There’s no such thing as a bad habit

I’m gonna make a controversial statement here:

I don’t believe there is any such thing as a “bad” habit.

Before you holler, hear me out.

Let’s start by defining a habit. I often say a habit is something that you repeat. According to dictionary.com, habit (n.) is “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.”

So here’s the thing… as human beings, we won’t repeat an action unless it serves us. Repetition is born from usefulness. If a behavior isn’t useful, we simply won’t do it over and over. This is the basis of evolution and it’s the basis of how we work.

Let’s go over some examples of people’s “bad” habits and how they might possibly be serving a purpose:

The habit

How it might serve you

Biting your nails

It calms you down.

Tensing your shoulders up towards your ears

It makes you feel in control.

Slouching

It feels easier than sitting up straight.

Fidgeting when you’re nervous

It helps diffuse nervous energy.

Holding your breath

It allows you to process a situation for a moment rather than being fully present in it.

Smiling all the time, even when you’re not happy

It provides a mask to whatever emotion you’re feeling that may be uncomfortable.

Forward head placement (craning your neck)

It makes you feel more expressive. Or perhaps like you can get somewhere sooner. Or maybe it just feels easier.

Using upspeak or vocal fry (here’s an interesting article on both)

Perhaps you’ve been surrounded by these habits and linguistically they help you fit in. (There’s a big debate over the reasons for both!)

Having read through this table, take a moment to ask yourself:

“What are a few of my ‘bad’ habits? If I dig down, can I find a way that they might be useful to me?”

Coming up with some ideas? Perhaps you’re starting to agree with the big argument:

There’s no such thing as a bad habit. What we can ask ourselves instead is what has this habit been good for, and by contrast what might this habit be not so good for?

I’m a voice and movement teacher, which means I’m in the business of helping people recognize the patterns that aren’t serving them and encouraging them to learn more useful patterns. I’ve watched time and time again as students and clients beat themselves up about their ‘bad’ habits. It’s time to put a stop to beating ourselves up. I offer this mindset shift because it allows us to be much more compassionate about changing our patterns.

So next time you’re lucky enough to discover a habit you weren’t aware of, notice whether the “Oh no, I suck I suck I suck” response comes up. If it does, shift your attention instead to the question of how this habit has served you. Once you’ve acknowledged the usefulness of the habit, you’re free to realize that it may no longer serve you and to make the decision to learn something new. Next, you can begin to practice your new habit. Try to practice without getting attached to being perfect right away. If you allow your process to go from awareness to making a new decision to practicing, it’s possible to completely skip the self judgment part. It’s possible to completely skip labeling ourselves as ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’

Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that mindset shift sound worth it?

bieber craning neck
See, even Bieber cranes his neck! 😛

So I highly encourage you… let go of thinking about your habits as bad. Instead, focus on awareness of what they are, how they serve you, and whether you might like to change them. That’s the efficient, valuable work you can do. The self-judgment thing is an unproductive extra.

As I always say, it’s all about all about doing the work with less effort.

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