Breaking Bad - New study looks into the psychological root of unhealthy habits

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A recent study by indicates that people who regularly engage in bad habits, such as overeating or excessive shopping, struggle with more than just mental health issues.

Bad habits are never standalone issues. When a person is stuck in a bad behavioral pattern, there is a negative emotional or cognitive pattern at its source.

At the root of bad habits are negative beliefs, feelings, and experiences.

If you want to curb an unhealthy behavior, you need to figure out why you’re perpetuating it in the first place.

What compels a person to overeat knowing that it will not only lead to indigestion and weight gain, but also heaps of chocolate-laden guilt? What’s the motivation behind a compulsive shopper’s need to buy that “must-have” item in spite of the financial and emotional repercussions? According to a study conducted by, the tendency to compulsively engage in unwholesome habits can’t be explained away by a simple a lack of willpower.

Analyzing data collected from 12,259 people who took the Emotional Intelligence Test, PsychTests’ researchers compared the personality profile of people who struggle to break bad habits (Habit Strugglers) to those who are able to kick them (Habit Kickers). Here’s what the study revealed:


  • 48% of Habit Strugglers have either been formally diagnosed with depression or suspect that they may be suffering from a depressive disorder (compared to 11% of Habit KickersHabit Kickers).
  • 56% have been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, or believe they may be suffering from one (compared to 18% of Habit Kickers).
  • 49% experience frequent emotional ups and downs (compared to 10% of Habit Kickers).
  • 42% have anger management issues (compared to 12% of Habit Kickers).
  • 49% have a tendency to dwell on negative experiences (compared to 14% of Habit Kickers).
  • 71% have a tendency to ruminate and over-analyze situations to the point where they create problems that were not there before (compared to 24% of Habit Kickers).
  • 42% become sad, upset, or discouraged when even the smallest thing goes wrong in their lives (compared to 7% of Habit Kickers).
  • 47% find it difficult to express their feelings (compared to 16% of Habit Kickers).


  • 55% of Habit Strugglers tend to expect the worst of people or situations (compared to 19% of Habit Kickers).
  • 53% keep themselves up at night thinking about their problems (compared to 12% of Habit Kickers).
  • 59% are terrified of the future (compared to 18% of Habit Kickers).
  • 68% find it hard to motivate themselves when they need to do something difficult or unpleasant, which makes it difficult to take active steps to break a habit or to keep up the effort (compared to 25% of Habit Kickers).
  • 32% feel they have no control over what happens to them, or the direction their lives take (compared to 6% of Habit Kickers).
  • 45% feel purposeless and directionless (compared to 15% of Habit Kickers).
  • 46% hate change (compared to 14% of Habit Kickers).


  • 45% of Habit Strugglers downplay their achievements (compared to 20% of Habit Kickers).
  • 55% experience frequent self-doubt (compared to 10% of Habit Kickers).
  • 41% are ashamed of themselves - their appearance, behavior, choices, etc. (compared to 4% of Habit Kickers).
  • 43% are harshly self-critical (compared to 8% of Habit Kickers).
  • 56% consistently put other people's needs ahead of their own, even when doing so makes them feel sad, angry, or resentful (compared to 31% of Habit Kickers).
  • 61% won’t voice their desires - they are uncomfortable asking for what they want even if they feel they deserve it (compared to 28% of Habit Kickers).
  • 58% have a strong need for approval (compared to 32% of Habit Kickers).

“There is always a psychological and/or emotional component to bad habits. The problem is that these patterns of behavior become so characteristic of us, so entrenched in our daily life, that we make it harder for ourselves to break them,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “We then create excuses as to why we continue to engage in this behavior - ‘I have always done this…it’s a habit I’ve had since I was a child’, ‘I just have to give in when I’m stressed’, ‘I’m a drinker, just like my father’. We start to convince ourselves that it’s not actually a habit, but a part of who we are - our personality. The motive behind the habit and the reason why it started in the first place is never examined, so the habit continues unabated.”

“If you want to curb an unhealthy behavior, you need to figure out why you’re perpetuating it in the first place. Really dig as deep as you can. When did this habit start? What were the circumstances surrounding its origin - did you experience a trauma, did you have a difficult childhood, did you pick up the habit from someone else? Does it serve a purpose? Is there anything you get out of it, as maladaptive as it may be? Is it possible that this habit is replacing another need, or hiding something you don’t want to feel or experience again? Once you uncover the seed, you can uproot it and plant a healthier behavior pattern in its place.”

Want to assess your EQ? Check out our Emotional Intelligence Test at:

Professional users, such as HR managers, coaches, and therapists, can request a free demo for this or other assessments from ARCH Profile’s extensive battery:

To learn more about psychological testing, download this free eBook:

About PsychTests AIM Inc.
PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a pre-eminent provider of psychological assessment products and services to human resource personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. PsychTests AIM Inc. staff is comprised of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers, and artificial intelligence experts (see

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Ilona Jerabek, Ph.D
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