This is why humans are able to learn and master new skills and this is also the same reason why some bad habits can be developed.

It might begin by trying something once and as the person keeps repeating that thing it turns into a habit. See Why you should never try everything even once.

Self regulation issues

If a person doesn't have strong self regulation skills then he will be more likely to develop bad habits than others.

As soon as this person feels bad or distressed he might search for the shortest possible path to change his mood even if it was a dangerous one.

Substance dependency is one of the most popular types of bad habits that get developed as a result of lack of self regulation skills. A person who feels really bad but can't control his emotions might run for drugs just to feel good about himself.

Chemical addiction and bad habits

In many cases a person gets addicted to the chemicals that bad habit produce in his brain and not to the habit itself. Porn addiction for example is a popular case where a person gets addicted to the dopamine produce by the brain as a person watches those porn images.

In other words sometimes a person mistakenly believes he is addicted to something where as he is just addicted to the chemicals produced in the brain when that habit is done.

Psychological addiction and bad habits

In so many cases the addiction to a bad habit is purely psychological. Even if the habit involves a real addictive substance such as the nicotine in a cigarette still many strong psychological forces can come together to make that addiction much stronger.

In the case of smoking for example the person can get addicted to the level of control the cigarette gives him as he repeats the same automatic movement over and over. See the psychology of smoking.

How to break bad habits

The only way to permanently break a bad habit is to understand why you are doing it. No you aren’t smoking because you enjoy smoking and you don’t binge because you love food but there are certain psychological factors that force you to do such bad habits. (see Why do people smoke and Why can't i stop eating).

Whenever you are about to do a bad habit ask yourself these questions:
why am I doing this bad habit now? What am I trying to fix? What unmet need am I trying to fulfill?

After finding the answers to your questions you should fight the real cause of the bad habit instead of using your will power to break the bad habit itself because its just a symptom of the real cause.

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