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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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Last Updated on March 19, 2019

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

It’s Monday morning. The alarm rings. What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you open your eyes?

“I really don’t want to go to work today”, “I have such a long day ahead, what a dread”, or “Yes! It’s a brand new week ahead! Looking forward to getting lots done.”

Whatever your response may be, ask yourself this question:

“What is it that made you feel unmotivated?” What was driving you to feel negative or positive about your Monday ahead? How to get motivated?

Meet Nancy

I used to have a colleague by the name of Nancy. She came to work at the same time every morning, and would leave at 6.30 sharp every evening. Not a minute earlier, not a minute later. She was known to be the office grinch as she was often grumpy towards everyone, so much so people would avoid her whenever possible. She complained about everything under the sun.

I had a brief conversation with her one morning in the office lounge where we were both getting coffee. She told me she had been working with the company for over 20 years! When she told me that, I asked her what motivated her to stay on for so long, and her reply was simply “I don’t know. It’s a job that pays the bills, and is close to where I live.” With that, she walked away and I was left standing alone in the lounge with my hot coffee, at a loss for words.

How could someone be doing the exact same thing for over 20 years? And she clearly doesn’t enjoy her work, what with all that complaints and grouchy attitude. So why hasn’t she done anything about it?

The 2 Types of People

This might be an extreme case, but I’m sure you must know of people who have been doing the same thing for years and seem to not have any problem staying stagnant. Whether it be in their marriage, job, or personal endeavors, they seem to be getting along just fine without progressing towards anything ‘better’.

On the other hand, I’m sure you would also know of individuals who focus on the positive, set goals and are constantly pushing themselves to greater heights. Be it promotions at work, building a family, celebrating milestones in their marriage or relationships, upgrading houses and cars, setting up new businesses, or going to school again, these individuals seem to constantly progress towards something that improves or enhances their life.

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So what’s the difference between these 2 category of individuals?

What you feel like or don’t feel like doing, boils down to one thing. And that is motivation. It is the force, or lack of, that keeps driving you forward to overcome challenges and obstacles to achieve your goals.

Without motivation, you’ll give up after a few failed attempts or even on the first tough challenge that comes your way. Or, in the case of Nancy, just remain where you are: unhappy yet not doing anything to progress ahead.

What is Motivation, Really?

Whether you realize it or not, motivation is a huge force in your life; and it needs to be harnessed in order to excel and actually enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, many overgeneralize the word motivation. We think of being either motivated or demotivated as a simple “yes” or “no” state of being.

But motivation is not a switch. Motivation is a flow. To feel motivated, you need to dive beyond the surface. Just reading a motivational quote, being encouraged by your friends or even mentor won’t help you build sustainable motivation in the long run.

You can think of the motivation that we want to achieve like the Sun (self-sustaining and long lasting), which supplies a constant influx of energy to all life on Earth. Just like the Sun, your “motivation engine” has different layers, starting from the core and spreading out to the surface. The surface is what you see, but the real process is driven from the core; and that’s the most important part… I’ll explain why in a moment.

If you can create a self sustaining motivation engine, you’ll not only be able to find more meaning and purpose in your life, but you’ll be able to enjoy every minute of what you’re doing, which will make your roles and responsibilities less of a chore. Now wouldn’t that be a game changer?

Let me help you understand this motivation flow better, by breaking down the Motivation Engine into 3 parts:

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  1. Core – Purpose
  2. Support – Enablers
  3. Surface – Acknowledgement

I’d say we’re most familiar with layers 2 and 3, as we come into direct contact with both of them frequently.

The Second Layer: Support – Enablers

In essence, the second layer of the Motivation Engine (also known as Enablers) is what supports your goals. They can magnify the motivation core you have, or speed up the momentum that you build. Basically, they create favorable circumstances for things to go smoothly.  

The Third Layer: Surface – Acknowledgement

The third layer, also known as Acknowledgement, encompasses any type of external recognition that might give you motivation. It may come in the form of respect or recognition, such as compliments and praise.

Or it could be emotional support through encouragement, feedback and constructive criticism. It could also be affiliation, where you have mutual companions or buddies sharing the same goal or burden with you.

This is generally what you see on the surface when you look at other people. You see the external acknowledgement, respect, and recognition they’re getting.

The Innermost Layer: Core – Purpose

But what’s most important, and the true driving force behind your Motivation flow, is the innermost core – your Purpose. Your purpose is what differentiates the motivated from the demotivated, the achievers from the underachievers, the happy from the unhappy.

Your motivational core is your Purpose, and is sustained by two things: Having Meaning, and Forward Movement. With these two as a foundation, you’ll have a power source that will feed you motivational energy indefinitely.

So, how do you do these two things?

How to Sustain Your Purpose

Having Meaning is simple. Just ask yourself a question: Why?

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Why are you pursuing a certain goal? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. While motivation provides you energy to do something, that energy needs to be focused somewhere. So without meaning, there is no direction for your energy to be focused on.

Yet, having a meaningful objective doesn’t mean you have to change the world or create A huge impact on society. The secret to meaningful work is simple: it should contribute value to something or someone that matters to you.

Next up is gaining Forward Movement. In short, this means to just keep moving. Like a snowball, motivation from having progress creates momentum. So to keep this up, you have to keep moving.

And the good news is, your progress doesn’t have to be huge for you to recognize it. Small amounts of progress can be just as motivating, as long as they keep coming. Like driving a car, you may be really impatient if you’re at a complete halt. But, it lessens if you’re moving forward–even if you’re moving slowly.

Creating a simple progress indicator like checklists or milestones, are a great way to visualize your small (and big) wins. They trigger your brain to recognize and acknowledge them, giving you small boosts of motivational energy.

This is why video games are so addictive! They’re full of progress indicators everywhere. Even though the progress is completely virtual, they’re still able to trigger the motivation centers in your brain.

Find Out What Drives You Today

So why not take some time today and do a quick reflection of where you’re at now? Take one aspect of your life that you’d like to be more motivated.

For example, it may be your current job. First, start with why. Write down your reasons for why you’re in the job that you’re in. Then think about your Motivation Core: Your Purpose. Write down what it is within your job that gives you meaning, and what are some things that will help push you forward in life.

Once you have those points, it’s time to do a comparison. Does your current job help you make progress towards that Purpose that you’ve written?  

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If it does, then wonderful! You’re on the right track. But if it doesn’t entirely, or you now realize you’re way off target, don’t panic. It’s definitely not too late to align your actions back to your true purpose.

Here at Lifehack, we’ve condensed over 15 years of life improvement coaching into 7 distinct Cornerstone Skills. And finding motivation is just 1 of 7 Cornerstone Skills that you can master to dramatically turn your life around!

Wouldn’t We All Like to Be Happy?

Happiness need not be a vague term or illusion that you’re constantly chasing after–with no end in sight. By finding your true motivation, you’ll be one step closer to realizing your happiness and finding meaning in all things you do.

And for those of you who feel like you’re already working towards your purpose or goals, learning these 7 Cornerstone Skills will only help you to push progress even further, and at a much faster rate. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be 10 times more productive?

You may have read hundreds of books, articles, and watched videos, maybe even tried some solutions too to help you stay motivated. But, none of them really have any impact. They bring only incremental changes, and that’s not what you’re really looking for. This is because permanent change requires a holistic approach, and is more than just focusing on one area of your life, or working on changing a part of your routine or actions.

You want to make a fundamental change; but it feels like big, unknown territory that you can’t afford to venture into at this point in your life.

The truth is, taking your life to the next stage doesn’t have to be this complicated. With our course, it’s actually quite simple. It’s an all in approach, and the 7 Cornerstone Skills is just what you need to make that holistic change. So if you’d like to take the first step to achieving your life purpose, the time is now!

Applying one of the 7 Cornerstone Skills as covered in this article can already make a difference in your life, imagine learning the whole set of skills to live your best life! How to learn them all? We’ve got the solution at Lifehack — Find out More About Our Solution Here!

Featured photo credit: Candice Picard via unsplash.com

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