Bad habits. We’ve all got them… Maybe you bite your nails. Or find yourself hearing the call of McDonalds and can never resist.
Whatever your vice is, you’ll know it’s a bad habit coz it makes you feel, well, bad when you give in to it. Clinical psychologist Dr Pene Schmidt puts it like this: “Bad habits are really just unwanted or undesirable behaviours that may temporarily make us feel better, but in the long run are unhelpful.”
There can be loads of reasons we develop bad habits. Many people who bite their fingernails, for example, do so because they’re anxious or worried. “Bad habits can be a way of coping with unpleasant feelings, whether it’s boredom, anxiety, frustration or feeling insecure,” Dr Pene explains.
SO... WHAT NOW?
It’s all about recognising the feels we have when we practice our bad habits. Next time you’re playing with your hair, or cracking your knuckles, stop and think about what’s going on in your head. Are you bored? Sad? Feeling lonely? Write it all down in a notebook.
For example: “What: Picking my pimples. When: 5pm. Where: The bathroom. Feeling: Anxious about my math exam tomorrow.”
Doing this can reveal “triggers” – things that jumpstart your bad habit, and as Dr. Pene says, “Recording your triggers can help you to identify different patterns to your emotions and bad habits.”
CAN I STOP THEM?
Yep, you certainly can. If you’re noticing it’s anxiety or frustration related, Dr. Pene recommends relaxation and taking time out to help rebalance and calm your emotions.
“The goal here is to reduce your emotion enough, so that you can choose how you want to respond rather than engaging in a bad habit,” she says.
If you find you are just bored, try distracting yourself with something else instead. Like YouTubing dancing cat videos…
SHOULD I BE WORRIED?
There’s no need to freak out if you find yourself compulsively twirling your fringe. “We’re all susceptible to developing bad habits”, says Dr Pene.
But if a bad habit is interfering with your general happiness and affecting your day-to-day life in a negative way, like making you avoid social situations or do badly at school, it can be helpful to see a psychologist to get some professional advice on how to overcome it.
Same for a habit you’ve had since you were born, like thumb sucking.
If you or someone you know needs help, you can speak confidentially to a trained counsellor 24 hours a day at headspace.org.au or Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800.