4 Tips for Escaping a Bad Habit Spiral

There’s a strange comfort in old habits.

Just when I had been making consistent progress on my personal growth journey, I decided to succumb to laziness for one day.

“I deserve a break,” I said to myself.

That day, I spent money that I didn’t need to, ate fried chicken when I wasn’t even in the mood for it, and procrastinated all day. Due to the culmination of bad habits that I had caved into that day, I had an emotional breakdown before going to sleep.

During all of my self-sabotaging actions, I was aware of what I was doing.

“The man who buys what he does not need steals from himself” rang in my head as I picked up my $34 dinner.

“The only difference between success and failure is the ability to take action” repeated itself as I drove around aimlessly instead of going home to start on my project.

I am proud that I did not let my bad habits take over for two days in a row. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from that one day.

Allow Emotions to Stay

Much of the distress I felt on my “day of bad habits” was a result of succumbing to my laziness. I felt sad, dejected, and unsatisfied with how I was performing in school, so I said “fuck it” and took the day off in an attempt to cheer myself up.

Instead of allowing the sadness to stay its rightful time, I tried to push it out.

“Once I’m no longer sad, I can do my homework,” I reasoned.

Trying to change emotions is one of the main causes of a downward spiral.

It’s a losing battle.

I did what I thought would help — saw a friend, spent money on some food that I like, drove around with music blasting.

Instead of facing my emotions, I tried to distract myself from them.

This caught up to me at the end of the day when I got home feeling worse than I did when I had left hours earlier.

Advice for my future self:

Allow yourself to feel the emotions you’re feeling. Don’t wallow in them but accept that they are there, and stop trying to push them away.

Don’t Fight Emotion with Logic

I am a logical person, so I try to use reason to deal with my situation, even when my emotions are strong.

Emotion and logic are different languages.

My downfall was repeatedly trying to use logic to reason my way out of my spiral.

I tried to convince myself that I should do my homework because it aligned with my value of following through on my goals and no longer procrastinating.

I knew this, but I just couldn’t bring myself to start.

Instead, combat emotions with emotions

I could have told myself:

“Imagine how good it will feel once you’ve started.”

“Remember how unstoppable you feel when you accomplish something you didn’t think you can do?”

Instead of thinking that logic and values will somehow overpower emotion, use emotion to act on logic and values.

Speak to the emotions that are ruling.

Acting on emotions and acknowledging emotions are two completely different things.

Acting on emotions will often result in a fleeting and unsustainable feeling of satisfaction, whereas acknowledging emotions helps to keep temperament under control.

Advice for my future self:

Stop fighting your feelings. Use them to act on your values.

Follow What You Know

On my day of bad habits, I decided to treat myself. It was Friday, after all.

I had my day planned: buy some of my favorite snacks, take myself out on a picnic, then go home to start my project that was due the next day.

I’m the type of person who has to get urgent tasks done right away. And I know this. I know that I can’t take an entire day off when I have an urgent responsibility — like an upcoming assignment — looming over my head, because it will only cause me extra stress and anxiety.

But I rationalized. I listened to the advice that I had been reading and hearing so often:

“Take a break, you deserve it.”

“Go on a date with yourself.”

“Life isn’t all about school.”

While all of these statements are true and valid, they have to be applied appropriately.

I was using these phrases as an excuse to make myself feel better and procrastinate on my project.

“Excuses are lies wrapped up in reasons.”

— Howard Wright

Instead of spending 7 hours trying to take a self-care day, I would have felt much better if I had taken a short walk, had some green tea, then sat down and started working on my project.

While most advice has merit, it also tends to be generic and should be applied carefully (including the ideas in this article).

Advice for my future self:

Make decisions based on what you know about yourself.

Forgive Yourself as Quickly as Possible

Bad habits appear in patterns.

I have been working on overcoming perfectionism and being more forgiving with myself. Succumbing to these tendencies contributed to my spiral.

My day of bad habits resulted in the resurfacing of an old pattern that I thought I had killed: spending copious amounts of time on social media, holding a negative body image, swiping my credit card without thinking, and being overly critical and judgemental.

After I made one mistake, the perfectionism kicked in. At that point, if I had forgiven myself, I may not have spiraled into a depressive pattern. However, I was so frustrated that I had messed up that I developed a “fuck it” attitude for the rest of the day.

Advice for my future self:

Forgive yourself for messing up. Do not make excuses for self-sabotaging actions. Go on a walk and clear your mind. Take a short break instead of letting this one mistake control your entire day.

Summary

Don’t try to change emotions.

Don’t fight emotions with logic.

Do what is best for you.

Forgive yourself as quickly as possible.

Avid learner and self-improvement junkie. I write about self, habits, education, and growth.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store