Like many people, you might have pledged a New Year resolution to get fitter, eat more healthily or get more sleep. You might decide you’re going to quit your bad habits like smoking, drinking or biting your nails. When I talk about ‘bad habits’ I’m talking about behaviours we do over and over again without being aware of it. These kinds of bad habits might lead to us feeling exhausted, stressed, lonely or depressed.  

If you knew about these types of bad habits you’d surely want to quit them. But you can’t quit something you’re not aware of.  By looking under the surface of the everyday things that stress you out, you’ll find a new layer of understanding about what’s really going on. And that gives you the chance to do something about it.  So you can make a New Year resolution that will stick! 

Bad habits do not make you a bad person! 

Before we go any further I do want to say that just because you have a bad habit, does not make you a bad person. Whether you choose to call them ‘unhelpful behaviours’, or go all in with ‘bad habits’ , we all have them.  It’s part of being human that we often do things repeatedly that are not good for us.

The bad habits that we really need to deal with are the ones that have long term consequences. Those things we do that make us feel frustrated, depressed, exhausted or lonely.  But when we’re feeling like this, it often takes all our strength and willpower just to get through the day. We don’t get the chance to take a step back and look at what might be causing us to feel that way. 

I want to tell you a story about a client I was talking to the other day. I noticed something in her that I see very often when someone talks to me about their problems. 

She’s a busy working Mum of two teenagers, who lives with her husband and two dogs. He also has a busy job and likes to go out socialising with his friends. The household is often chaotic, with people rushing to and from school and work, plus all the outdoor activities the kids do.  It’s hard to maintain a level of tidiness and order in the house when everyone is so busy. And with four people and two dogs, the laundry baskets are constantly full. 

No matter how hard she tries to keep on top of things, there’s always dirty laundry lying around. She knows that when she comes home after a hard day at work, that laundry will still be there. No-one will have picked it up.  They’ve had discussions about this, and she’s asked her husband countless times to help out more in the house but nothing ever changes. She’s completely exhausted and at the end of her tether. 

The truth is hiding in plain sight. 

There’s lots of reasons she feels exhausted, but let’s talk about the laundry for a minute. How come her two kids and husband don’t pick up the laundry? How is it that she KNOWS without a doubt that it’s not going to be picked up by the time she comes home? 

Is it because they’re lazy, or they deliberately want to be unkind to her?  Well, the answer is it’s probably because she picks it up for them automatically. Now you could say that might be because she has to, because her husband isn’t going to do it. She doesn’t want to have it lying around and someone has to do it, so she just does it.   

But let’s slow this right down and take another look. How did this start? Two people didn’t move in together and quietly decide that that’s how it’s going to be. What happened here is that one of the two probably said they don’t like it, but didn’t actively do anything to change it. They just kept doing it. 

If this resonates with you then you’re not alone. 

Whether it’s laundry or loading the dishwasher, or any one of hundreds of everyday household or family tasks, this kind of thing happens all the time. And this might sound very harsh but I offer it with love and compassion. It could be said that the fact you’re picking up the laundry is your fault. That’s because you have developed the habit of picking up everyone’s laundry.  But the fact you’ve developed that habit is not your fault. 

Here’s how you acquire bad habits. 

Of course you want your home to be tidy.  You want to keep on top of things. You want to make life easier for yourself.  There are many conscious layers of justification for picking up that laundry. But the pattern that’s running underneath, and the reason you feel the need to do that,  might be an unconscious feeling of not being worthy. 

And that causes the endless spiral to continue. Because the truth is,

We develop these bad habits to compensate for what feels lacking inside us.  (This is what I call an ‘unmet need’) 

That’s worth repeating. It’s not your fault that you’ve developed this habit. There’s a valid reason you’re doing those things. So far you might imagine you only have two options: you can argue with your family or just do it yourself. But there’s a third option you’ve probably never considered. And that option may just open up your world to a more enjoyable and harmonious life, not just for the New Year but for the long term. 

(You can read more about where bad habits originate here and here.)