Identify and Overcome Toxic Habits in 20247 min read

Toxic habits can sneak into different aspects of our lives—in our mindsets, our physical health, and our relationships. Here are some key examples of toxic habits, descriptions of how they’re toxic, and strategies for overcoming them.

Recognizing Toxic Habits in Personal Mindsets

Every mindset is a habit of thought. Some of them are empowering—meaning that they help us achieve our goals and be well in life. Others are toxic, causing pain or seriously holding us back. Here are some of the most common toxic habits of thought.

The Trap of Negative Perfectionism

Perfectionism can be either positive or negative, depending on where it comes from, and how it shows up in our lives. Negative perfectionism can be toxic.

Positive perfectionism drives us forward. It is our relentless commitment to excellence and comes out of love—for the craft, the goal, the project. It makes us push our boundaries and show up as our very best. It leads us to take action again and again, far past the point that most would have considered “good enough”. Thus, we go farther and have better results in life.

Negative perfectionism holds us back. It comes out of fear—of rejection, failure, disappointment. It prevents us from getting started with goals, projects, and activities, because we have the unrealistic expectation that we should not fail—ever. Unless we have the certainty that we will perform well, and from the very beginning, we don’t want to do it. It leads to procrastination, avoidance, and negative self-talk.

Living in the Past

Living in the past is a refusal to acknowledge the realities of the present—and the opportunities of the future. This has an impact on present and future decisions.

Some of us live in the past because it feels better than our current circumstances. Others of us live in the past because it’s been painful, and we haven’t fully processed it—so it can feel almost “unfair” to let go and move on. Either way, we’re stuck, unable to move forward.

If we’re living in the past, we don’t dare to dream or to live fully. Without aspirations for ourselves, we don’t see a future that is amazing, promising, or hopeful, so we don’t spend much time thinking about the future or planning for it, and we stay stuck.

Comparing Yourself to Others

As social animals, we humans naturally compare ourselves to others, to understand where we fit in the world around us. If we have a solid sense of who we are and confidence in our abilities, these comparisons can be healthy, showing us what can be done and inspiring us to do our best.

If we don’t have a core sense of who we are, comparing ourselves with others makes us vulnerable to distorted thinking—especially the mistake of comparing our process with somebody else’s result. It can also lead us to pursue goals that are not aligned with our values.

Whether we think we’re better than others (pride), or we think we’re worse (low self-esteem), we’re missing the opportunity to live from our best self and to achieve our highest aspirations, a concept I call living inside out.

Identifying Health-Damaging Habits
The Risks of Skipping Meals

Skipping a meal, whether to limit calories or to save time, can seem tempting, but it’s actually harmful. Research on circadian rhythms, the body’s natural clock, suggests that an irregular eating schedule, not aligned with your circadian rhythm, can increase your health risks, like becoming obese or developing insulin resistance.

Does this mean that skipping breakfast is always a bad idea? It depends. If you usually eat breakfast, then skipping it will throw off your body clock. If you adhere to a mindful practice of intermittent fasting that does not include breakfast, then consistently skipping breakfast is something that supports the body clock.

Smoking and Alcohol Consumption

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases risk for many other diseases.

Alcohol can lead to short-term risks because it makes us unmindful. Harms can include: injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns; violence; and risky sexual behaviors. Excessive intake can cause alcohol poisoning, and among pregnant women it can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

Over time, excessive alcohol use can contribute to chronic diseases and other serious problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.

From the personal development and spiritual point of view, both these habits weaken our awareness and willpower, two of the core features of the higher mind.

Neglecting Mental Health

Mental health is the health of your mind, which includes your emotions. Your mind decides whether you have a good day or a bad day, regardless of what’s actually happening. It determines whether an event in your life is going to make you or break you—whether it’s the opportunity you were looking for or a disaster. Your mindset, determines how successful you are going to be and how happy you are here an now.

Accordingly, neglecting your mind is neglecting your life. It is one of the most toxic habits, because it makes you vulnerable to other harmful habits. Conversely, strengthening your mind will help you address all other challenges.

Toxic Habits in Relationships

Human relationships can be complicated by toxic habits such as the ones listed below.

  • Constant negativity or disrespect—excessive criticism, jealousy, blaming, insults, complaining, or undermining the other person’s goals
  • Controlling behavior:
  • manipulation
  • holding grudges
  • trying to dictate what other person should wear, how they should spend their money, and who they should be friends with
  • anything that makes the other person feel they must “walk on eggshells”
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • wanting someone to “complete” you
  • wanting someone to “fix” your emotional distress
  • thinking there is one perfect soulmate for you
  • thinking you can “save” or change someone
  • Ineffective communication, such as:
  • dishonesty (which is also disrespectful and erodes trust)
  • accusations
  • overgeneralizations
  • dropping “hints” instead of speaking plainly
  • conflict avoidance
  • passive-aggressive actions to avoid direct communication
  • Other factors, such as:
  • confusing certain intense emotions (like anger or jealousy) with romantic passion
  • keeping score and being transactional, sometimes in the name of “fairness”
  • excessive self-sacrifice or compromise

Toxic habits in a relationship can harm both the relationship and the people in it. Harms can include the following:

  • Emotional pain
  • Mental distress
  • Disturbed self-image
  • Damaged social connections
  • Decline in physical health
  • Financial loss

To learn more about how to deal with toxicity in your relationships, check out my guides on setting boundaries and removing toxic people.

Strategies for Overcoming Toxic Habits

If you’ve identified toxic habits in your life and want to change, here are some powerful tools from the Higher Mind System that you can use.

Practical Steps for Behavior Change

Focus. List the habits you want to break, then select one or two to focus on. Write a specific resolution for breaking each habit. Set a SMART goal for that habit.

Start Strong. At the beginning of each day, read your resolution out loud, strengthening your intention not to engage in that habit today.

Daily Practice. Throughout the day, strive to increase awareness, and whenever you have awareness you’re engaging in the undesired habit, try Shifting with the PAW Method (Pause, Awareness, Willpower). For help with the willpower step, explore these tools and see which one works best for you.

Graduating. When you’ve met a goal, you can set a more challenging goal on the same habit, or, if you feel you’ve successfully broken that habit, you can choose another habit to break.

A big part of my work is around building positive habits, mastering impulses, and breaking bad habits, so I encourage you to explore the books and the exercises in the app.

Developing Healthy Routines and Mindsets

Developing a daily routine helps you take care of yourself and stay more focused. It all start by having a powerful morning routine. Here are the guidelines, based on what I practice and recommend to my clients

  • Start your morning routine always in the same time, at least five or six days a week. Set a fixed alarm and keep your phone several feet away from your bed, making it more difficult for you to snooze.
  • Stay offline for the entirety of your morning routine. It’s better to go to sleep with your phone in airplane mode, so that when you wake up there are no new notifications tempting you away from your morning routine.
  • Include two of your most important activities in your morning routine, according to what you need to achieve the life goals and results you are after.
  • In any case, make sure to also include meditation and day planning, at least five minutes of each. These two habits will help you live more purposefully and make better use of your day.

Throughout the day you cultivate positive mindsets and habits with the help of the PAW Method. Whenever you notice you are engaging in a negative thought, impulse, emotion, or habit, you then pause by taking a deep breath, becomes fully aware of what is going on inside of you, and then use your willpower to shift your state, aided by any of the techniques mentioned above.

You can also decide on a positive mindsets to cultivate, such as focusing on possibility rather than difficulty, speaking kindly to yourself, and being experimental with life.

At night, make time for a 5-minute journaling exercise to review your day. Celebrate your wins, however small. Set judgement aside and become aware of when you engaged in a toxic habit or otherwise slid back from your aspiration. Reaffirm your intention to do better tomorrow. Assess how well you lived in accordance with your values. You can do this on paper, or use the journaling feature in the Higher Mind app.

Conclusion

Toxic habits can harm you—and those around you—in many ways. Eliminating toxic behaviors is not easy, or you would have done it already, but there is definitely a way forward.

Which of the tools in this article appeals to you the most? Commit to it, and see how it works for you. You won’t know where it will take you unless you try!

For a deeper dive into these concepts, see my books, here.

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