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Are Your Habits Working For You, Or Against You?

Feb 15, 2023

Whether we are aware of them or not, we all have habits. We have hygiene habits, health habits, lifestyle habits, work habits, financial habits, and habits that we bring with us to relationships. Your habits, whether big or small, can work for you. For example, the habit of brushing your teeth likely works for you. You keep your teeth healthy, your mouth feels fresh, and people are not repelled in a way they would if you did not brush your teeth. Another example would be the habit of exercising every day. This habit also likely works for you because it helps you be healthier, and perhaps also helps you look the way you want to look. A final example could be the habit of always hitting your deadlines at work. This is a habit that could work for you because it allows you to be successful in your job as well as have positive work relationships.

That all makes obvious sense, right? Each habit is reinforced by things such as healthy teeth, a fresh feeling mouth, being healthy, and being successful at work. What you get in return for engaging with the habit makes it easier to continue to do the habit. This is also true of bad habits. When you engage in a behavior that you consider to be bad and you keep going back to it, that is because it is being reinforced in some way. What is important about this is, once you understand what is reinforcing the bad habit, it becomes easier to change it. 


For example, if you find yourself scrolling social media for hours a day and keep telling yourself you want to cut back, but you don’t, that is because the behavior is being reinforced or rewarded. Maybe it is being reinforced because it allows you to avoid doing something unpleasant, or it allows you to stop thinking about something that does not feel good. In addition, it could be reinforced because you are looking at pictures of places you may one day want to travel, or shoes you hope to purchase soon, or you are getting dopamine hits from the number of likes on your latest post. There are many possibilities and what is important is for you to identify the specific things that are rewarding or reinforcing the behavior.

This applies to eating and drinking behaviors as well. The immediate feeling you get when eating or drinking, can help you feel relief from a negative feeling. Even though logically you know that you will feel worse after consuming certain things, you still engage in the behavior because of the immediate reward, which is relief from something you don’t want to be feeling. Depending on what you are eating, there could also be a massive dopamine release due to high levels of sugar or other artificial substances that your brain craves.


Habits such as being chronically late, biting your fingernails, or leaving dirty dishes in the sink, are also being reinforced or rewarded in some way which is likely very specific to you. If you want to change a bad habit, go through the 4 steps below.


  • What is the bad habit you want to change? Be as specific as possible.


  • Why do you consider this a bad habit? Even if you think this an obvious answer, write it out and be as specific as possible about any and all reasons you consider this a bad habit.


  • How has the habit been reinforced? What are the rewards, the pros, or the benefits of engaging in this habit? They are there, so take your time to figure this out since this will help you in changing the habit.

  • Once you know how the habit is being reinforced, you have a couple of choices:


You can decide that you will tolerate the discomfort of not engaging in the habit for a period of time until it is no longer a habit. When the urge to engage in the bad habit arises, you can challenge your thinking that is causing you to want to engage in your bad habit and think differently, which will result in different feelings. When you mentally prepare to tolerate and sit in discomfort it becomes much easier to do so.


You can replace it with something that you consider to be more positive. For example, instead of eating sugary cookies and cupcakes, maybe you have a small bowl of fruit. Instead of biting your nails when anxious, maybe you put on hand cream with a calming scent, or crochet to keep your hands busy.


Doing this will likely not change a bad habit overnight, however, with intention and consistency, it will change because it will no longer be reinforced in the way it was when you started to change it. For example, eating a bowl of fruit may become more heavily reinforced or rewarded than eating cookies and cupcakes because you will still get some sugar, but you may also lose weight when you stop eating cookies and cupcakes. You may still get anxious, however, having nails that look nice, or hands that feel good,  may become more rewarding than the relief you get in the moment from biting your nails. 


Changing bad habits is 100% possible for everyone, however it usually requires an individualized approach since your particular habit and the way it is rewarded or reinforced is unique to you. If you take the time to really consider what you want to change, why you want to change it, how it is being reinforced or rewarded, and what you can do to change that reinforcement or reward, you can make the change you are looking for.


If you are feeling overwhelmed or are struggling to make the change you wish to make, coaching can help. If you are interested in learning more about coaching with me, you can find more information HERE. You’ve got this!


Live your best boss lady life! 

~ Karen 

Karen Vincent Solutions 


If you are interested in more information about how to manage unhelpful thinking patterns, you can grab my free 5 Common Thought Distortions Guide HERE. 

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