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There’s no such thing as a bad habit

5th February 2021

We all have some habits that we would like to change. Perhaps you’re partial to drinking a little more wine than you’d like to. Maybe binging series after series on Netflix is taking up more of your time these days. It could be that eating too much sugar is your vice.

All habits serve a function

Whatever your particular undesired habit is, it’s important to recognise that at some level it serves a purpose. In other words there may very well be a part of you that wants to stop that habit but there is also another part of you that doesn’t.

Your undesired habit serves a function or you wouldn’t do it. It’s as simple as that. You may prefer not to do it and that’s fine. However the more that we recognise that we are made up of competing drives and motivations the more we can begin to understand and make sense of our behaviour. This way of looking at undesired habits allows us to explore the reward or pay off that we receive from engaging in them.

Habits as ways of managing stress

Unwanted habits come in all shapes and sizes. However the interesting thing is that no matter how diverse and varied they may appear they always share one distinct feature. They allow us to change our emotional state in some way. This may take the form of escaping unwanted feelings or could be a way of managing physical or mental restlessness. The reward we usually seek from our habits is a reduction in restlessness or discomfort  and an increase in inner harmony. Habits are in essence mood altering mechanisms.

If unwanted habits are at one end of the continuum then addiction sits at the other end. Addiction can be viewed as a behavioural coping mechanism that allows us to manage pain and alter our mental and physical state that we continue to engage in despite the negative consequences of doing so.

Many of us are acutely aware that we feel more stressed as a result of the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns.  That stress doesn’t just show up in our minds. It is revealed in our behaviour and more specifically our habits. This is supported by the evidence that the lockdowns seem to have had an impact on one habit in particular.  Data shows that people have been consuming more alcohol over this period.  Deaths caused by alcohol have also hit a new high during the first nine months of 2020, provisional figures for England and Wales show.

The best way to break undesired habits

Khody Damestani, co-founder of mental fitness company, Mymindpal has the following advice.

“Stress is not just something that we feel in our minds and bodies, it is revealed in our behaviour and habits as well. Using will power to try to break habits is a flawed concept that doesn’t take into account the function that the habit serves. Most unwanted habits are really ways of managing stress and discomfort.

A more effective approach to change an unhelpful habit is simply to replace it with a relaxation exercise of some kind. Ideally go outdoors or find a quiet place and If that’s not an option we have plenty to choose from in our mental fitness app.”

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