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What's Really Driving Your Bad Habits

Updated: Jun 25, 2023

Last week I talked about those unconscious habits we tend to fall back on in spite of our best intentions.

If you missed it, you can watch it here or read it here.

Today we are going to talk about WHY we do these things.

Why is it that you know what is good for you but you still don’t do it and that's driving your bad habits?

Why is it that you know what’s bad for you, but you keep doing it anyway and you know what is driving your bad habits?

That’s because our habits and behaviors aren’t living in the space of our rational conscious mind, which is the part that makes sense of things. Instead, habits are living in the realm of our unconscious mind.

And our unconscious mind operates differently than our conscious mind does.

Today I’m going to reveal the 4 fundamental needs we ALL share so you can begin to see through those pesky behaviors to what your mind is actually seeking or protecting and you can evaluate what's driving your bad habits.

The 4 fundamental needs that affect what's driving your bad habits

Need #1: Physical Safety and Health

This is the most obvious. The need to keep your body safe and healthy.

In addition to that we have 3 core needs for psychological well-being.

Over the last 50 years, thousands of researchers around the world have been studying our relationship to these needs from every angle, and what they have found transcends culture, religion, age, and gender, and applies to every life context, such as school, work, sports, and relationships.

This body of work is called Self Determination Theory.

Those three psychological needs are Connection, Autonomy, and Mastery.

Need #2: Connection

Arguably the most important of these needs is connection.

Connection or ‘Relatedness’ is the feeling of belonging and being important to others. It's about having meaningful relationships, and feeling understood and cared for without concerns about ulterior motives. It also means feeling like you are contributing to something greater than yourself.

Simply, we all need to feel like we're part of a group or community, and that we matter to the people around us.

Connection is the fuel that keeps us going day to day.

On the flip side, when we feel socially rejected, it hurts. Literally! It's like our brain interprets this lack of connection as if it were physical pain and releases cortisol, a stress hormone.

If the connection is chronically missing, we can easily fall into a state of depression and even become ill. So, our drive for connection isn't just a 'nice-to-have'; it's a fundamental part of being human, built right into the very structure of our brains.

Need #3: Autonomy

Autonomy is the experience of being the cause of the outcomes in our own lives. It means you are the author of your own story. You get to make the choices that determine your own destiny.

Autonomy gives us agency, independence, and freedom. When you have autonomy, you feel empowered to make your own choices. You have healthy relationships with authority and you can set and maintain healthy boundaries with others.

On the other hand, lack of autonomy casts us as victims of our environment and of others, feeling like we ‘have to’ do things we don’t want to and powerless to change our own situation. Lack of autonomy can lead to a lack of motivation, poor boundaries, victim mentality, resentment, and anger toward authority figures.

Need #4: Mastery

Mastery is the experience of getting better at something, and of being good at something you worked hard at. It’s feeling effective in your environment and expressing your potential. It includes things like growth and learning.

On the other hand, if you do not have it, it can lead to experiences of self-doubt, apathy, and fear of even trying. These all have a negative effect on your motivation.

These needs for Safety, Connection, Autonomy, and Mastery were as essential when you were a child as they are now. When you were a child, your mind was always seeking these needs. And before you can remember, your mind came up with a way to get these needs met. In the process, you developed automatic behaviors and reactions to everything that reminded your mind of getting these needs met or protecting you from threats.

And most of those same patterns are with you today.

So if for any reason, your deeper mind believes that any one of these needs for safety, connection, autonomy, or mastery is not being met or is at risk in any way, your mind will start trying to get that need met or protect it from being lost even when it is outside of your awareness.

So instead of beating yourself up for these habitual behaviors, recognize that there is a REASON and see if you can figure out that deeper need is driving your behavior.

And when you look at your own child’s behavior, you can look at which need they are trying to meet and guide them to more productive strategies.

Strategies to understand what's driving your bad habits

Earlier I said that your mind is motivated to meet or protect your core needs.

When you look through the lens that every action taken including your thoughts, actions, and words is an attempt to meet one of these needs you can begin to look past the surface to understand what that underlying need is.

Now there are healthy, productive ways you get your needs met. These are ways that help you get what you need in a way that is in harmony with all the other needs you have, as well as the needs of others. Things like making the pie bigger, finding a win-win, asking for what you want without expectation, and giving without expectation.

Then there are the unproductive strategies.

Those that either have no real chance of succeeding or come at a cost, to yourself or others, or both.

Judgments, diagnoses, blame, and criticisms of and by others are all unproductive expressions of your needs. By ‘unproductive’ I mean a strategy that has little to no likelihood of meeting the underlying need or that it comes at the cost of other critical needs.

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