Excerpt from Dennis Hong’s hilarious new article: 5 ways your brain tricks you into sticking with bad habits
#1. Remember that smartass kid in school who was always screwing up, but played it off as a joke, like he meant to do it? You know, the kid who would fill out his test answer sheet so that the filled-in bubbles were in the shape of a dick? Or have you ever had that screw-up co-worker who kept talking about how absolutely desperate he or she was for the paycheck after months of unemployment, but then just … stopped showing up?
“Uh, psych! Now please get out of my basket.”
You see it in all flavors, but it all comes down to the same thing: This type of person doesn’t try to succeed, but fails; they invent ways to fail, seemingly on purpose. This has become the subject of a whole new area of research that they’re tentatively calling self-defeating personality disorder. Tell us you don’t know at least one person who fits that profile. Or five. Or maybe you’ve seen one in the mirror.
The theory is that it’s all a calculation on the part of your subconscious, a process of accepting one type of failure out of fear of suffering a much greater one, almost like a plea bargain in court.
“Take the excuse of saving gas money during a gouge; save yourself from an embarrassing porn audition.”
The kid who turned his test sheet into a dick would rather fail because he’s wacky and lovable than try to pass the test and fail because he’s not smart enough or wasn’t capable of working hard enough to learn the material. The lonely guy would prefer to just never talk to girls because he’s “shy,” rather than risk talking to a girl and have her reject him for being too nerdy/boring/into anime/etc.
So you can see already how this plays into any attempt to fix a bad habit. Let’s say you have trouble keeping jobs because you have a chronic resistance to wearing pants or underwear. You actually have a strong motivation to keep the bad habit, since it’s the only thing keeping the world from finding out that you’re not competent enough to succeed at work. Yes, you’re unemployed, but having the habit to blame lets you cling to the illusion that you’d be a captain of industry if you just didn’t have that pants thing. So incredibly, bad habits wind up protecting your self-esteem, specifically because they cause you to fail.
“If he’d just let me wear my Tommy Lee costume, I could have totally lifted that X-wing out of the swamp.”
So basically, while your conscious self is busy hating you for not fixing your bad habits, your subconscious self is secretly doing everything it can to sabotage any efforts to correct them, because self-indulgence — not self-improvement — is what it actually wants.
Read more: 5 Ways Your Brain Tricks You into Sticking With Bad Habits And you can follow Dennis on twitter @DennisHHong