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The reasons we develop bad habits and why they’re so hard to break

Why we develop bad habits 

Have you ever found yourself engaging in a bad habit and wondering why you can't seem to stop? Unfortunately, it's common to fall into bad habits – whether it’s procrastination, unhealthy eating, or neglecting self-care. In your quest for self-improvement, know that discovering and understanding the underlying reasons for these bad habits is the first step toward making positive changes. 


Common reasons for developing bad habits

There are many reasons for taking up bad habits, but the following are among the most common. 

1. Boredom - When bored, turning to unhealthy habits to pass the time or find entertainment is not unusual. To overcome boredom-related bad habits, it’s important to find activities that are engaging and meaningful to you. This might involve taking up a new hobby, volunteering, or pursuing personal growth opportunities.

2. Stress - Stress is a common trigger for bad habits such as overeating, smoking, or procrastination. To overcome stress-related bad habits, the answer is to find healthy ways to manage stress such as exercise, meditation, or talking to a therapist.

3. Need for validation - Sometimes, people use bad habits to seek validation or attention from others. To overcome this bad habit, you need to focus on your self-worth rather than seeking it from others. This might involve setting goals that align with your values, practicing self-compassion, or seeking support from friends and family.

4. Learned behaviors - Seeing friends, work colleagues or other role models engaging in bad habits can lead to imitation to fit in or feel accepted. When employees see peers or leaders engaging in bad habits without censure, it makes it much more likely that they will imitate them. 

5. Difficulty with self-regulation - People often turn to bad habits to cope with negative emotions or to avoid facing challenges. To overcome this bad habit, it's important to work on self-regulation skills such as managing emotions, setting boundaries, and seeking support from family, friends or a trained professional when needed.

6. Lack of structure - When you don't have a clear sense of purpose or structure, you might turn to unhealthy habits to fill the void. To overcome this bad habit, you need to create a sense of structure and purpose in your life, such as setting goals, creating a schedule, or finding activities that bring meaning and fulfillment.


As you can see, the main reason for developing bad habits is a lack of self-awareness and self-control. People often form bad habits to cope with difficult emotions, stress, or boredom. 


A recent client of mine came to see me about her sugar eating habits. No matter how much she tried, she always found herself back in the grocery store or corner shop buying sugary foods and eating them eventhough her goal was to cut out sugar from her diet. After some discussion and inquiry, it became clear she craved sugar when she got angry or sad, which was more often than she cared to admit. She admitted that expressing anger was considered a bad thing to do form her family of origin because it always led to more unhappiness. Through working with me, she was able to acknowledge her anger and sadness more readily. Working together, my client developed healthy strategies to acknowledge her anger and process it in a healthy way. Once this became a habit, her craving for sugary foods dissipated and fell away. 


As you can see, if a person is not aware of the underlying reason for the habitual pattern, it can become a pattern that is difficult to break. 


Bad habits are challenging to overcome but understanding the underlying reason why it developed is the first step toward making positive changes. Unfortunately, there is no quick way around it. Identifying the reasons behind your bad habits, and finding healthy ways to cope, will help you take control of your habits and live a happier, more fulfilling life. Remember to be patient with yourself and take small steps towards change. With time and effort, you can create healthy habits that bring joy and fulfillment to your life.


Why bad habits are hard to break

Bad habits can be frustrating and difficult to break, but why are some so hard to shake? First, let’s explore why bad habits are so stubborn and what you can do to overcome them.


Your life is out of alignment

Bad habits often arise when something in your life is out of balance. Maybe you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, or perhaps you're not getting enough sleep or exercise. Whatever the case, when something in your life is off kilter, it can be hard to break a bad habit. 


What’s out of alignment? Here are some common examples and what to do to fix it:

  • Values misalignment – Review your values and consider where in your life you are not living them or where you could be living them more. 
  • Sleep/energy levels – Make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet.
  • Stress/anxiety – Engage in stress-relieving activities such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
  • Time management – Create a daily routine and schedule appropriate timeframes for tasks to maximize productivity.
  • Finances – Develop a budget plan and stick with it.
  • Relationships – Spend quality time with family, friends and significant others.
  • Work/life balance – Set boundaries between work and leisure activities so that you can rest and relax during off-hours.


It's important to identify what might be out of alignment and work to fix it. To determine what is out of alignment in your life you may need to spend some time reflecting on your situation or keeping a journal to help you figure out what’s not right for you. 


For example, if you have low energy, is it due to your diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress, or anxiety, or is your time management needing some work? This requires brutal honesty with yourself about what you may be doing to cause this misalignment. 


You don't understand why you are doing it

Sometimes, people engage in bad habits without really understanding why. Maybe you’re doing it out of boredom, to cope with negative emotions, or simply because it's a habit you’ve always had. 


It is difficult to address the issue without understanding the root cause of your bad habits so that you can make lasting changes. 


Thankfully, it only takes a few steps to help you identify the root cause of a bad habit:

1. Identify the habit 

2. Track your behaviour 

3. Ask yourself hard questions 

4. Take action 


Take the time to observe the bad habit so you can determine what exactly the bad habit is. Take notes when the habit occurs. Ask yourself why. Write down the situation or emotions you experience that triggers the habit. Ask yourself these hard questions to identify and understand any underlying causes, especially the payoff you get from performing the bad habit. 


Your focus only on the goal, overwhelms you

Breaking a bad habit is sometimes overwhelming. This is especially true if you're focusing on the end goal rather than the steps it takes to get there. So instead of trying to quit a habit cold turkey, it is often more effective to focus on small, achievable steps. 


For example, if you're trying to stop procrastinating, try setting a goal to work on a task for just 15 minutes each day. You'll be more prone to sticking to your new habit and making lasting changes by taking small steps that accumulate over time.


Bad habits are hard to break. However, by understanding the root cause of your habit, focusing on small, achievable steps, identifying what might be out of alignment in your life, and working to correct them, you are sure to overcome them and create lasting change.


If you have found that no-matter the strategies you have used, changing a habit is a struggle, book in a confidential call and we can troubleshoot why letting go of this habit is so hard for you, and I can provide some alternatives for you to try.


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