It’s an overcast Tuesday night and it’s happening again.
I’ve been horizontal for two hours now, slowing eating my way through a bag of pizza rolls. The sheet pan lies on the floor and my laptop sits on the coffee table, both within easy reach so I can alternate between eating cheesy pillows of goo and clicking through 90s music videos on Youtube.
Pizza roll. No Diggity. Pizza roll. The Boy Is Mine. Pizza Roll. Karma Police.
This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. For a 1.5 year window, this pizza roll + music video binge became, well, a habit. Whenever the stars aligned (the weather was bad, Kenny was gone, and I’d worked too hard) I’d find myself on the couch. Somehow, there would be pizza rolls in my mouth and *NSYNC in my ear.
Did you notice how I phrased that paragraph? As though I was powerless? As though this bad habit ‘happened’ to me and I didn’t have any control over it or myself? AS THOUGH A BAG OF PIZZA ROLLS IS SMARTER THAN ME?
Friends, it’s time to have a brutally honest conversation about bad habits and why we “can’t” break them.Demoralizing but true: We engage in bad habits because - on some level - they benefit us. Click To Tweet
The Unpleasant Truth Behind Why We “Can’t” Break Bad Habits
Bad habits can feel socially advantageous
When all our friends are drinking three $13 cocktails, it’d be positively rude not the join them, right? And if the marketing director takes three 15-minute smoke breaks, why quit when we could smoke with her and pitch our latest idea?
It’s can feel like a bummer to be the friend who doesn’t buy anything on the buddy shopping spree or the one who’s nursing a La Croix at the rooftop party. <- it me.
When everyone you know carries credit card debt, drives after three beers, and “jokingly” talks shit about their partner in group settings, it can feel downright awkward to not do those things. It’s easy to feel like an uptight weirdo when you shyly admit that you pay off your credit card every month and think you partner’s pretty great.
It can feel a lot easier to go with the flow. We want people to like us! We don’t want anyone to think we’re uptight or judgey or too cool for school! So we order another drink and laugh a little louder.
And then three years later we have terrible credit scores and our partner dumped us because we’re mean.
Bad habits can feel goooooood
If I gossip about someone and all the ways they’re screwing up their life, I get a tiny, awful spike of self-satisfaction because I’m not screwing up my life.
Every time we check social media and see a like, a comment, or a heart we get a shot of dopamine. Seriously!
Throwing clothes on the floor instead of putting them away, eating a whole bag of pizza rolls for dinner, ignoring that voicemail from Grandma – eventually all of the above will make us feel bad. But for about 20 minutes, they feel goooooood.
Since most of us are subconsciously chasing immediate gratification, we’re much more likely to opt for the sodium stupor of pizza rolls than the hassle of making a salad.
The truth is: we are but mammals and we like to do things that feel good. In the moment, sleeping in feels better than going for a run. Checking Facebook feels better than checking our bank accounts. Going out to eat feels better than cooking something from scratch.
But – and I know you know this – those feelings are short-lived and those habits lead nowhere you want to go.
Bad habits are usually the path of least resistance
If everyone around you is engaging in a bad habit, it’s much easier to start doing it, too. Why make a fuss? What fight the current? Why be the odd one out with your early bedtime and one-drink rule?
Why are you spending hours every Sunday doing meal prep when you could just buy a $7 deli sandwich? Why sip a smoothie when you could drink a frappe? Why spend your lunch break calling your senators when you could use that time to catch up on celebrity gossip?
Making the choices that are right for you isn’t always easy. You’re bound to encounter pushback – from your friends, your co-workers, even society in general. Do it anyway.
Bad habits reinforce beliefs we have about ourselves
Every time we say something hilarious and snarky and – let’s be honest – pretty unkind about someone, we’re reinforcing the belief that we’re brassy ball-busters who “tell it like it is.”
Every time we date someone volatile or emotionally unavailable, we’re reinforcing the belief that we “have terrible taste” or “attract a-holes.” What luck! Since that’s “true” we don’t have to examine our role in it or change anything.
Every time we’re late, we’re reinforcing the identity we’ve created for ourselves as “The Busy One,” the “Lovably Flustered One,” or just “The Chronically Late One.” And it’s easier and more comfortable to maintain an established identity than it is to work to change it.
But I want to hear from you! What are your bad habits? If you’re honest with yourself, how are they benefiting you?
P.S. If you like this kind of stuff, my new course Make It Stick Habit School is opening for enrollment on Monday! If you want to be the first to know when doors open, sign up here!