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We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

We all know what a bad habit is. Smoking, eating unhealthy foods, excessive alcohol consumption and living a sedentary lifestyle are just some of the things that are drummed into us as behaviours we ought to avoid in order to increase our overall well-being.

Yet a study by scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in the year 2000, avoidable behaviours such as poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and drinking alcohol were some of the underlying causes of nearly half of the deaths in the United States:[1]

  • Tobacco: 435,000 (18.1% of total US deaths)
  • Inactivity and bad eating: 400,000 (16.6%)
  • Alcohol consumption: 85,000 (3.5%)

If we know bad habits are so detrimental to our health, why do we continue to do them?

Why we can’t resist bad habits

We all indulge in behaviours that we know aren’t good for us and there are a couple of reasons why we continue these habits regardless.

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Bad habits give you the comfort you need

The first is our need to feel comfort and doing whatever it takes to reach this state.

Every action you take has a purpose behind it, even if you’re not consciously aware of what this is and the most common hidden purpose is comfort. Our brains are wired to be reward-based and our ‘reward’ is the feeling of comfort that, in turn, triggers a release of dopamine or the ‘feel good’ hormone.[2] This causes us to crave more of it and so we associate this good feeling with the bad habit.

This explains why we continue to indulge in bad habits and find it hard to stop; it feels comfortable and we essentially get to exist in our ‘safe zone’. In other words, you get attracted to the reward despite knowing it’s bad for you.

Smoking that cigarette on your work breaks causes your brain to associate that habit with freedom from work and relaxing, or drinking alcohol may be associated with letting yourself go and having a good time after a hard week. The thought of exercising and making some kind of effort is overridden in the brain by the ‘easier’ thought of sitting on the couch and watching your favourite TV programme. So you can see how easily the habit is connected with reward.

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Everyone else is doing the bad habit too

We also tend to rationalize our bad behaviours if society as a whole finds it acceptable. If a vast amount of people are doing the same thing, then it must be okay for us to do it too. It’s not difficult to find socially acceptable bad habits. Snacking, skipping exercises and even smoking are things that lots of people do.

This causes an inward rationalisation when it comes to unhealthy habits such as “just one more won’t hurt” or “I’ll do better next week, I’ve just had a stressful day today”. These in-the-moment justifications tend to be driven by the guilt of knowing we’re probably not making the best decision in the long run.

We also look outwards for examples that validate our bad habit decisions such as “my grandfather smoked every day and lived until he was 90.” Our minds love to find evidence that backs up our decisions, whether good or bad.

The consequences of continuing bad habits

Most people know the consequences of these types of habits. Warnings are plastered on cigarette packets about getting cancer. Governments beam healthy eating campaigns and the need to be more active through adverts and TV programmes. But what are the real long term consequences of constant bad habits?

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  • Cancers, diseases and cell damage
  • Unhappiness and depression
  • Negative physical well-being leading to pain or lethargy
  • Increased physical problems in later life

Most of these can be subtle and gradual meaning we don’t notice them and easily dismiss our decisions in the moment. But being mindful of the decisions we make today can keep our wellbeing topped up and constant while investing in our future selves.

For more examples of common bad habits and how to should stop them, check out this article: 13 Bad Habits You Need to Quit Right Away

How to stop these bad habits

It’s hard to stop habits that are so ingrained in our daily lives. With stress sometimes being the main trigger to a bad habit, the solution lies with reprogramming our mind. I have covered this in my other article How to Program Your Mind to Kick the Bad Habit, here let me briefly talk about the solution:

  1. Frstly, be mindful of what these habits are and how often we do them. What exactly triggers the habit? Is it an unconscious decision to do it? Question why you have developed this habit in the first place.
  2. Secondly, make a commitment to yourself that you want to eliminate this bad habit. Now you understand what may be triggering it, can you find something positive to replace it? For example, you reach for the chocolate after a hard day. Can you find a healthier reward snack? Or reduce the amount of times you’re allowed to have chocolate? Perhaps if stress is your trigger, try going for a run and give the brain another reason to release dopamine instead.
  3. Thirdly, be consistent. The key to forming new habits is consistency. Yes, it’s hard for a while but your brain soon adapts to new ways of doing things until it starts to feel natural to you. Turn your reward system into a way to celebrate sticking to your new positive habits instead.

It’s all about conditioning yourself to a new, positive way of thinking.

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Living a happier, more positive life starts with the habits we choose to form. Be mindful of which direction your habits are pointing and start changing your mindset to one of investment into your health and well-being. It’s not just for your future self but also living in the moment in a positive and healthy way.

Featured photo credit: freestocks.org via pexels.com

Reference

[1] The Jama Network: Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000
[2] Neroscientifically Challenged: Know your brain: Reward system

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Published on November 20, 2019

14 Personal Goals for a Better You Next Year

14 Personal Goals for a Better You Next Year

Personal goal setting starts with having a destination in mind.

If you don’t know where you’re going, why bother moving forward? You’ll just get more lost or find yourself back where you started again.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, every road will take you there.”- Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland

You have to have a destination of who you want to become in order to get there.

Personal goals will be easier to make if you know where you want to go.

You must start with how to get there and break down the steps. These steps must be realistic.

That doesn’t mean you can’t dream big; in fact,

“Shoot for the moon, and if you miss, you’ll still land among the stars.”

Dream big no matter what but be realistic at the same time. Be open to detours, too.

According to Action for Happiness[1], ways to make goals include deciding on goals, writing steps down, telling someone about it and plan out each step.

Here I will outline 14 personal goals that can help you become a better you:

1. Live Authentically

You don’t have time to be living your life as someone else. All you can do is be yourself. You must choose to be who you really are. That’s the best way to live.

Being yourself is not easy though. It requires dedication to your values and dreams. You won’t be able to be authentic without losing your fear of what others think of you.

There’s only one way to be successful in this life and it’s if you do it for the right reasons. It’s if you choose yourself. It’s not until you find that you will be free.

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Get inspired by my other article: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

2. Take Time for You in Self-Care Prioritization

Self-care is not something you should take for granted. Often, we don’t prioritize it well enough. Some examples include finding time for yourself, do things that make you feel good. Get dietary advice to eat healthy and exercise to improve your health.

Take a break. Go outside. Relax. Read a book or watch a good movie with someone you love. It’s about rewarding yourself with your joys and hobbies.

You can find more examples here: 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit

Self-care is not selfish. It’s important to find time for yourself so that you CAN give more of yourself to the areas of life you need to. You deserve it. You are worth it. Remember that.

3. Don’t Take Things Personally

The less you are concerned with others, the more you can focus on doing what matters most to you. What others say does not reflect the real you. It is just their perception, which may not be the full picture or the truth.

People who try to hurt you are not happy.

“Happy people don’t try to bring other people down.” – Anonymous.

That’s why it’s just not worth holding on to their words.

When you refuse to take things personally, it’s because you know who you are.

4: Decide What You Stand for

4. Decide to Be Who You Are Meant to Be

Look for things you are passionate about. Advocate to make yourself and others heard. Join groups that support your beliefs.

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”- Anonymous.

So, decide what you value and what you stand for. Then, you can do anything.

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Take a look at this guide if you aren’t sure what you’re passionate about: How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life

5. Find the Silver Lining

Find happiness in any situation by finding the silver lining. You can decide to be happy because of the good you find. You must choose to look at the good.

People often think about the bad first, and they dwell on it. It’s human nature, but if you can look for the good or the silver lining, you will be happier for it.

You can learn from any situation or use any situation to better yourself or humanity. Take that and you will overcome it all.

6. Do Something Good for Someone

Instead of just focusing on your problems, do good for someone. It will not only take your mind off what problems you have, but also help you see that you are capable of doing good — right, you still have things to offer.

There are many opportunities to do good. Volunteering, checking on a friend or family member, get involved in a project that serves your community, etc.

The more good you do, the better you will feel.

7. Practice Daily Positive Self Talk

Every day is a new day. The way you talk to yourself is how you can ensure you build resilience and endurance through any challenge.

Here are some positive self talk examples:

“Things may have not gone my way but I can see the good in the situation still.”

“At least I am alive. I have my health, my abilities and the opportunities to use what I have for good.”

“I am worthwhile.”

“I can do it.”

Even more here: 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life

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The more you practice positive self talk, the more you will overcome and accomplish.

8. Surrender, When Necessary

When you surrender, you give in to the current rather than fight against it. It means you value inner peace most of all. You don’t sacrifice your inner peace for anything. You know your worth, and you are willing to see how a situation unfolds. You don’t try to force solutions either.

Instead of forcing solutions, you allow the best ones to come forth. You also know how to use what you have. You don’t fight against your situation. You instead use it.

When you surrender, you are accepting what is. This makes it easier to move forward.

9. Ask for Help in One Area of Your Life

We are often taught that needing help is a sign of weakness but it is actually a sign of strength. It’s developing skills that you might not be as well versed in. It’s developing mentor/mentee relationships to help you succeed.

Success is subjective to every individual. When you are developing yourself, you need others’ input. You need help to be who you are meant to be.

There is no shame in asking for help. Asking for help instead opens doors for you that you may not have been able to open yourself.

10. Never Stop Learning

Learning is meant to be lifelong. You can follow your interests, and everything is a “Internet Search Engine” away. But how to really commit to this? Take another class, sign up for a workshop, read books on the subject of interest, develop new hobbies…

In Success Magazine,[2] Ramit Sethi, author of I Will Teach You to Be Rich suggests 3 techniques to never stop learning:

“1. Embrace the Mind of a Child.
2. Put yourself in the hands of a trusted teacher.
3. Read, read, read.” Overall, be responsible for your own growth in life.

You are never too old to learn something new. Start today.

11. Set Boundaries and Say No When Appropriate

Having boundaries can feel uncomfortable because we are telling others what we do not accept. It is also necessary for healthy relationships. You will use them to protect yourself, your heart and your mind.

No one can make you do anything. If you are uncomfortable with something, you have a right to say no. Those who truly care about you will not be offended. You are also setting the bar high, or setting an example for others who are too scared to have boundaries too.

You will make better choices if you have better boundaries: How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

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12. Follow Your Gut

Trust your instincts. They are trying to tell you what to trust in.

You may not want to do something but feel pressured to do it. Your gut is the one speaking to you, telling you not to do it if you don’t want to. It can save you from many things, for example preventing you from making poor choices.

When you follow your gut, you preserve your interests and secure yourself.

13. Do What You Love

Are you doing what you love? You must choose what you can’t live without. Don’t sacrifice that for anything. Life is too short.

Your best also comes out when you are doing what you love. You can give more, do more if you’re happy with what you are doing.

So, do what you love. Don’t question it: Why You Should Always Do What You Love (And How to Do It)

14. Appreciate What You Have

Good Deeds Day defines gratitude as,[3]

“Gratitude allows us to recognize good in our lives. Focusing and appreciating the good in our lives constantly reminds us about the great things all around us… Gratitude allows us to see that the sources of that good are usually close by. Practicing gratitude allows us to recognize those who bring goodness into our lives and humbles us in order to give credit to those we are grateful for.”

At the end of the day, you need to recognize what you do have rather than focusing on what you don’t have. You must choose gratitude as your attitude in order to live a happier, better life. You will win then.

Counting your blessings everyday will help you bring in more blessings. You are limitless. You will overcome more too if you have that positive perspective.

Appreciating what you have starts with the simple things in life. Recognize what’s working. Find your reason to hold on. And then change the world.

Here’re 32 Things You Should Be Grateful For if you need some reminders.

Final Thoughts

Goal setting is about finding what will better yourself and lead you to happiness. You will find peace with yourself when you are on the right path.

You have to make the decision to make the best of everything, and you have to remember what really matters. Your goals will shape you for the rest of your life.

Good luck!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Anika Huizinga via unsplash.com

Reference

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