The Power of Negative Habits

One commonality among people’s New Year’s resolutions is that they are mostly positive actions. Exercise more, eat better, learn the piano, spend more time with family, or just tackle the project that’s been nagging you all year.

This is interesting because giving up a negative habit usually has a far greater impact than an incremental positive habit. If picking up a new good habit might make you 1% better, dropping your worst bad habit will make you 10% better.

This begs the question, if we really want to be better, why do we ignore our negative habits?

I believe we favor positive over negative resolutions because aspirations are more attractive. They are also more marketable. It’s much easier to sell trying something new than it is to sell giving something up, so we are both more aware of and more attracted to positive changes.

Negative habits are difficult because they require self-awareness to identify. They are also ingrained in who we are and often because they satisfy some deep need within us.

To use the body as an analogy, starting a new positive habit is like adding another digit to your hand, probably a little helpful in certain situations. While eliminating a negative habit might be compared to amputating a necrotic limb; you relive your body of a life-threatening burden but a burden that is nonetheless a part of who you imagine yourself to be.

As you go about trying to achieve your resolutions this year, it’s worth reflecting on whether there is a negative habit that’s getting in your way. If there is, it’s likely that same habit is sabotaging other aspects of your life as well.

Recognizing it is the first step towards making significant, and sustainable improvements.

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