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  • Writer's pictureEMH

Are Some Habits Too Hard To Change?

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Student Narrative

Hello EVOLVERE Community! I am gearing up for exam season and I am feeling stressed out. I have been reflecting on my habits and want to make a change, but I am not quite sure what to do. Typically, when I have a paper due or test coming up, I completely focus on the task at hand by putting all of my time and energy into my work so that I can earn the best grade possible. When I completely focus on something, I tend to give up sleep, which I know is an awful habit. I get stressed and anxious about the things that are coming up, which makes me feel overwhelmed, which makes me feel tired, which makes it harder for me to focus, so my mind drifts, which makes me feel like I have wasted time, which makes me feel like I need to spend more time awake and studying, so I choose to forfeit sleep. I figure that I can always catch up on sleep later. This is an unhealthy cycle that results in me getting little to no sleep for weeks at a time and it is frustrating because once I am in this cycle it is difficult for me to get out of it. Also, although I understand the importance of a work-life balance, when I completely focus on schoolwork, I neglect my social life. It bothers some of my friends and family, they think that it is annoying and rude when I take too long to reply to them or cancel plans, but it is not a big deal to others because they understand that I am prioritizing my schoolwork.

To be honest, when I completely focus on schoolwork, I feel overwhelmed, socially withdrawn, and physically, cognitively, and emotionally drained. My grades are important to me and I want to do well in school, but lately, I have been feeling unmotivated and resentful towards school. I know how important maintaining my mental health is, but I always end up neglecting it. At the start of each semester, I truly do intend to prioritize my mental health, but I usually get overwhelmed and neglect it. I guess bad habits are just too hard to change.

What Is A Habit?

A habit is a sequence of behaviours that are performed so often that they can occur subconsciously. Habits can be developed through experiences, lessons, or from observing others. Habits are labelled good when they produce adaptive outcomes, and bad when they produce maladaptive outcomes. For example, going for regular walks is a good habit, while maintaining an unhealthy sleeping pattern is a bad habit. Going for a walk every evening is a behaviour pattern that has multiple health benefits, which is adaptive because it facilitates longevity. On the other hand, consistently getting minimal amounts of sleep is a behaviour pattern that can have detrimental health effects, which is maladaptive because it can impede longevity.

You Can Change Your Habits

Changing a habit can seem like a daunting and tedious task, but it is possible. With additional self-awareness, self-reflection, self-discipline, and dedication, you can change your bad habits. Although different habits may require different techniques and different amounts of time to change, outlined below are two general strategies that you can use to help you change your bad habits. Different techniques that address the root cause of the habit that you are trying to change can be implemented within each of these strategies to help change bad habits.

STRATEGY #1: Identify & Understand The Habits That You Want To Change

Although this strategy sounds easy, you will have to do a bit of soul searching to identify which of your habits have maladaptive outcomes and why you developed them. One way to identify maladaptive behaviour patterns is to recognize them as they occur, which requires consistent honesty, self-awareness, and self-reflection. Another option is to allocate time during the day to reflect on maladaptive outcomes and determine whether your behaviour patterns caused or enabled them in any way. It is important to remember not to simply attribute negative outcomes in your life to your behaviour patterns. You are not the cause of every bad thing that happens in your life. Instead, try to be honest with yourself about which behaviours you engaged in, or decisions you made, have directly caused or enabled maladaptive outcomes.

Once you have identified the bad habit that you would like to change, reflect on why you perform it. Is it an easier option? Does it benefit you in the short term, but produce negative outcomes in the long run? Is it a coping mechanism? Once you figure out why you perform bad habits, think about what causes them. Being aware of the intrapersonal or environmental cues that lead to maladaptive behaviour patterns can help you change these patterns by allowing you to recognize when the habit will occur before it does, and prevent it or engage in a different behaviour pattern with an adaptive outcome.

STRATEGY #2: Keep Track Of Your Progress

Keeping track of the progress that you have made towards changing bad habits can be critical in helping you fully achieve this change. Remember that changing your habits is not a simple goal. Since habits are rooted in repetition to the point where they can occur subconsciously, you will likely experience some setbacks and bumps in the long road to achieving this change, but remember that this change is achievable with patience and dedication.

This strategy can involve keeping track of how many times you perform the habit that you are working to change and how many times you recognized cues for this habit but did not perform it. Additionally, it is important to recognize the techniques that you use to prevent yourself from performing the bad habit when faced with the cues that typically trigger it. As different habits require different techniques to facilitate their change, being aware of which techniques work best for you is crucial to your success. Try different techniques to address the root causes of your bad habits and see which technique is most effective for you. Having a record of your progress that you can refer to can help you monitor the ups and downs of your progress and can make it easier for you to tell which strategies work best for you. Journal entries and notes on your phone are examples of effective written records.

Response To Student Narrative

Hello! Thank you for sharing your experience with the EVOLVERE community. Giving up sleep for extended periods of time is a bad habit with maladaptive outcomes that can be detrimental to your health and well-being. In your narrative, you explained that giving up sleep sparks a frustrating cycle that you cannot end, and that deadlines and tests are cues for this cycle. Based on what you have noted, this behaviour pattern benefits you in the short-term by giving you extra time to study and complete schoolwork, but it causes you harm in the long-run by leading to you feeling overwhelmed, socially withdrawn, and burned out. Additionally, forgoing sleep can actually decrease your academic performance in the short-term and can have detrimental effects on your physiological and mental health in the long run.

Your narrative indicates that you understand the different intrapersonal and environmental cues that cause you to engage in this bad habit. Try implementing different techniques to help you change your habit. For example, managing your time to ensure that you get ample time to study, work, take breaks, and socially engage with others, can help you re-energize, re-focus, and overcome the negative feelings that you are experiencing. Developing and maintaining effective coping strategies for stress and anxiety can also help you change this bad habit. Try these techniques and any others that you believe can be helpful in addressing the factors that cause this habit, and take note of which techniques work best for you so that you can make progress towards changing this habit. Remember that completely focusing on your schoolwork does not mean that you have to neglect other areas of your life, you can have a balanced schedule while prioritizing your schoolwork.

Have you ever tried changing a bad habit?

How did it go?

Let us know in the comments section below!


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