By Force of Habit

We know bad habits are bad, so why is it so hard to change them?


photo by Rachel Morrell

Rachel Morrell, Junior Co-Editor

We all have bad habits. From procrastination to constantly sleeping in late, the human population has always suffered from making habitual mistakes. After meaningful conversations with friends and a bit of self-reflection, I wondered, why do people keep on making the same mistakes?

My first explanation came from my Honors Government class. In the Declaration of Independence, it reads, “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed”. My teacher explained that naturally, humans are more likely to keep on suffering the consequences of bad choices than actually put in the effort to make a positive change because it is easier to not make a change at all.

In my own life, I constantly sleep in. I wake up most of the time, 20-25 minutes after my alarm goes off, and rush around my room to look decent for school. I slowly became accustomed to the stress of waking up late, I even came up with a system of how to get ready in the most efficient way possible. I think one of the reasons I have not made a change to my morning routine is that I would rather gain a few more minutes of sleep rather than work harder to get up at the right time, making me a bit more tired than usual. I subconsciously made the choice to deal with the consequences and stress of running late than having a good, productive morning. This was sort of a shocker to me because I was blaming my school workload and extra-curriculars for my lateness, not my own slothfulness.

Unhealthy habits, like insane sleep schedules or amounts of coffee consumed, are almost glorified as something that is necessary to be a successful high school student.”

This ties in to my second reason: our ability to rationalize unhealthy habits. It seems that in our era people are constantly complaining and bickering about the amount of stress and problems faced on a daily basis. In a high school environment, lots of students are pressed by deadlines, grades, and assessments. I have noticed that, in order to fit in to the social scene or to be relatable, many peers constantly tell their friends exactly how much work they have and how they deal with it. Students often wear their stress as a badge of honor. Unhealthy habits, like insane sleep schedules or amounts of coffee consumed, are almost glorified as something that is necessary to be a successful high school student.

The need for social acceptance, especially when the social scene means so much to teenagers, can really influence persistent bad habits. If a habit is seen as socially acceptable, it can be very hard to change. Humans in general don’t like to hear what they shouldn’t being doing. We all have a bit of childish reluctancy in us, so our bad habits thrive on excuses to keep on making certain choices or not even making the choice to change at all.

When we have an excuse or explanation for a negative action, we feel justified to continue repeating a response. If it makes sense to react a certain way, our minds label it as “O.K” for us to do. We humans are very quick to blame and justify our irrational or incorrect choices if our reasons seem valid.

Lastly, despite what most onlookers may believe, most bad habits do not come from a lack of willpower. Bad habits come from triggers and short-term rewards. As stated earlier, from my bad habit of sleeping in, I gain the short-term reward of 20 more minutes of sleep. Your location, who you’re around, and how you feel physically, emotionally, and mentally during or after an action can all can be triggers for a bad habit.

There are many underlying causes for bad habits. For example, a serious drinker may understand the damaging consequences alcohol makes for their health but they still spend hours at a local bar each day. Underlying reasons for their excessive drinking may stem from poverty, unemployment, or history of alcohol abuse in their family, not from laziness or lack of self control.  

If people can discover the underlying reasons for destructive habits, a better understanding of the context and situations in other’s lives is achieved and progress to a better way of living can be made. By simply telling the general population of the health risks involved in drinking or smoking, the human mind will most likely justify the destructive habits and no problems will be solved.  

As for now, I am still working on my sleep schedule. Yes, it is hard to make changes to an unhealthy lifestyle that one is so accustomed to, but I believe that anyone can make positive changes in their life, no matter how severe the change. Through recognition of triggers or false justification, hard work, and a mental shift, even the worst of bad habits can be kicked.