How to Overcome 9 of the Most Common Bad Habits

Common Bad Habits

Habits pretty much run your life. Nearly everything you do on a daily basis is based on a series of habits you’ve developed over your lifetime. Habits are behaviors that have become automated, meaning you hardly need to think about them. You just do them reflexively. If you’re like most people though, some of those habits aren’t serving you well. They may lead to trouble at work, in relationships, in your physical health, or with your finances. And even though you may want to break those bad habits, you continue to do them and feel like a slave to them.

That’s one of the things superstar singer Jojo—who rose to fame as a pre-teen in 2004 with her smash hit single “Leave (Get Out)”—opened up about in an episode of Scan My Brain with Dr. Daniel Amen at Amen Clinics. The singer and actress, now in her 30s, who abused substances at one point in her life, said she’s too disorganized. She wants to be more organized and she actually likes the thought of getting things in order, but she struggles to do it consistently or to create systems that would help keep her on track. In addition, she tends to criticize herself for “making the wrong choices” over and over again.

The good news is that Jojo—and you, too—can learn to overcome bad habits. Your brain is the key to doing it.

Even though you may want to break bad habits, you continue to do them and feel like a slave to them. The good news is you can learn to overcome bad habits. Your brain is the key to doing it. Click To Tweet


Inside the brain, habits are shaped and stored in a region called the basal ganglia. Other brain regions also play a role in your vulnerability to developing bad habits versus healthy ones. One of those regions is the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is involved in impulse control, judgment, forethought, and follow-through. When activity in the PFC is healthy, it helps you develop and maintain healthy habits. When activity in this brain region is low, your impulses can take over, leading to the formation of many bad habits.


There are thousands of bad habits. Here are 9 of the most common bad habits that steal your happiness, health, and relationships.

1. Being disorganized.

Do you struggle to keep your spaces neat and tidy? Are your rooms, desktop, handbags or wallets, closets, file cabinets, drawers, and other areas a mess? Being poorly organized means you’re probably unprepared for daily tasks and things take longer for you to complete because you can’t find what you need. Brain SPECT imaging studies, which measure blood flow and activity in the brain, at Amen Clinics show that low activity in the PFC is associated with disorganization, which is also a hallmark sign of ADD/ADHD.

Break the Bad Habit: Ask a friend or hire someone to help you create organizational systems and schedule 10-15 minutes a day to organize your things. Strengthening the PFC with meditation, exercise to boost blood flow, and nutritional supplements (such as rhodiola, ashwagandha, and green tea extract) can be helpful. If you think you may have ADHD, seek professional help.

2. Biting your nails.

Do you habitually nibble on your fingernails or chew them down to the quick until they bleed? Have you tried to stop but feel compelled to do it? Nail biting (onychophobia) is frequently associated with anxiety disorders. The act of biting the nails is linked with relieving feelings of stress, nervousness, loneliness, tension, or boredom. On SPECT, overactivity in the brain’s basal ganglia is associated with anxiety.

Break the Bad Habit: Finding out what triggers your nail biting is the first step to putting an end to this habit. Then replacing that behavior with another one, such as squeezing a stress ball, can help. Using bitter-tasting products on your nails or wearing gloves may also be effective. Addressing underlying anxiety is a critical part of the process of overcoming this bad habit.

3. Procrastinating.

When you wait until the very last minute to get things done, or you routinely put things off until another time (I’ll do that tomorrow”), it increases stress and often frustrates your friends, family, and colleagues. Procrastination often leads to poorly done, incomplete, or unfinished work, and it is associated with fear of failure, low energy, and perfectionism. A hallmark of ADHD, procrastination is often seen in people with underactivity in the PFC.

Break the Bad Habit: Knowing what you want by writing down your goals is a good place to start to overcome procrastination. Then every day, have a 2-minute “huddle” with yourself to decide what you want to accomplish that day.

4. Snacking.

Do you snack on popcorn while watching Netflix on the couch? Do you nibble on chips while you’re working? Do you keep snacks in the car so you can eat something while driving? Do you snack when you’re anxious or feeling blue? Constantly snacking on unhealthy foods or overeating can hijack your brain and lead to a laundry list of physical ailments.

Break the Bad Habit: Know the cues that spark your desire to snack—times of day, certain people, specific moods, or places you drive by. Know your vulnerable times and build a new routine to help you get through them without snacking. If your eating is connected to anxiety or depression, or if you think you are a binge eater, seek professional help to work through those issues.

5. Complaining.

Are you the type of person who can’t help pointing out what’s wrong with things? Do you complain about the weather, your job, your spouse, the service at a restaurant, and so on? Being a chronic complainer not only brings you down but also brings down everyone else around you. Brain SPECT imaging shows that people with too much activity in the brain’s limbic system (emotional centers) have a tendency to focus on the negative and are vulnerable to depression.

Break the Bad Habit: Actively seeking out the positives in situations can help you overcome this habit. If you’re depressed, psychotherapy may help.

6. Not exercising.

Do you start every day with the intention to exercise then come up with all kinds of excuses for skipping your workout? When you routinely choose other activities over exercise, you make it a habit to avoid physical activity.

Break the Bad Habit: Schedule exercise into your day the same way you schedule a meeting at work or a doctor’s appointment. Then if something else pops up at the last minute, say you already have a prior commitment. Once you start making exercise a priority, it will become a habit.

7. Being late.

Are you typically late for work, appointments, and dates even though you want to be on time? Does it cause problems in your life? Being chronically late is one of the primary symptoms associated with ADHD, and it is commonly seen on SPECT scans with low activity in the PFC.

Break the Bad Habit: Boosting your PFC (see “Being disorganized” above) can help. You can also take advantage of technology by setting alerts and reminders when it’s time to start getting dressed, time to start making breakfast, or time to get in the car to drive to an appointment, for example.

8. Constantly checking your phone.

Are you glued to your phone? Do you get stressed out if you can’t check your messages or scroll through your social media feeds? Smartphone addiction is real. They have hijacked our brains and stolen our attention. Scrolling social media, gaming, streaming content, and other phone-related habits can make you feel worse about yourself and increase anxiety, depression, and stress.

Break the Bad Habit: Set time limits for your phone and take a tech time-out—even 15 minutes at a time can help. Set up blocks and filters on your phone so you don’t receive a constant stream of alerts and notifications.

9. Abusing substances.

Drinking too much alcohol, smoking cigarettes or marijuana, or using other forms of recreational drugs are some of the worst habits you can have. These habits actually change the way your brain functions and increase vulnerability to addiction. Brain SPECT imaging shows that many people with addictions have low activity in the PFC and may also have a prior head injury.

Break the Bad Habit: Enhancing PFC function (see “Being disorganized” above), healing damage from head trauma with treatments like hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), and engaging in behavioral programs such as 12-step programs can help. Addressing any other underlying brain-related issues, such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is critical to overcoming addictions.

Anxiety, depression, ADHD, addictions, 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.


  1. This is a very helpful article. Thank you. My two bad habits are disorganisation (to a smallish degree) and procrastination to the same degree. I used to be a complainer but have largely overcome that. I am now going to make a decision to address these two habits and will follow your advice. I usually write a To Do List every day and achieve a few. I am now going to try the huddle as well. I would very much like to have a SPECT analysis done; it would be interesting to check out the PFC. I am in Australia and have started checking availability. My GP will probably be reluctant to order one but I think I can possibly pay privately using private health cover. Will still need his referral. He’s not really that supportive of a preventative approach to health and wellness. Still, I will try. Thank you Dr Amen.

    Comment by Sherida — March 16, 2022 @ 12:36 AM

  2. This was very informative, thank you

    Comment by Margaret Schmidt — March 18, 2022 @ 3:24 AM

  3. Disorganization and procrastination are probably my main two habits I struggle with bat I also know that when prescribed supplements I usually start ok but then stop. I’ve spent a lot of $$ on supplements (even ones from Brain MD) and they expire and then I have to toss them. What can you suggest?

    Comment by Diana Dole — March 18, 2022 @ 4:28 AM

  4. Biting nails is not just a “bad habit”. Although there are habit aspects of it, surely, my understanding is that it’s actually a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I’ve bitten my nails my whole life, and when I read about its connection with OCD just a few years ago, that rang true instantly for me.

    Comment by Laura Trent — March 18, 2022 @ 5:10 AM

  5. Wonderful article. I am an addict through and through. I have 10 years sobriety and have gone from 310lbs. to 234lbs. I am trying very hard to get to 180 but have had moments of binging when my anxiety and depression get the best of me

    Comment by Lynn Fink — March 18, 2022 @ 6:09 AM

  6. So wish I could have my daughters brain scanned. Just cannot afford it.

    Comment by Lori — March 18, 2022 @ 6:21 AM

  7. Can you guys please open up a clinic in Canada? Or recommend me some place in Canada?

    Comment by Britt — March 18, 2022 @ 6:35 AM

  8. Yes I wish there was a clinic in Canada. I would love to bring my son who has been diagnosed with so many labels over the years. He suffers with severe body dysmorphia, eating disorder, ocd, anxiety, Aspergers and addictions.

    Comment by Debbie — March 18, 2022 @ 8:38 PM

  9. Good advice is always welcome, especially on items 1, 3, 6, 7 & 8.
    Thank you.

    Comment by Leonard R Teel — March 21, 2022 @ 7:32 PM

  10. I have bad habits like disorganization and procrastination. I have been diagnosed with Disorganized Schizophrenia and Major Depression. I do take medications for both. After being in therapy for 3 years the therapist told me that I am a perfectionist. I would like to come to one of your clinics to get a SPECT scan.

    Comment by Richard Bennett — March 25, 2022 @ 10:34 PM

  11. This is a very helpful article. Thanks.

    Comment by B. — March 29, 2022 @ 11:16 PM

  12. very helpful article! thank you for sharing this.

    Comment by Douglas Morris — June 1, 2023 @ 2:29 PM

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