Do you often feel like you have too much day left at the end of your energy? Do you routinely find yourself crashing midway through the day, wishing you could make it just a little bit further? If so, your habits may be to blame.
The power of habit is a unique mechanism. Good habits can drastically improve our physical and mental health. Habits also play a determining role in our success.
As you and I both know (as does my junk-food cabinet), it’s not all good news with habits. They can put healthy, productive behaviors on autopilot, but they can do the same for unhealthy ones that chip away at your energy.
We all know some of the common bad habits — nail-biting, late-night snacking, smoking cigarettes, etc. So today, let’s look at a few sneakier ones — some of the old habits that might be sucking the energy out of your day without you even knowing.
7 Sneaky Bad Habits That Drain Your Energy
1. Clinging to a Negative Attitude
Have you ever thought of your attitude as a habit? If not, you might want to start. The self-talk you engage in has a significant effect on your mood and overall wellbeing, and it’s something you have a lot of power to influence.
We all have a natural negativity bias. It’s healthy, normal behavior, to an extent. However, it becomes a problem when we give that bias too much control, and it starts to prime our brains to focus only on negativity.
Happiness is a skill that takes practice. Exercising positive thinking and gratitude every day helps break the habit of constant negative thinking. A more positive attitude can give you back a shocking amount of energy. This is one of the many benefits of positive thinking.
2. Aggressive Multitasking
Hustle culture has taught us that to succeed in life, we need to be constantly doing at least three things at once to be productive. Yet the truth is, multitasking is a productivity myth.
In reality, manic multitasking is a habit many of us fall into that makes us less productive. It takes us more time and energy to get anything done, making it more like procrastination than an efficiency hack.
When you work against the grain all day to get even basic tasks done, the natural result is that you will steadily drain your energy and wear yourself out.
The good news is that this same habit is pretty easy to replace with a good one, like task batching. Try this: write down everything you want to get done in a particular time window, and sort it out into batches that make sense for your brain. Then take on those tasks one “batch” at a time.
3. Ignoring Rest
Here we have another example of conventional work-ethic wisdom telling us to go faster at every turn when we might be better off slowing down.
It might seem almost insultingly obvious to say that ignoring rest makes you feel tired. The problem here isn’t occasionally going to bed late and feeling tired the next day. The issue is when a general attitude of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” becomes a habit.
Being mindful of your body’s needs (and attending to them) is the ultimate energy hack.
You may consider it unproductive, even lazy, to take a 20-minute break at work. The crazy thing is, the energy surplus you can get from a short rest (not to mention the HP boost; that’s a D&D joke for anyone keeping score) can more than make up for the amount of time you “lost” by listening to your body and letting it recharge.
4. Comfort Zoning
Writers like myself have hammered home the importance of getting out of your comfort zone enough times and in enough ways to make it a bit of a self-help cliche. Nonetheless, it bears repeating here: staying inside your comfort zone all the time can quickly become a habit, and not a good one.
How does staying in your comfort zone drain your energy, though? Shouldn’t it make you feel more rested, not less?
I’ve argued before that the key to the comfort zone is balance. For a healthy life, we all need a mix of novelty and familiarity.
Once you’ve fallen into the habit of staying home, doing the same things every day, and never trying anything new or challenging, it can be hard to break out of that. It can lead to boredom, discontentment, and poor eating habits.
Try to break this habit by ensuring your life has a nice balance of easy, familiar rest time (see above) and new, fresh, exciting experiences.
5. Being Inflexible
Life changes. Our situations change, the people around us change, and so should we. Clinging to outdated expectations is a highly sneaky bad habit and essential to address. Most of these things that change around us are outside our control, and it can be hugely emotionally draining to pretend otherwise.
Our best bet is to work on our flexibility and update our ideas and plans to the way things are now.
Practice mindfulness with a bit of attitude yoga (a phrase I just made up). Try to be more flexible on your path. If life changes and your old plans and goals won’t work anymore, make new plans and goals. So long as you’re able to bend, you’ll never break.
6. Under-Valuing Yourself
Self-respect is one of the essential tools of a healthy human psyche. It often goes unnoticed, but many of the decisions we make throughout the day subconsciously impact our self-image. Some choices build our respect for ourselves; others lower it.
Making frequent choices that lower your self-respect will (spoiler alert) make you feel bad about yourself, and when you feel bad about yourself, you’re more likely to make future choices that feel even worse. Before you know it, you’ve accidentally created a habit of disrespecting yourself with your actions. Low self-respect bolsters a negative attitude, and we’ve already seen why that’s an unhealthy habit.
Be a person that you can admire and respect. That doesn’t mean in a cocky or flashy way. It just means making choices that align with your values. Try to embody someone you would look at from the outside and say, “that’s a cool dude with [his] head on straight. [He’s] got the right idea.”
7. Making Too Many Excuses
Stemming from this idea of self-respect is the problem with making excuses. It’s unpleasant when we fail to meet expectations (our own or others’). It is natural to avoid this uncomfortable feeling by explaining away your fault in the matter. But even with a story, we still know what happened. Over time, excuses add up, and it becomes hard to respect oneself when one never takes responsibility.
So do the difficult, uncomfortable thing here: make fewer excuses. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean beating yourself up when you fail at something. Instead, focus less on what has happened already and more on what you will do next to resolve it. Make this a habit, and you will build much greater respect for yourself. You’ll gain far greater respect from those around you, too.
Breaking Bad Habits
Okay, so we know we have unhealthy habits we want to break; what now? It’s not as simple as deciding to quit, or else we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Habit change is difficult; these are deeply ingrained habitual behaviors and routines.
Is it a matter of sheer willpower and going cold turkey on our poor habits? What about replacing them with better habits? Is there one right approach for certain habits and another for different habits? How many more times am I going to use the word habits?
Seeing as how changing habits has become one of the biggest sub-fields of personal development in recent years, you’re not alone in having these questions.
Unfortunately, there are no hard-and-fast answers that will work across the board. Fortunately, though, there are many answers that may work for you. Let’s look at a few ideas from some of the foremost experts on building habits (habit-ologists, if you will).
Charles Duhigg – The Habit Loop
Bestselling author Charles Duhigg has become a central figure in the conversation around how to change our habits. Much of his analysis concerns a simple framework which he calls the “habit loop.” It goes like this:
- A cue or trigger signals our brains to start a familiar routine.
- We follow the routine we associate with that cue.
- We receive a reward, whether emotional or physical. The reward affirms and reinforces the cue from step 1.
This process, Duhigg says, is how we develop bad habits and good ones. To change our habits then, it is up to us to take charge of the cycle.
There are many ways to do this. For instance, we can practice identifying our cues so that we can avoid or repurpose them. Alternatively, we can take the reward we get from a bad habit and try to find a good habit that gives us the same thing.
You can learn more about the habit loop in Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit.”
James Clear – Habits and Identity
For another approach on how to break bad habits, let’s look to celebrated habits master James Clear. Clear offers bountiful wisdom on the immense value of healthy habits plus how to form habits that last and break the ones that shouldn’t.
We’re going to look at just one of his valuable strategies: identity.
The strategy of identity can be tremendously powerful in helping you stick to a new habit, but you can also use it to break habits that aren’t helping you.
Next time you find yourself facing temptation or triggers for a behavior you are trying to change, try using identity statements to steer away from it:
- “That’s not something that I do.”
- “I am not someone who gives into cravings like that.”
- “I used to think like that, but I don’t anymore.”
Statements like these, Clear says, send a much more clear signal to your brain than a simple “I shouldn’t” or “I’m trying to cut back.” When you tie a specific behavior to who you are as a person, it becomes far easier to uphold that value than if it were a vague intention.
James Clear’s inspirational masterpiece, “Atomic Habits,” is a must-read for more insight into what habits can do for you and how to take advantage of it all.
Gretchen Rubin – Finding the Right Strategy for You
There’s no one perfect strategy for changing your habits. Gretchen Rubin, a bestselling author, and expert in happiness and behavior change, knows this well.
Much of Rubin’s work centers around making positive changes to your habits and behaviors in ways that work for you.
- Use reminders to help stick to your intentions
- Create systems of accountability
- Reward yourself for repeating the desired behavior
The takeaway here is not any single strategy so much as a comforting reminder that we all work differently. What helps me kickstart a great habit or kick out a destructive one may not work well for you. So there’s a bit of experimenting involved, and it’s okay if it takes a while to find your perfect groove.
Gretchen Rubin shares dozens of valuable strategies to help you develop good habits (and break destructive ones) in one of my favorite personal development books, “Better Than Before.”