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Why We Fear Ending Destructive Habits (Try this Experiment)

good habits and bad habits

Are we really afraid to end bad habits? Here’s how to know.

Try this simple thought experiment:

  1. Think of your bad habit. It could be anything. Biting your nails, smoking, raging, spending too much money, overeating, dating the wrong people; you name it.
  2. Say to yourself, with firmness and a matter-of-fact tone, the following:

I will never (insert bad habit) again. For as long as I live, I will simply abstain from (insert bad habit).

Notice what happens next. If you have a destructive habit that you’ve tried in vain to quit – and if you declared with firmness to yourself that you will NEVER do it again, the most common emotion that arises is fear (in my experience).

A few people experience relief – as if they never realized that they could just quit their bad habit. Like an affirmation, the statement just hits home.

Some people laugh at themselves after making this statement. Yeah, right, like I’ll never do again. And Mickey Mouse is real, too!

But most people scare themselves with such a firm, habit-ending declaration. FYI, this personal declaration method comes from the book, Rational Recovery.

Why would we become anxious after determining to give up something destructive?

Because we believe we need that destructive thing. We tell ourselves stories about what bad things might happen if we go without it. The need for the bad habit is based on a series of lies; non-truths that most people with habits tell themselves, and indeed are told by professionals who treat habits.

Some examples of fear-inducing non-truths we tell ourselves when wanting to quit a bad habit:

• I can’t quit. It’s too hard. (Not true. Millions have quit. If they can, you can.)

• It’s a crutch that I need to get through the day. (Crutches are helpful tools, not destructive habits.)

• It helps me cope. (It probably only creates bigger problems).

• The withdrawals will be unbearable. (Not likely. They will be difficult, but not unbearable, and only temporary).

• I need to raise my self -esteem first. (No you don’t. You can just quit and continue working on your self-esteem).

You can add just about any justification to the list that suggests you need this destructive habit. The habit will still be destructive and the need conditional – the condition is believing you need it.

I’m not suggesting that ending bad habits is easy. The suggestion is that the fear of ending bad habits – like many fears – is irrational. Powerful, but irrational.

This week I’ll be posting an interview with best-selling author Kathryn Hansen. She wrote Brain over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn’t Work, and How I Recovered for Good.  Brain Over Binge is based on the principles of rational recovery. Kathryn’s story of overcoming binge eating is an inspirational one that I am excited to share.

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Why We Fear Ending Destructive Habits (Try this Experiment)

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

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APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2018). Why We Fear Ending Destructive Habits (Try this Experiment). Psych Central. Retrieved on July 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 May 2018
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