Changing Bad Habits

Changing(1)by Ann Jenrette-Thomas, Esq., CPCC

Have you ever engaged in a behavior that you KNOW does not serve you? Perhaps you tend to overindulge in eating, drinking, or shopping. Maybe you habitually do too much for others, leaving very little time for you. No matter what it is, inside, you know that it’s something you would like to change. Yet, despite how many attempts you make at changing the habit, you still find yourself repeating an unhealthy pattern.

Trying to adopt a new habit is not enough. You have to get to the root cause of why you engage in the unhealthy habit. To understand what keeps you rooted to the habit you wish to be rid of, contemplate the hidden benefits you receive from the habit. Often, the hidden benefit is connected to something from our past that is not completely resolved.
To determine the root cause of an undesirable habit, do the following:

1. Set the intention to discover the truth. Try to relax. Once you do, make a commitment to get to the bottom of the unhealthy habit. Usually, you are getting some benefit from doing the bad habit (e.g., procrastinating on a brief, avoiding a difficult conversation, feeling a temporary sense of relief, etc.).

2. Search for the root cause. Once you’ve set the intention to discover the truth, begin contemplating the following questions:

  • How does this habit serve me?
  • What needs am I seeking to fulfill when I engage in this habit?
  • What’s the earliest memory I have of not having these needs met?
  • What feelings did I have when I was young when these needs were unmet?
  • What did I do when I was young to try to get these needs met or feel better?
  • Are any of the things I do now similar or the same as what I did when I was young?
  • In sum, what’s the root cause of this habit?

3. Address the root cause. Once you’re clear about the underlying unmet needs that serve as the root cause for the habit, you can begin to find healthier ways to address those needs. For example, one of my clients used to overeat whenever she felt stressed because she wanted to feel comforted and nurtured. The root cause of the overeating habit was that she felt a deep anxiety that had its root back to school days. To calm her nerves before a big test, she would have a snack or two. The hidden benefit for her was that, as her belly got full, she was able to have a temporary reprieve from feeling anxious. Through a series of exercises that helped her address the anxiety, coupled with work on improving her mindset and offering healthier alternatives to manage the stress, she has broken the habit over time.

In sum, if you have a habit that has been difficult to break, it’s important to understand the root cause of the habit. Usually, it’s not what it appears to be on the surface. As you develop an understanding of how the habit serves you, and take persistent action to fulfill the unmet needs, you can begin to effectively dismantle the habit and replace it with things that actually meet your needs.

We want to hear from you — do you have a tip or strategy to overcome a bad habit? Do you have a success story that you’d like to share? If so, share in the comments below. Of course if you or someone you know needs support in creating more productive habits, email us at We’re here to help!


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