Are You a Slave to Bad Habit Dragons?

Bad Habit Dragons

By Daniel G. Amen, MD

Content updated from previous publish date.

Daily habits make up the foundation of your life. Practically everything you do is based on a series of habits that have developed throughout your lifetime. Our daily habits include hundreds of routines, such as:

  • Making your bed in the morning
  • Brushing your teeth after meals
  • Flossing before bedtime
  • Going to the gym before (or after) work
  • Feeding pets
  • Ordering fruit with your meal
  • Closing cabinet doors
  • Putting dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Saying “I love you” to your spouse before going to sleep

Habits are behaviors that your brain has automated, so you don’t have to think about them. You just do them. Good habits can fuel health, happiness, and hope, while bad habits damage your brain, body, and mind.

Some people are filled with “Bad Habit Dragons”—one of 13 types of “Dragons from the Past” that breathe fire on your amygdala (the almond-shaped structure on the inside of your temporal lobes involved in emotional reactions). These inner dragons drive unhealthy behaviors and automatic negative reactions and contribute to emotional issues like anxiety, depression, and anger. The concept of mental dragons originated with Dr. Sharon May, a world-renowned relationship psychologist. Your brain is always listening to these dragons and learning how to notice them and tame them is the key to overcoming bad habits.

Habits are behaviors that your brain has automated, so you don’t have to think about them. You just do them. Good habits can fuel health, happiness, and hope, while bad habits damage your brain, body, and mind. Click To Tweet

HOW ARE BAD HABITS FORMED?

Habits form through a process called long-term potentiation. When neurons fire together, they wire together, and habits and responses become an ingrained part of your life. Long-term potentiation occurs when the brain learns something new, whether it’s good or bad for you, and causes networks of brain cells to make new connections. Early in the learning process, the connections are weak, but over time, as you repeat behaviors, the networks become stronger, making the behaviors more likely to become automatic, reflexive, or habitual.

Some of your habits move your life forward in ways that make you proud, while other habits become dragons that lead to trouble in relationships, work, and finances. Wasting time, allowing distractions, interrupting, arguing, and being disorganized or oblivious are habits that hurt you. They have a negative impact on your health, relationships, or finances; others find it annoying, and it becomes a dragon that influences your brain.

10 COMMON BAD HABITS

There are thousands of bad habits, but here are 10 of the most common Bad Habit Dragons that steal your happiness, health, and relationships. And check out the dragon tamer tips that can help you overcome your bad habits.

1. Saying Yes When You Should Say No

When someone asks you to do something, you reflexively say yes without thinking through all the consequences and end up so busy you don’t have time for family and other priorities. Ultimately, being overcommitted breeds resentment and unhappiness.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Whenever someone asks you to do something, start by saying, “I have to think about it.” Then filter your response through the goals you have. If it doesn’t fit, politely decline.

2. Automatic No or Arguing

This is like being stuck in the terrible twos. It is normal for 2-year-old children to assert their independence and automatically say no. It’s cute when they’re 2, but it’s really irritating when they’re 6, 16, 46, or 86.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Before answering questions or responding to requests in a negative way, catch yourself, take a breath, and think first if it’s best to say no.

3. Interrupting or Having No Filter

Watch any political talk show, and you’ll see and hear these Bad Habit Dragons screaming and talking over each other. They don’t really listen; they say the first thing that comes to mind. As soon as someone else says something, the other person is formulating a response without really knowing what the other person is saying. Political pundits do this. Supervisors do this. Many parents do this—and it shuts down communication.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Practice active listening, and before you say anything, filter it through the impact it may have on others.

4. Having Trouble with the Truth

Lying leads to mistrust in your relationships, and if you can lie to others, you also lie to yourself. Of course, you do not need to be brutally honest. I often tell my patients there are ways to say things and there are more tactful ways to say things. Lying is a common bad habit. In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, most people lie once or twice a day.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: When you catch yourself starting to lie, take a breath, pause, and say, “I meant . . .” followed by the truth.

5. Being Distracted, Obsessive, or a Multitasker

Smartphones, laptops, tablets, email, text messages, the internet, and streaming services are stealing our time and attention. Technology has hijacked developing brains with potentially serious consequences for many, including trouble in relationships, difficulty with focus, and more.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: When you need to get things done, shut down your email and put your phone on airplane mode. Your productivity will go way up.

6. Procrastinating (I’ll Do It Tomorrow)

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. When you wait until the very last minute to get things done (completing schoolwork, paperwork, or chores; paying bills; buying birthday, anniversary, or Christmas gifts, etc.), it increases stress and often irritates those around you who feel the need to pick up the loose pieces.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Don’t see procrastination as a character problem but rather as a problem to solve. The secret to stop procrastinating is to have a method to get things done.

7. Disorganization

Through a series of bad habits—such as saying yes when you should say no; being distracted, obsessive, or a multitasker; or procrastinating—or being overloaded, many people struggle with organization, both for time and their space. They tend to be late, finish tasks at the last moment, or have trouble completing tasks on time. They also tend to struggle to keep their spaces tidy, especially their rooms, book bags, filing cabinets, drawers, closets, and paperwork.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Ask for help from a friend or family member who is organized. Or hire a professional organizer to come to your home or work to teach you systems and to organize your spaces.

8. Let’s Have a Problem

Do you know people who think the sky is always falling? Their minds habitually go to the worst possible outcomes, and they express it to others. They frequently say negative things, stir up trouble, or “poke the bear.” This is common in people with ADD/ADHD, who typically have low activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex and seek stimulation as a way to activate this brain region.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Before you say anything negative, ask yourself if the negativity serves your relationships or your own mental health. Does it fit the goals you have for your life or your relationship? “Does it fit?” are 3 powerful words to help break the pattern of negativity or conflict-seeking behavior.

9. Overeating

Nearly everywhere you go—schools, work, shopping malls, airports, or grocery stores—someone is trying to sell you food that will kill you early. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is filled with pro-inflammatory foods that increase your risk for diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, ADD/ADHD, depression, dementia, and obesity, which is now a serious national crisis with 72% of Americans overweight and 40% obese.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Your brain already has a food routine—is it serving you or hurting you? If it is not serving you, create a new one.

10. Being Oblivious

This is likely the worst of all the bad habits. It is where you just don’t think about the consequences of your behavior before you engage in it. This is what happens when you let your brain run on autopilot, listening to the loudest dragons inside your mind.

Bad Habit Dragon Tamer: Before you buy anything, do anything, or say anything, ask yourself, Is this good for my brain or bad for it? Repeat it over and over until this question becomes a habit itself. Start getting serious about being well and learn what’s good for you and your brain.

Anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

11 Comments »

  1. This article is very interesting. I am curious how depression and anxiety feed these dragons or do the dragons feed the mental health issues?

    Comment by Ramona — February 12, 2021 @ 11:49 AM

  2. Hello Ramona. We have several other blogs on the various types of dragons here: https://amenclinics.com/?s=dragons

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 15, 2021 @ 10:44 AM

  3. i found this article interesting amd informative.

    Comment by betty lou — February 17, 2021 @ 4:24 AM

  4. Good for thought. My dragons have grow nlarger as I age.I need to work on acceptance. Live the Serenity Prayer

    Comment by Patricia Johnston — February 17, 2021 @ 4:45 AM

  5. I have a friend who continually finds fault with how folks on our church staff are doing their job. She tells them what needs to be done. She also does this with me and others. Is there a kind way to let her know I don’t agree with the criticisms? I have a feeling she needs to feel important snd may be hurt that she hadn’t been given a position of leadership.

    Comment by Brenda Johnson — February 17, 2021 @ 7:05 AM

  6. what role does the Holy Spirit play in confronting these dragons? barbara

    Comment by Barbara — February 17, 2021 @ 9:11 AM

  7. Good food for thought. Is there a dragon for constantly thinking about bad choices we’ve made? I find especially during this past year everyone has more idle time to think about previous poor choices and stop dwelling on it.
    We don’t have to have a substance abuse problem to remember the Serenity Prayer. Guess I need to take my own advice.

    Comment by Lisa — February 18, 2021 @ 5:24 AM

  8. The article has provided insightful information, I appreciate Dr. Amen sharing this information with the public.

    Comment by Audrey Carter — February 18, 2021 @ 6:01 AM

  9. Hello Lisa, thanks for reaching out. For more information on the different types of dragons you might be struggling with, check out this link: https://knowyourdragons.com/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 18, 2021 @ 10:00 AM

  10. How do I get this information please?

    Comment by Kathy Hardy — December 28, 2022 @ 3:38 AM

  11. excellent information!

    Comment by Doug Morris — July 13, 2023 @ 2:43 PM

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