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Take Back Control: 4 Toxic Habits to Break

Jumping for Joy

“We first make our habits, then our habits make us.” ~Charles C. Noble

Until recently, I firmly believed that a classic set of toxic habits consisted of nail biting, smoking cigarettes, and abusing alcohol and drugs.

I completely forgot that there are some behavior patterns that can do equally bad damage to our vital and creative energy, claiming control over our lives and holding us back.

Ignorance is bliss, someone once said. I overstayed my welcome in that state of mind more than once. I thought my bad habits were actually making my life easier, and following the path to personal growth always seemed so cumbersome.

Eventually, my desire to improve became stronger than my fear of getting out of my comfort zone. I realized that the patterns of my behavior were too destructive and the feeling of comfort and familiarity was just an illusion.

So I decided to look long and hard at everything that had to be changed. The first step would be to break a set of toxic habits and take back control.

1. A thirst for approval.

I spent a large part of my life doing things in the hope of getting others’ approval.

I did things I didn’t want to do and not things I felt passionate about. I would sit and learn math to fulfill my parents’ dream of me becoming an economist, while all I wanted to do was to paint, write, and read books about nature, biology, and psychology.

I even stopped writing, which I feel is my purpose, because certain people saw it as a hobby. In chasing their approval, I completely gave up control of my life.

But the ugliest truth is that I valued their opinion of me more than my own. No matter how great I did, no matter how much positive feedback I received, it never seemed to be enough.

When we make approval-seeking a habit, we lose touch with who we are and what we really want, meaning we’ll never be able to truly approve of ourselves.

2. Sit. Wait. Hope.

I used to sit and wait and hope that somehow a complicated situation would magically resolve itself. I thought that if I waited long enough, I would suddenly understand my purpose, write a book in one sitting, and my body would get in shape without doing anything.

I would spend countless hours sitting and procrastinating, believing that “good things come to those who wait,” whereas, in reality, “better things come to those who work hard for it and have patience to wait for the results.”

There is a huge difference between procrastinating and mindfully waiting for something good to happen. When you work toward a goal and you have patience to see it through, you mindfully wait for the fruits of your work to bring you closer to your goal. And there sure isn’t anything mindful about aimlessly procrastinating and not doing anything productive.

I finally understood that waiting and hoping for something good to happen in my life would never bring me any satisfaction. Notice that the word “satisfaction” ends with “action.”

Action is that formula that brings us happiness, as we need to take action to see results.

3. Super competitive-comparative mode.

From childhood, it was somehow wired in my mind that I had to prove that I was better than everyone else in whatever I did. This state of constant competitiveness and stress about being taken over by someone else kept me going for years.

I cared so much about being better, stronger, and about reaching excellence before everyone else that I completely forgot how to breathe normally, how to connect with people, and how not to alienate everyone.

I didn’t have many friends back then. And it’s really lonely up there on the top when you have no one to share even the smallest of your achievements.

Excessive competitiveness brought out the aggressive, rootless, and a little bit obsessive-compulsive part of me.

When I saw my true colors, I simply didn’t like that person in the mirror. I decided mindfully to release the desire to be better than everyone (which isn’t even possible) and only compare myself with myself of all the yesterdays.

After all, it’s not about being better than everyone in this world (that’s a lot of competition); it’s about being better than ourselves compared to who we were before and reflecting on our progress from that point.

4. Relying too much on other people.

When I wasn’t feeling like doing something, I would pass it over to someone else. And then I would rely on that person to do things for me instead of learning how to solve challenges myself.

I relied completely on other people when I moved to London from Saint-Petersburg. I was hiding behind my fear of having to meet new people, learn new culture, and speak a different language.

My partner was extremely supportive, but even he would get annoyed with me sometimes when I would be afraid to go to a shop, call my bank, or try to plan a weekend getaway. He kept insisting that I took more responsibility, because this was the only way to learn how to solve problems.

I didn’t see that the more others did things I didn’t feel like doing, the more opportunities for growth I missed.

When you look at sequoia tree up close, it is so enormous, you feel like an ant before it. But when you step back and see it from a mountaintop, it looks like a tiny match from a matchbox.

The same goes to our daily challenges in life. Up close, they seem so formidable and unsolvable, but that’s only true if we refuse to try.

And no matter how many challenges we pass on to someone else, life will always have more in store. After all, we receive one lesson that repeats itself until we learn it. And the fastest way to learn it is to tackle it head on. Then, and only then we are ready to move on.

We all have unhealthy habits. Identifying them and working to eliminate them can dramatically improve the quality of our life. It may take time to introduce changes, but if you do it mindfully and focus on the benefits, you’ll feel less resistance and a readiness to change for the better.

Photo by Karen Corby

Profile photo of Lesya Li

About Lesya Li

Lesya Li is a founder of HavingTime, which provides readers with inspirational stories, helpful tips and profound answers on life's challenging questions. She finds joy in reading, exploring and sharing her story and hearing about life experiences of others whom she invites and welcomes to share on HavingTime. Stay in touch with Lesya over TwitterFacebook or Google+.

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  • Great post 🙂

  • krutika

    nicely written Lesya!! im speechless

  • Sandy

    I’m also speechless! 😉
    All the answers to many questions…
    Where do I start now! Lol! Any hints?

  • Thank you for your kindness and I am so happy you liked the article!

  • Don’t be speechless, speak up! ;-] And thank you so much for your kind words! They made my day!

  • Dear Sandy,

    Thank you so much for taking your time and reading the article. I am happy you found it useful.

    Hints… Um, I guess it depends on what we are looking at. Before we change something, we need to pay attention to it and “get really disturbed” or get a “wake up call”. It all seeks our attention.

    Your desire to change must be bigger than your desire to stay the same…

    Take a look at your life. Notice the areas that seek your attention and roll your sleeves up high and get down to work. Changes don’t happen overnight and sometimes it takes ages to get from where we are now to where we want to be. But it’s better to take one step at a time in the direction you choose, than take no steps at all ;-] I wish you good luck on your journey! xo

  • foeaminute

    This was perfect. Same problems (as I type this with my stubby fingernails), and hopefully, the same successful problem solving. Thank you. As silly as it sounds, maybe I was meant to read this today.

  • I am happy it helped and I wish you all the success with releasing the habits that hold you back! I am feeling so much better after I started working on them with a mindful approach. Sometimes it pains me to realise how much I missed by not paying attention (!) to the destruction that my toxic habits brought into my life. But then it makes me happier than ever to understand that I am a different and wiser person today than the person that I was before :-]

  • My albatross is approval and a misplaced sense of obligation. I’m mostly aware of who I am, but I’m constantly looking for confirmation from the outside that it’s fine. Instead of trusting who I am on the inside, I look toward friends, family, and some of my relationships to confirm I’m okay.

    And I feel an immense, persistent guilt now that I realize I prefer to be alone most of the time. And I’m worried I may enjoy solitude to the point of limiting my participation in the world, so I overcompensate by involving myself a lot more than I should.

    As a result, I tend to gauge the “appropriate” response to what goes on around me over acting on my true feelings and desires, which are more low-key than I’ve been told is normal.

    It’s basically what you said here:

    “When we make approval-seeking a habit, we lose touch with who we are and what we really want—meaning we’ll never be able to truly approve of ourselves.”

    I’ve been sidelining myself to fit others’ expectations and needs for so long that I’m barely even aware of what I really want for myself anymore, and it feels like there’s a long and difficult journey of rebuilding ahead.

    I got my wake up call today, when I realized I was cultivating anger just because other people around me were angry. I don’t want to just be a lens that magnifies or a mirror that reflects others.

    Your post reminded me that none of this will be easy, but it will be worthwhile. Thanks for writing it.

  • Jontu

    I’m in same situation now battling my bad habits away and changing them
    to better ones. It is sometimes so hard to overcome and stay in clean
    path. One day at a time and hope for the best 🙂

    Thanks for this share it was my pleasure to read your article <3
    Namaste from Finland

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    “I used to sit and wait and hope that somehow a complicated situation would magically resolve itself.” Something that I struggle a lot in my life… often times, I end up feeling paralyzed & helpless in such circumstances…even though you know its irrational fear! Loved the comparison you used at the end with the ‘sequoia’ tree!

  • krutika

    aww your welcome!!

  • Thank you so much for taking your time and reading this article :-] !

    I also know what it’s like to feel “paralysed” and hopeless when facing tough situations. And why is it challenging sometimes to keep a “positive front” when life throws punches at you and all you feel is that heavy numbness?.. I guess when we are in the moment of stillness (while meditating), when we take our time to breathe, to calm our restless minds and souls – solutions tend to come as epiphanies.
    How do you normally come out of that “helpless” state?

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    If I were to be truly honest…a lot of the times; whether consciously or subconsciously…I try to postponed those things for another time hoping it would ‘magically resolve itself.’ But I also know that most of these irrational fears aren’t that bad; if we decide to face them head on & the times that I do face them, whether at the moment or inevitably having to deal with them…it hardly ever brings the pain and anxieties that I have created in my head; all that time…

  • wow. absolutely true in every way
    unfortunately it often takes a life-altering event to realize something like this. For me it was a bitter end to a eight year relationship caused mostly by all of the above from both us.

    its a constant struggle to move on daily but articles like this really help

  • interesting article

  • I am glad you’ve found this article helpful!

    Life itself is a constant change and nothing sits still… and when something dramatic happens: it pins our attention to the area of our life that urges us to make some adjustments.

    Yes, some people might leave, but that’s not the end of your story. That’s the end of their part in your story… ;-]

  • Danielle Dinh

    I’m stuck on #2. All the others are just as important but being inactive is my greatest impediment to living the life I want. I don’t even remember when/why I started becoming a passive bystander in my own life.

  • Hi Danielle,

    This feeling often occurs when we perceive “today” as a vehicle that drives us to a better future without us taking much action to aid that transition…

    We choose not to take action for various of reasons. This state of mind reminds me of the fish that drifts along with the flow… ;-] Does this sound familiar to you?

  • Amoy

    This is a great read.. I can definitely identify with some of these habits! Im really working on addressing them because I dnt want them hindering me from making my dreams a reality.

  • Brenda

    Great article! I can relate to all of them–especially the need for approval. It seems to me like once you get that out of the way, the others sort of fall into place because you become a better friend to yourself.

  • JS

    Am guilty of all four! Didn’t really think in this way. Thank you for the thought provoking article.

  • Laura Gray

    A brilliant article. I am a super procrastinator and feel life is passing me by, first because of that procrastination and also because of my lack of patience in waiting for the results and believing I am worth those results, however long they take. Thank you for providing inspiration for taking action! X

  • You are most welcome, JS 🙂 Am glad this resonated with you.