By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor
Bad habits happen—even to good people.
Whether it’s biting your nails, or putting off a big project, everyone has those little routines that aren’t so healthy or helpful.
What makes a particular pattern of behavior “bad?”
Lori Campbell, gerontologist and author of “Awaken Your Age Potential,” says that a habit should be considered bad if it’s harmful to you or other people. This simple-sounding definition encompasses a wide variety of behaviors—from unhealthy eating, to compulsive shopping.
The birth of a bad habit
Habits themselves are neutral, subconscious patterns of behavior that people learn by repeating an action. Once they are formed, these patterns act as neural short-cuts, helping the brain save energy for more complex tasks. With habits you don’t think—you just do.
But, because a person isn’t thinking about the potential consequences of their actions, this lack of attention can quickly lead to the formation of bad habits. “Most people go through life letting things ‘just happen’ to them,” Campbell says, “They make reactive responses quickly and without much thought.”
These reactive responses occur more frequently when a person is confronted by stress. Sheila Foreman, J.D., Ph.D., a clinical psychologist says that most harmful habits spring from maladaptive coping techniques to difficult situations.
Reaching into the freezer for a tub of Chunky Money as soon as you come home from work is the perfect example of such a technique. Digging your spoon into that sugary, icy vice is a quick, yet ineffective way to give your stressed-out brain the infusion of feel-good hormones it’s craving after a long day at the office.
Don’t break it, replace it
Bad habits are often formed as a result of subliminal pleasure-seeking. This makes attention and awareness the most potent enemies of unhealthy routines, and two valuable tools that can be used to rid yourself of harmful patterns of behavior.