Is there such a thing as a bad habit? Yes, but it’s not what you think.
The term “bad” is subjective and can be applied to things like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, but we’ll focus on healthy habits in this post.
If you’re looking for ways to improve your health by forming good habits, then this is the blog post for you! We’ll provide tips that will help make your new behaviour stick!
What makes a good, healthy habit? A good habit is one that you enjoy. It should be something that you can do without feeling like it’s work or struggle.
If your habits are ones you dread doing, then they’re not habits at all and just time-wasters. However, if your goal is to develop new and better habits, the first thing to do is identify what those new habits should be.
Often we want more sleep but don’t know how to get there. For example, we might try reading before bed instead of watching TV so we’ll feel sleepy enough earlier in the evening and fall asleep faster when our head hits the pillow.
It isn’t easy to make and maintain healthy habits, but it is possible. To know what makes a good habit, we need to understand why people want to create healthy habits in the first place.
The answer to this question varies from person to person. Still, some common reasons include: improving mental health, looking better or feeling healthier, reducing pain and discomfort (from things like headaches), decreasing the risk of heart disease or cancer.
But while we might have different motivations for developing a new habit – everyone has their own idea of what makes a “good” habit.
Some people think that if they do something every day, then it will become routine and easier over time, whereas others believe that doing something sporadically is just as effective.
A good, healthy habit is something that you want to do regularly. It doesn’t have to be an activity like exercising or eating vegetables; it can also be something as simple as making your bed in the morning.
A habit can become bad when it causes stress or hurts someone else emotionally, physically, or financially.
A good way to figure out if what you’re trying to form into a habit is actually unhealthy for you is by asking yourself these questions: Is my new behaviour harming me?
Is this behaviour hurting anyone around me? Does this behaviour take up too much time and energy? If so, then there are ways of breaking this unwanted habit with the help of professional therapy.
Let’s get started!
Forming New Healthy Habits
1. Routines vs. Habits
Most of us assume the two are interchangeable. But Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, said that this is a common fallacy — one that tends to end in disappointment.
“When we fail at forming new patterns of behaviour, we often blame ourselves,” he said, “rather than the bad advice we read from someone who doesn’t really understand what can and cannot be a habit.”
Eyal explained that a habit is a behaviour done with little or no thought, while a routine involves a series of frequently and intentionally repeated behaviours. Therefore, a behaviour has to be a regularly performed routine before becoming a habit at all.
The problem is that many of us try to skip the “routine” phase. According to Eyal, this is because we think that habits will allow us to put tedious or unenjoyable tasks on autopilot. (Your to-do list would be so much better if it just conquered itself, somehow.)
It makes sense.
Unlike habits, routines are uncomfortable and require a concerted effort. Waking up early to run every morning or meditating for 10 minutes every night, for instance, are rituals that — initially — are hard to keep up.
On the other hand, habits are so ingrained in our daily lives that it feels strange not to do them. For example, imagine not brushing your teeth before bed or not drinking a cup of coffee with breakfast. If these are habits you have already formed, avoiding them might even feel bad.
2. Stack Your Habits
Experts say the best way to form a new habit is to tie it to an existing habit. Look for patterns in your day and think about how you can use existing habits to create new, positive ones.
For many of us, our morning routine is our strongest routine, so that’s a great place to stack on a new habit.
A morning cup of coffee, for example, can create a great opportunity to start a new one-minute meditation practice. Or, while you are brushing your teeth, you might choose to do squats or stand on one foot to practice balance.
Many of us fall into end-of-the-day patterns as well. For example, do you tend to flop on the couch after work and turn on the TV? That might be a good time to do a single daily yoga pose.
3. Set Your Intentions
Keep in mind that some routines may blossom into habits, but not all of them can or will. Some things, while quantifiable, require too much concentration, deliberation, and effort to make the transition.
For that reason, playing an instrument, cleaning your apartment, or journaling doesn’t fall into the habit category; they’re not effortless behaviours that can be done without conscious thought.
The point is: Pick the behaviour you want to turn into a habit wisely. For example, maybe you want to drink more water throughout the day or skip checking your email first thing in the morning. Whatever you choose, be realistic about the process. It will take patience, self-discipline, and commitment.
“There’s no such thing as 21 days to start a new habit,” Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, said. “The amount of time it takes will vary from person to person.”
For instance, developing a pleasurable habit, like eating chocolate for breakfast, may take a day, while exercising at 5 pm each evening may take much longer.
Are you interested in writing a novel for fame, prestige, or money? Is it to gain the acceptance or love of someone you care about? Or is it simply because you love the craft?”
Understanding “the why” will help you stay motivated when inevitable roadblocks to building new routines surface.
4. Start Small
B.J. Fogg, author of the book “Tiny Habits,” notes that big behaviour changes require a high level of motivation that often can’t be sustained.
He suggests starting with tiny habits to make the new habit as easy as possible in the beginning. Taking a daily short walk, for example, could be the beginning of an exercise habit. Or, putting an apple in your bag every day could lead to better eating habits.
In his own life, Dr. Fogg wanted to start a daily push-up habit. So he started with just two push-ups a day and, to make the habit stick, tied his push-ups to a daily habit: going to the bathroom.
He began by, after a bathroom trip, dropping and doing two push-ups. Now he has a habit of 40 to 80 push-ups a day.
5. Do It Every Day
British researchers studied how people form habits in the real world, asking participants to choose a simple habit they wanted to form, like drinking water at lunch or taking a walk before dinner.
The study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, showed that the amount of time it took for the task to become automatic — a habit — ranged from 18 to 254 days. The median time was 66 days!
The lesson is that habits take a long time to create, but they form faster when we do them more often, so start with something reasonable that is really easy to do.
You are more likely to stick with an exercise habit if you do some small exercise — jumping jacks, a yoga pose, a brisk walk — every day, rather than trying to get to the gym three days a week.
Once the daily exercise becomes a habit, you can explore new, more intense forms of exercise.
6. Prepare For Roadblocks
Reflect on why, to date, you haven’t regularly practised this behaviour. What has stopped you in the past? Does fear or shame get in the way? Or a lack of time?
“Familiarize yourself with your own blockers now so that you can quickly identify and manage them when they arise later on because they will,” Vengoechea said.
Maybe a busy schedule has kept you from hitting the gym every day. To avoid this occurrence from happening in the future, block 30 to 60 uninterrupted minutes on your calendar right now. On the other hand, maybe you’re just not feeling motivated enough lately.
To keep yourself accountable, find an ally (or two) to share your goals with. This could be a trusted manager, peer, friend, partner, or family member.
“Make sure you share your ambitions, intentions, plans (and maybe even fears!) with someone who can support you and remind you of why you’re taking this on in the first place when the going gets tough,” Vengoechea said.
Research shows that your odds of success increase dramatically when you make your intentions known to someone perceived to have a higher status than yourself or someone whose opinion you value.
7. Make It Easy
Habit researchers know we are more likely to form new habits when we clear away the obstacles that stand in our way. Packing your gym bag and leaving it by the door is one example of this.
Wendy Wood, a research psychologist, says she began sleeping in her running clothes to make it easier to roll out of bed in the morning, slip on her running shoes and run.
Choosing an exercise that doesn’t require you to leave the house — like situps or jumping jacks — is another way to form an easy exercise habit.
Dr. Wood, author of the book “Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick,” calls the forces that get in the way of good habits “friction.”
In one study, researchers changed the timing of elevator doors so that workers had to wait nearly half a minute for the doors to close. (Normally, the doors close after 10 seconds.)
It was just enough of a delay that convinced many people that taking the stairs was easier than waiting for the elevator.
“It shows how sensitive we are to small friction in our environment,” said Dr. Wood. “Just slowing down the elevator got people to take the stairs, and they stuck with it even after the elevator went back to normal timing.”
Dr. Wood notes that marketers are already experts in reducing friction, inducing us to spend more, for example, or order more food. That’s why Amazon has a “one-click” button, and fast-food companies make it easy to supersize.
“We’re just very influenced by how things are organized around us in ways that marketers understand and are exploiting, but people don’t exploit and understand in their own lives,” she said.
8. Start With Nudges
You can put in place practical steps or nudges to help you kick off your new routine. Then, use one or all of the suggestions below to get organized and begin.
Make a schedule
Block regular times on your calendar (everyday or every other day) to practice the behaviour you want to build into a habit. However, be sure not to overdo it initially. “If you dive in too fast and expect results right away,” Vengoechea said, “odds are, you will fail and become discouraged before you even begin.”
Set micro habits
In the spirit of keeping things simple, another option is to try out micro habits: incremental adjustments that (over time) move you closer to achieving your goals. Think of them like stepping-stones that lead to your final destination.
Here are a few examples to give you the idea:
- The goal: Read more industry-related news.
What you can do: Create Google Alerts for topics directly related or even adjacent to your career interests, prompting you to click through and read at least one or two alerts every day.
- The goal: Get better quality sleep.
What you can do: Blue light from our screens hampers a good night’s sleep. So keep your favourite books beside your bed and leave your phone to charge in another room. Then, when winding down for the night, you’ll probably choose the nearby book instead of doom-scrolling.
- The goal: Strengthen your network.
What you can do: Encourage yourself to reach out to others with visual cues. Tape post-it notes with messages like “Did you show gratitude to a colleague today?” or “Reach out to someone new” to your screen as a way to remind yourself of your goal.
Try temptation bundling
This last type of nudge aims to make obligatory tasks more enjoyable.
Researcher Katie Milkman and her colleagues coined the concept itself, and it’s fairly straightforward: Take an activity you don’t like to do and something you do enjoy — now, bundle them together.
In practice, here’s what temptation bundling can look like: Package a behaviour that gives you instant gratification (checking Instagram, listening to music, or bingeing your favourite podcast series) with a beneficial but less fun activity (running on the treadmill, filling out a spreadsheet, or doing chores around the house).
Only allow yourself to do the “fun” thing in tandem with the “not-so-fun” thing.
For example, in Milkman’s study, the researchers gave participants iPods with four audio novels they wanted to listen to but could only access while working out.
By and large, participants’ gym attendance increased because it was tied to an indulgence.
9. Reward Yourself
Rewards are an important part of habit formation. For example, when we brush our teeth, the reward is immediate — a minty fresh mouth.
But some rewards — like weight loss or the physical changes from exercise — take longer to show up. That’s why it helps to build in some immediate rewards to help you form the habit.
Listening to audiobooks while running, for example, or watching a favourite cooking show on the treadmill can help reinforce an exercise habit. Or plan an exercise date, so the reward is time with a friend.
10. Show yourself compassion
Lastly, don’t forget to be compassionate with yourself as you embark on this journey toward more thoughtful routines, and hopefully, better habits.
Any long-term change is going to take time. That’s just the reality. There will be ups and downs. But you are capable, and if you’ve made it this far, you are also prepared.
Let the tools you’ve learned today be your compass. Let them guide you when you feel off-track (which, by the way, is a totally normal feeling when you’re trying something new).
How Your Bad Habits Affect Your Health
1. ‘Crack’ Your Knuckles
It doesn’t just annoy your friends and co-workers — it may not be very good for you, either. A substance called synovial fluid keeps your joints moving easily.
The sound your knuckles make when they “crack” comes when you pop tiny bubbles in that fluid. If you do it all the time, you’re more likely to have swollen hands and a weaker grip over time. It doesn’t seem to raise your chances of arthritis, though.
2. Blast Your Headphones
Sound is measured in decibels — normal conversation is about 60 decibels. So it’s best to keep the volume in your headphones below 75 (about as loud as a vacuum cleaner) to be safe.
And don’t listen for more than a couple of hours at a time. You’re more likely to lose hearing as you age if you’re around loud noise a lot.
That happens with more than half of us by age 75. Hearing loss in older adults is linked to thinking problems and even brain tissue loss.
3. Cheat Yourself on Sleep
If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re not just turning yourself into a daytime zombie — you also could be more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
And it might be harder for you to learn and remember things. Set a regular sleep routine and stick with it. And do your best to get 7-8 hours a night.
4. Surf Before Bed
Not waves — the Internet. The “blue light” given off by electronic gadgets like phones, computers, and TVs can mess up your sleep.
And some studies show that too much of any nighttime light might be linked to cancer (especially breast and prostate), diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Calm yourself before bed. If you want to read something, open up a book. Keep your bedroom dark and quiet for better sleep.
5. Drink Too Much
Men who have more than 14 alcoholic beverages a week and more than seven women are more likely to have kidney disease, liver disease, digestive issues, heart problems, bone damage, and even some cancers.
Studies have shown that moderate drinking — up to a drink a day for women and two a day for men — could possibly lower your chances of certain heart conditions. But if you don’t drink alcohol, that’s not a reason to start.
6. Eat Too Much
If you make a habit of it — even if it’s healthy food — you’re likely to gain weight. That can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, raising your chances of certain kinds of cancer.
Check portion sizes before meals and measure out snacks you have in front of the TV so you know exactly how much you’re eating.
7. Eat Too Quickly
It can leave you less satisfied — and make you more likely to overeat over the day. If you slow down, you could feel fuller with less because your body has a chance to realize you’ve eaten enough. It can help to focus when you eat: Take small bites and chew them well.
8. Bite Your Nails
This can damage your teeth and the skin around your nail bed, which can lead to infection. You also may get more colds and other illnesses when you put your fingers, which often carry germs, into your mouth.
It can help to keep your nails neatly trimmed or manicured. If stress could be the reason for your habit, you might try things like exercise to manage it. Talk to your doctor if you want help stopping.
9. Sit for Long Periods
Most people spend too much time in chairs. Part of the problem is the modern workplace, where you may hunch over your computer for hours on end.
This slows down your metabolism, which means you could gain weight. But, unfortunately, it’s also linked to other health problems, including heart disease.
There’s an easy fix, though: Get up now and then and move around. Even a 10-minute walk each day can help.
10. Skip Flossing
You did a full brush, isn’t that enough? Nope, you need to clean between your teeth, too, if you want to do all you can to get rid of plaque, the sticky bacteria-filled film that causes cavities.
Too much plaque can also lead to gum disease, a serious condition linked to other health issues like stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.
11. Eat Junk Food
Soda, candy, and pastries have lots of calories and little nutrition, and all that sugar gets into your blood too quickly.
Those kinds of things are linked to serious health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
“Complex carbs” with more fibre and nutrition — whole grains, fruits, and vegetables — take longer to digest, satisfy your hunger, and give you steady energy. “Good” fats like nuts and seeds also can be part of a healthy diet.
12. Spend Too Much Time Alone
It’s not how many people you know or how often you see them — what matters is that you feel connected to others.
If you don’t, you’re more likely to have high blood pressure, depression, brain issues (like Alzheimer’s), and inflammation.
13. Smoke Cigarettes
This bad habit affects nearly every organ in your body. It can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, bronchitis, emphysema, and other health problems.
It also raises your risk of tuberculosis, eye problems, and immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis.
And if you spend a lot of time around someone who smokes, you’re more likely to have asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, or a stroke. So talk to your doctor about quitting smoking.
14. Go to a Tanning Bed
It’s just not a good idea. Women with lighter hair and skin — who get skin cancer more often — are also more likely than others to use tanning beds, which can make the chances of it even higher.
And the younger you are when you start, the more likely you are to get it. Topical sunless tanning products are generally considered a safer alternative to sunbathing as long as they’re used as directed. Make sure not to inhale or apply to areas like the lips, nose, or mouth.
Whatever new habit you are contemplating bringing into your life, take some time and determine why exactly you want to change.
Once you are clear and have a direction, be patient with yourself and know that this habit will become a part of your life, just as so many others have become with time and consistent effort.
It all comes down to making conscious daily decisions.