September 16, 2019

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I recently finished reading Atomic Habits and got back in the swing of trying to break bad habits and build up new ones. James Clear, the author, argues that there are no “good” or “bad” habits, but rather habits that either serve us or don’t serve us based on where we want to be in life and where we want to end up.

So why does identifying bad habits matter, if “bad” is an ambiguous descriptor?

What Is Meant by a Bad Habit?

For the most part, a bad habit is something that you do repetitively, that you can stop doing when you really and truly decide to, and that society has deemed to be “bad.” Often it breaks laws, customs, or some moral code for the society. Most people think that bad habits are things to avoid because they can often affect your health and wellness.

Recognizing the different types of “bad habits” is particularly useful if you want to stop doing something that isn’t serving you.

There are different categories of bad habits. Let’s look at the most common ones.

Time-Wasting Habits

Not putting things where they go, not creating a home for everything you own, and not keeping your stuff organized can make you waste time. Wasting time can end up affecting your down time because you still have to make time for work.

Unhealthy Habits

If you have some unhealthy habits like eating unhealthy snacks every night (especially late at night), watching a lot of TV instead of doing physical or mentally stimulating things, and avoiding going to the doctor on a regular basis, you can negatively affect your health.

Lost Productivity Habits

If you don’t have a morning routine and you don’t have some sort of schedule for being productive, you will lose opportunities. These types of bad habits are really a lack of good habits.

Habits That Harm Your Financial Health

If you’ve developed habits like gambling, living paycheck-to-paycheck, or using payday loan services, these can ruin your financial health today and in the future. Overspending often starts as a bad habit of not minding your finances—or never learning how to manage them in the first place.

Habits That Impede Your Social Life

For some people, their bad habits can hurt their social life. If you have a bad habit of being late, not caring about others much, or doing behaviors that repel others, you may end up with no social life. It’s worse if you suffer from social anxiety.

Habits That Harm Others

Some people develop habits that don’t just harm themselves, but others too. For example, if you have a smoking habit and you smoke around other people (especially kids), this is a very harmful habit. These habits don’t have to have negative physical effects, either. Negative effects on emotions and mental health are just as harmful.

Habits That Ruin Relationships

Some people allow their habits to even ruin their relationships. Habits like being sloppy, unclean, and not thinking of others can ruin many relationships, especially if you’re late a lot or gossip too much. Nobody liked the cliques in high school, so there’s never a reason to be cliquey as adults. Humans need relationships, so relationship-destroying habits are “bad habits” too.

Gross Habits

Smoking and nail biting come to mind when it comes to gross habits. So does nose picking, picking your toes with your fingers, and other rude behavior that you should not do in public. If you do have these habits, you can stop them with a plan.

Check out Atomic Habits for a strategy to break bad habits.


9 Habits That Are Bad for Your Mental Health

These nine habits can cause problems that eventually affect your mental health. Being aware of them can help you check yourself regularly to ensure that you’re not experiencing negative mental health issues based on your bad habits.

1. You Have Bad Posture

You might not think of something as physical as this to cause problems with mental health. However, if you tend to slouch and sit incorrectly, your mood might go with it—especially if you tend to experience pain from your bad posture. And if you don’t now, you will as you age. I go to my chiropractor every week, and if I go for a few weeks without an adjustment, I really notice all my little aches and misalignments affecting my mood.

2. You’re Prone to Perfectionism

Some people think “perfectionism” is a good quality to have, but the truth is having perfectionist tendencies is not a good thing. It can mean that you’re procrastinating more or it may mean that you are fearful of your life, including both success and failure. “Procrastinator/Perfectionist” is actually one of Ruth Soukup’s seven fear archetypes, and it’s in my top three. When we don’t think we can do something perfectly, we tend not to start at all.

3. You Experience Shame Easily

One of the worst emotions that you can allow yourself to have regularly is shame. Shame is a useless emotion in that it tells you that there is something wrong with you. This contrasts with guilt, a feeling that tells you that you did something wrong. If you feel regular shame, you probably don’t feel validated, loved, or cared for, which can affect your mental health. Guilt = good, shame = bad.

4. You Don’t Exercise Regularly

Some studies suggest that a sedentary lifestyle is worse than smoking. If you sit more than four hours a day, you’ll need to incorporate intentional exercise to avoid problems. When you don’t move much, you may end up depressed. Try to get a few minutes of exercise here and there—it doesn’t have to be all at once to count. Consider taking a post-lunch walk or a quick jaunt around the office just to get your blood flowing.

5. You Have a Negative (or Fixed) Mindset

If you’ve allowed yourself to develop the habit of always thinking negatively about things, it’s time to turn that around. Negative thinking leads to anxiety and depression and feelings of powerlessness. Read this post on fixed vs. growth mindsets to learn more.

6. You Use Social Media Too Much

Reading social media posts is a proven bad habit for your health, especially your mental health. The main reason is that people tend to share and post more negativity than positivity. We get caught up in jealousy and comparison over other peoples’ curated lives, and feel worse about our own imperfect journey. I recommend taking time for a digital detox, especially from Facebook and Instagram.

7. You Don’t Have Downtime from Screen Time

If you transition from your work computer to your home computer to your TV, that’s way too much screen time. The light emitted from screens can interfere with your circadian rhythms, causing insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Try following the 20/20/20 rule, which states that every 20 minutes you should look 20 (or more) feet away for 20 seconds. This helps reduce the eye strain from constantly looking at screens.

8. You Don’t Get Enough Sleep

If you have a habit of staying up late and not sleeping enough, you need to ensure that you sleep between 7 to 9 hours a night. Everyone needs different amounts but if you’re always tired, it will affect your mental health and make it harder for you to deal with issues. Longer sleep times as an adult is an indicator for mental health problems. It’s also important to understand your sleep chronotype, which affects everything from when we’re most productive to what time we should really go to bed.

9. You Don’t Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough water and liquids each day is an important component in ensuring good health. Many people walk around dehydrated and don’t realize it. If you are not measuring your water intake and you feel tired, double check, because it may be the amount of water you’re (not) drinking. When you feel tired, it can affect your mental health and make you foggy and unable to make good decisions.

Wrapping Up

These bad habits lead to poor mental health since you’re not operating at the top of your game. If you want to ensure your mental health remains as good as possible, try to reverse these bad habits.

Hopefully, you know what the big deal with bad habits is—and exactly which habits are bad for your mental heath.

Which habits do you have that you know you should get rid of? I for one have a bad habit of picking at my thumbs, an ongoing struggle I’ve dealt with for at least fifteen years. It’s a tough nut to crack, but the more I learn about habits and habit building (and habit breaking) the closer I feel I am to success.

Habit Resources

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About the author 


Life & mindset coach, writer, host of podcast This is Type 1: Real Life with Type 1 Diabetes, and full-time analyst in the power industry. I'm passionate about showing people that how we think determines our realities.

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