Monday, May 19, 2008

Bad Habits: A Theory

I have a theory about why it's so hard to quit bad habits.

My theory is this:

For a habit to be a "bad" habit, there has to be something that makes it bad -- there's something about the consequences of engaging the habit that are undesirable.

Often, the reason the consequences are undesirable is because of some defect, weakness, or imperfection in one's self.

Quitting the bad habit is only necessary because of this imperfection. But to enforce a decision to quit often requires continued mental focus on the reason it's a bad habit. That is, on a defect or imperfection.

But reflecting on defects and imperfections is not only unpleasant, it's also just the kind of thing that makes you want to engage in bad habits. Indeed, engaging in the bad habits is a kind of way of pretending that you don't have the imperfection at all.

When I was a teenager, I often didn't wear a seat belt. (Don't worry, I always wear one now.) Part of the reason, psychologically, was that choosing to put on the seat belt required me to consciously acknowledge that I was mortal, and indeed, was about to put myself in danger of death and grave injury. I didn't want to think about that. Not wearing the seat belt you can pretend you are immortal.

Now, I'd like to lose weight. But choosing not to indulge my hi-carb tastes means reflecting on the fact that I am not happy the way I am. I have to keep in mind that I am not the weight I want to be. It's not a nice fact to reflect on. I'd rather ignore it. If I ignore it, I can pretend I am just perfect - - indeed, I can pretend I am the kind of being for whom eating doesn't even lead to bad consequences at all.

Even dealing with my teeth makes me conscious of death in a way I find hard to handle. I am decaying. Eventually I will die. Who can deal with any of it? But don't you have to face up to it to be motivated to floss?

Honestly, it's exhausting. It's no wonder given half a chance we're the overindulgers we are, driving around talking on our cell phones with the music playing.

Just trying to drown out death! No big deal! Carry on!

1 comment:

Captain Colossal said...

Dude. I have been missing smoking so much lately. Which is funny, because it's been over two months since I smoked, and I would expect things to have gotten better. But I think part of what I really hate is knowing that I really can't have even one cigarette, that I am too weak to smoke a cigarette and then quit again.