Do you know the difference between good habits, bad habits, and addictions? It’s easy to tell the difference between good habits and addictions, but not always easy to distinguish between good habits and bad habits. It’s even more difficult to draw the line between bad habits and addictions. Also, why is it that one person’s good habit is another person’s bad habit? How is it that some people become addicted to anything (the so-called “addictive personality”), while other people could drop a sugar habit, or even a drug habit, almost one day to the next?
It’s too ambitious to try and sort out everything within one blog post! However, we can review the not-so-obvious basics and use this information to evaluate our own habits. By doing so, we’ll consciously improve our unconscious behaviors!
This week’s journal topic: Habits
Good habits are the easiest to identify. The reason we call some habits “good” is that they contribute to positive outcomes in life, health, and relationships. Some kinds of good habits are good health habits, work habits, and relationship habits. Good habits simplify, streamline, and reduce mental “noise” by eliminating extraneous choices and instilling automatic behaviors. Good mental habits create good character, which tends to contribute to success in life.
If good habits are habits that contribute to positive outcomes, bad habits create negative outcomes. Negative outcomes might include disorder and chaos, lack of freedom or a “trapped” feeling, discomfort, or even a mildly negative outcome of wasted time and effort.
What is interesting about bad habits is the mechanism by which we develop them. Often the bad habit is a behavior that, over time, we become accustomed to doing. In other words, it is an action that at one point in time had to be done intentionally, and was done only occasionally, but somehow developed into an unconscious pattern of activity. The original activity was intentional, but the pattern and/or frequency has become unintentional. It could be that you keep candy in your desk drawer for a treat, but at some point it became automatic to pull open the drawer and treat yourself throughout the day. A habit like this takes conscious effort to stop, but it can be cured once you decide to take notice of it and have the motivation to stop. Mindfulness is the antidote to this type of bad habit.
Bad Habits vs Addictions
The terms bad habit and addiction are sometimes used interchangeably in everyday conversation. We say things like, “I’m totally addicted to that TV show – I binge watched all weekend.” Usages like this do not capture the true definition of addiction.
Is addiction defined by choice of substance?
One way of distinguishing bad habits and addictions is based on the substance that is involved. Most of us would classify a cocaine “bad habit” as an addiction, but a sugar “bad habit” as a mere bad habit. What we are willing to classify as an addiction seems to depend on, for example, the unlawfulness of the substance. A heroin habit is illegal, so we call it an addiction.
Another way we distinguish between bad habits and addictions is based on the social stigma attached to its use. A heroin habit involves activities that arouse the emotion of disgust, such as shooting up or inhaling smoke, which leads to social stigma around the behavior. The use of the substance also leads to isolation, secretiveness, and antisocial behaviors. Since there is a stigma about the use of the substance, it’s use is associated with addiction.
However, it doesn’t seem quite correct to distinguish between habits and addictions based on the type of substance they involve. We can agree that sugar, for example, is a highly “addictive” substance, even though it is neither illegal nor socially unacceptable to consume. Moreover, sometimes an addiction does not involve any substance whatsoever: the addiction is to a behavior, activity, or emotional reaction. Obsessive-compulsive behaviors are types of addictions, and a person can become addicted to an emotion such as anger. Workaholics keep scanning their emails instead of engaging in relationships or hobbies. All of the above are addictions, not just mere bad habits.
Addiction means loss of control
So what makes a bad habit different from addiction? A bad habit typically involves:
- An impulse to do an action without conscious thought
- Lack of intention to participate in the pattern of behavior
- There’s an unacceptable cost, harm or hangover that would normally dissuade a person from engaging in the activity or consuming the substance
Addiction involves some additional features
- Conscious desire to stop or do it less often, but feeling that you cannot; sense of loss of control
- A physical or mental dependence: using the substance makes your feel better (craving) and NOT using the substance or behavior makes you feel unbearably uncomfortable (withdrawal)
With these features in mind, it’s a lot easier to tell the difference between good habits, bad habits, and addictions.
- What good habits are you proud of? How have they benefited you?
- What is one minor mental, health, or work habit you could start tomorrow that will make your life easier?
- Is it possible to have too many good habits? (What would a life with too many good habits look like?)
- What bad habits have you developed? How did they develop and why do you call them “bad” habits?
- Is it possible to get addicted to “healthy” activities or healthy substances? Examples?
- Does anyone you know suffer from addictions? How does it change their behavior?
- We all enjoy things that make us feel better, but in your experience, what is the difference between enjoyment and dependence?
How to Get the most out of Know Thyself 2019:
Give yourself time to think and re-think. By doing so, you evolve your own thought processes! The journal is meant to help you develop a daily practice of positive self-reflection.
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