How to Overcome Bad Habits Using Self-Acceptance

Overcoming is an oxymoron. We are in charge of our lives, so when we say we want to overcome a bad habit, we’re actually saying that we are giving our power to something that we don’t approve of. We can’t “overcome” ourselves. Real and lasting change comes from self-love and acceptance.

So why do we keep doing things that we know are detrimental to our health? For example, a sugar addiction, lack of exercise, or working too much. Why do we keep NOT doing things we know would be good for our health and happiness: eating healthy foods, running, meditation, saving money, etc.? The same holds true for relationships. We know criticizing our partner or arguing is unhealthy for our relationship, but we fall into that same behavior time and time again. Why?

Female runner stretching before a marathon

The Cul-de-sac of Bad Habits: Shifting Our Mindset

We all desire to change old, destructive habits and upgrade them with new, better-serving habits. How do we deal with the resistance and procrastination that surfaces when it comes to doing what's right for us and our relationships?

One of the reasons we get stuck in unhealthy behavioral patterns is because we judge ourselves. The process of change first requires us to release the judgment we have of ourselves and replace it with self-acceptance and self-compassion. But how can we accept that which is "bad," "wrong," or "unloving"? It is not the behavior we accept; it is our self.

The next step is getting curious without making yourself wrong. This curiosity is vital to self-transformation. It’s so important that we give ourselves loving- kindness and a supportive space to be human and to strive for our best selves. Then it is easier to move to a better, healthier place.

When we go against what we know is best for us, we are making a choice. Whatever we'd consider negative behavior (such as, Netflix binging when a project is waiting for completion, cheating on a test, nagging your husband, or gossiping), I call this behavior “mischief.” All mischief (doing what you don't want to do or not doing what you DO want to do) has an underlying need. Discover the need fueling your mischief or unhealthy habit and you're on your way to becoming a better version of yourself! 

Don't ask why you do what you do. Ask yourself: “What do I NEED that these actions provide for me?” For example, do you need comfort and nurturing? Do you grab convenience food due to a hectic schedule? Do you nag because you feel overwhelmed and need support? Do you procrastinate because you need to celebrate your accomplish­ments? (Maybe you're resisting that woodworking project because you've just accomplished a major goal and want to delight in your achievement.) Instead of judging yourself or the behavior, get curious.

An underlying need drives every behavior. 

Carpenter finishing a woodworking project

Meet the Need: Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

After you know what the need is driving your behavior, next ask yourself, “How can I meet this need in a more loving, healthy, productive way?”

Here's a different example of a need driving behavior. Most lunches, I was grabbing a yogurt. It was easy and fast, but it wasn’t the best choice for me due to my diary sensitivity. So I explored the need driving the behavior. With a very full client schedule, I often don't have time to go out for lunch or have a leisurely lunch hour. I needed fast and convenient while still nourishing me. To support myself, I bought prepackaged protein drinks and had a caterer make ready-made salads and fresh juice for me. Then I had nutritious food to grab quickly, solving the problem of time and convenience. (Sometimes I still snatch a yogurt because it tastes more satisfying and nurturing, but it happened a lot less.)

Why It Takes More than Willpower and Discipline to Change Unhealthy Habits

We all have basic needs that make us human. As explained above, these needs fuel our behavior. Why would you have to force yourself to do something your already want to do or be. No amount of discipline or overcoming will get you to stop a behavior if you're not listening to the real need fueling the behavior. By sheer willpower, you may be able to fool or force yourself for a while, but eventually, you’ll revert to the old way. Or the need will create a variation of the behavior.

Discover the unmet need underneath your behavior and meet it! Then, you won't need willpower or discipline.

Keep your focus on the person you want to be and also be compassionate with your present self. Self-acceptance of where you are and a clear vision of the person you want to be helps you make wiser, more mindful choices. Meet your needs; then your actions will align with your truest values and desires and naturally replace your mischief (bad habits).

Be kind to yourself, and you'll find yourself more easily making changes to be your best self.

And if you'd like to have a mentor on the path of self-discovery or a life coach to encourage and hold you accountable, email us at or give us a call at 406-577-2100.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer’s passion is to help people create thriving relationships first with themselves and then with each other. She teaches emotional intelligence skills and a step-by-step process that removes the obstacles to growth, loving connection, and communication. Her popular One Year Makeover and Return to Serenity programs provide a personalized approach to transformation. Her understanding of brain science strategically reshapes a person’s pain into power while restoring inner peace and well-being through a fun and remarkable learning experience. She also works with companies helping to promote organizational transformation of culture, leadership, and relationships. Jennifer is happily married to her beloved husband of 40 years and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence & Fitness