STOP these 14 Habits & Patterns that Degrade Mental Health

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Assuming 2021 turns out better, what bad habits and thinking patterns would you leave behind in 2020?

There are habits that take a toll on mental health slowly. These are things we realize that are bad for us only when it’s too late. In this self-help post, I’ll recommend 14 habits, circumstances, and thinking patterns to leave behind so you have better mental health in the future. Covid or not, these damaging habits are problematic in the long run.

14 things that damage the mind; reduce these for a happier future.

1. Doing routine things without additional hobbies.

People need a routine to stabilize life, but routines are automatic, and they free up mental space to overthink. Another problem is a sense of pleasure that routines fail to provide. Cultivating a hobby can be a way to keep life engaging and interesting. Intellectual engagement is also a way to boost memory and find a sense of meaning and purpose. People are generally happier if they have a hobby that excites them or creates the flow experience, especially if it’s separate from their work. There is a lot to explore in the world. With just little effort, one can find an engaging activity to do – exercise, music, yoga, spirituality, cooking, gardening, etc. – all are sources of overall well-being.

2. Regularly fishing for external validation & approval.

Rewards and external validation in the form of Instagram hearts, compliments, and praises can be good. But don’t let external validation or rewards become the main source of self-worth. Self-worth should come from within – your own feelings about yourself. When it comes to jobs (doing something for money) or internally motivated beliefs (I am a good person because I want to, not because I will get social benefits) or internally motivated habits (hobbies, self-care routines), seeking rewards can get tricky because of “motivation crowding-out.” Simply put, external rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation. Because rewards undermine motivation, we can lose our motivation to do things we like for ourselves. That is a common sign of depression. Focus on getting your self-worth from your own thoughts and beliefs. Ensure you are motivated because you want to, not because you are expecting someone else’s validation.

3. Making excuses for others’ behavior that exhausts you.

Avoid justifying someone else’s behavior that takes a toll on your mental health. We often tend to do so to save a relationship. We may also idealize others and dismiss flaws or tolerate toxic behavior because we like them. Recognize when you are excusing others because you feel responsible for their behavior or think it is ok to enable them. The most common reason people do that is to temporarily improve relationship satisfaction at the cost of long-term adjustment. Here are the alternatives. Over time, it would only get harder to justify increasingly difficult behavior. Avoid creating a relationship dynamic where a friend or a partner shows poor behavior and still expect to let it slide because you are willing to excuse it.

4. Not talking to anyone freely.

Expressing your thoughts and feelings does 2 things: 1) confirm what you are feeling, and 2) show if they are valued and if others can relate or help. Having someone to talk to or someone who listens without judgment can be freeing and liberating. If you have no such person, making new friends or reaching out to someone is important. A close relationship or even a stranger who listens can create a sense of unity, connectedness, and belongingness. A sense of being understood and welcomed. These positive emotions go a long way to improve mental health, especially by countering loneliness, isolation, and overall dissatisfaction.

5. Not connecting with a variety of people.

Monotony and boredom are emotions we instinctively avoid, often because they are unfamiliar, senseless, and make us feel stuck. Having a variety of friends and relationships has several benefits – they help compartmentalize parts of your life with routines and activities, they help you grow with new perspectives and experiences, they help you cope, and they allow exciting changes that tap into our instinct of exploration. Building friendships is building social capital. Allow yourself to explore and build multiple relationships. At the very least, you’ll have ways to cope with harsh realities, people who care, people you can belong with, and people you can seek help from. It’s a good idea to build friendships over common interests, fun activities, and hobbies.

6. Not taking good advice because you feel you have to figure everything out yourself with no help.

People like to feel in control, but in doing so, they fall into a trap. A trap where they judge themselves for getting help. That judgment often says, “I was inadequate,” “I did not really earn this,” or “I can’t take credit for my work because of the help.” And sometimes, it turns into the Impostor syndrome – feeling like you did not really earn what you achieved. So remind yourself – it’s ok to ask for help and allow others to help you. All successful people had help. Knowing when to seek help and whether you should listen to an expert or not is also important to get productive.

7. Finding happiness.

When we try to find happiness or go on a happiness journey, our brain uses the “availability” heuristic to assess our feelings. Being on that journey only reminds us that we are currently unhappy and dissatisfied. So all effort that goes into finding happiness inevitably shows us that life is bad. This amplifies the feelings of unhappiness and intensifies the motivation to find happiness. This becomes a vicious cycle till we are constantly battling between “finding happiness” and “failing at happiness.” Instead, work toward overall well-being by satisfying your basic psychological needs like intimacy, safety, achievement, pleasure, etc. Happiness will follow automatically.

8. Feeling that the universe is conspiring against you (always feeling unlucky).

It’s easy to believe that environmental factors have more control over your life than you yourself have. We have a “locus of control” ranging from internal to external. Internal locus of control means you believe you have control over your life’s outcomes. Whereas, external locus of control means you believe external factors affect your life’s outcomes. If we possess a high external locus of control and experience many negative experiences, it is easy to feel the universe is conspiring against you. However, this perspective can quickly change if you believe you have more control over your experiences. Our thinking is also influenced by biases that highlight the negative “unlucky” experiences and ignore the “lucky experiences” if we already believe we are unlucky. Because of this confirmation bias, our memory of unlucky events becomes more pronounced than the memory of lucky events, and our attention fixates on the unlucky moments. To counter this, take note of when luck favored you and remember that. You’ll see the universe doesn’t have anything against you.

9. Comparing yourself to others on social media instead of your past version.

Negative social comparison may be the worst unfortunate consequence of a digital life. It exposes you to what others are doing. But it doesn’t just expose you to what others are doing; it exposes you to a very positive version of what others want to show or brag about. So we end up comparing our negative self with others’ positive highlighted self, which amplifies the contrast so much that we judge ourselves for falling short or feeling inadequate. To counter this, always remember – others present a positive version of themselves, and what you see is NOT what you get. That will help you recalibrate your attention to infer a realistic picture from a glorified picture. But more importantly, don’t use others as a reference point to judge yourself. Use your past version as a reference to see if you are growing or stagnating.

10. Always feeling guilty for doing things for yourself that may inconvenience or mildly hurt others.

Guilt is a tricky emotion because it isn’t always about the mistakes we make. Sometimes, we adopt others’ emotions via empathy or blurry identities & boundaries in a relationship. It may even happen to those who self-identify as “codependent” people. In psychology, a defense mechanism called “introjection” describes taking others’ attitudes as your own. Regardless of the reason, it’s important not to take responsibility for others’ emotions. The onus of working on your mental health is always on you. Low self-esteem & feeling like you don’t deserve happiness can amplify this because you might feel guilty for doing anything in your best interest. It’s perfectly ok to make yourself a priority. Quite often, a negative attitude toward oneself comes from an internal voice in the head that’s conditioned to believe irrational things like – “you must always look out for others,” “you should always serve yourself last,” or “doing things for yourself is selfish and bad.” These beliefs are like damaging rules, and they tend to sit deep within our psyche, slowly taking away our control over our mental health. A good start is to remove the word “always” from those thoughts and replace it with “sometimes… it’s a good idea”.

11. Fully accepting your negative state as your permanent state.

There are many ways to be happy – building good relationships, having a meaningful hobby, a purpose, working on physical health, etc. However, there are also many bad ways to be happy that take a toll on our mental health – finding happiness, thinking positive, accepting negative moods, and suppressing negative emotions. When we accept a negative state, we tend to become passive and spend energy to tolerate things that can change. We start defining our personality with a negative mindset – “my life is negative; it is what it is.” Even though you feel all effort is futile, the process of trying to actively improve your life is itself the cause of improvement. As long as you stay active and not passively accept your negative state, you will likely improve your well-being. Don’t get used to the negativity; work to change it.

12. Getting angry at everything when things don’t go your way.

We get angry to change others’ behavior because we feel their behavior shows we are not valued enough. We use anger to modify others’ actions at the cost of our own mental health. But how often do we actually have control over others’ actions? And how often is anger actually successful in getting what we want? Accepting and tolerating things beyond your control can help. Try to deal with things you don’t like without emotions. Take a step back and think about what exactly is in your control and how much effort you’ll need for things to go your way. Put in the effort only when it’s reasonable to “fight for your way.” And it’s not just anger toward people; we have the same attitude toward objects, societies, cultures, and random events. Avoid the default approach of getting angry at things that don’t go your way. Put on a problem-solving mindset, and if it doesn’t work, try tolerating, accepting, or reducing the emotional “pain.” These techniques can help.

13. Bargaining with the universe.

How often do you say things like “if I keep my room organized, I deserve the benefits of productivity” or “I am going to be unconditionally good, so nothing bad happens to me.”? People like to make unconscious deals with the universe because they want good things in return. This is called Heaven’s Reward Fallacy – A faulty expectation that all effort, sacrifice, and self-denial will eventually lead to a reward. To feel they can control what good things happen in the future, they bargain and do something. For example, “if I abstain from dating and focus only on studies, I’ll get a good job.” But 3 years later, you land a mediocre job and get angry at the universe because you did everything right, but still, the universe did not reward you with your expected job. However, the universe doesn’t acknowledge these deals. The deals will waste time and show you your efforts were for the wrong reason when something bad happens. You wouldn’t want to stop good habits just because the universe didn’t respect your bargaining. If you can avoid bargaining with the universe, you can continue doing things because you want to – not because the universe will pay you back.

14. Overthinking about what you could’ve done differently in the past.

People tend to ruminate on old situations and events and wonder what could’ve happened differently. While that could provide some insight into the future, we can get lost in those thoughts for the wrong reasons. We might get stuck in “what ifs”, hoping we can change something from the past. In retrospect, we might feel we’ve learned something trying to make sense of our actions. But, those thoughts can prevent us from making good decisions today and tomorrow. The past can’t be changed, so it shouldn’t hold us back. Don’t plan your past.

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So moving into 2021, you can slowly let go of these habits that compromise mental health.

Here are other articles that might interest you.

  1. How to improve the quality of life and overall well-being
  2. How to be happy
  3. How to stop procrastination
  4. How to do self-affirmations correctly
  5. Life-skills to adjust in a fast world
  6. How to stop negative thoughts

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