Breaking Bad – A new study delves into the psychological root of unhealthy habits

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

If you want to curb unhealthy behavior, you must first understand why you are perpetuating it.

What drives a person to overeat knowing that it will not only lead to indigestion and weight gain, but also heaps of chocolate-laden guilt? What is the motivation behind a compulsive shopper’s need to buy that “must have” item despite the financial and emotional repercussions? According to a study conducted by, the tendency to compulsively engage in unhealthy habits cannot be explained by a simple 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 break them. (Habit Kickers). Here’s what the study found:


  • 48% of Habit Strugglers have been officially diagnosed with depression or suspect they may be suffering from a depressive disorder (compared to 11% of Habit KickersHabit Kickers).
  • 56% have been officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or believe they have 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% tend to dwell on negative experiences (compared to 14% of Habit Kickers).
  • 71% tend to ruminate and overanalyze situations to the point of creating problems that weren’t there before (compared to 24% of Habit Kickers).
  • 42% become sad, upset or discouraged when even the smallest thing in their life goes wrong (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 out of people or situations (compared to 19% of Habit Kickers).
  • 53% stay awake 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 difficult to motivate themselves when they have to do something difficult or unpleasant, making it difficult to take active action to break a habit or maintain the effort (compared to 25% of Habit Kickers).
  • 32% feel they have no control over what happens to them or the direction their life takes (compared to 6% of Habit Kickers).
  • 45% feel aimless and directionless (compared to 15% of Habit Kickers).
  • 46% hate change (compared to 14% of Habit Kickers).


  • 45% of Habit Strugglers downplay their accomplishments (compared to 20% of Habit Kickers).
  • 55% experience frequent doubts (compared to 10% of Habit Kickers).
  • 41% are ashamed of themselves – of their appearance, their behavior, their choices, etc. (compared to 4% of Habit Kickers).
  • 43% are severely self-critical (compared to 8% of Habit Kickers).
  • 56% consistently put the needs of others ahead of their own, even if it makes them sad, angry or resentful (compared to 31% of Habit Kickers).
  • 61% will not express 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 ingrained in our daily lives, that it is more difficult for us to break them,” explains Dr. Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests. “We then create excuses for why we keep doing this behavior – ‘I’ve always done this…it’s been a habit I’ve had since I was a kid’, ‘I just have to give in when I’m stressed’, ‘I’m a drinker, just like my dad.’ We begin to convince ourselves that it’s not actually a habit, but a part of who we are – our personality. for which it started in the first place are never examined, so the habit continues unabated.

“If you want to curb unhealthy behavior, you must first understand why you are perpetuating it. Really dig as deep as you can. When did this habit start? What were the circumstances surrounding its origin – did you experience trauma, did you have a difficult childhood, did you get used to someone else? Is it of any use? Is there anything you take away from it, no matter how unsuitable? Is it possible that this habit is replacing another need, or hiding something that you no longer want to feel or experience again? Once you’ve discovered the seed, you can uproot it and plant a healthier pattern of behavior in its place.

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About PsychTests AIM Inc.

PsychTests AIM Inc. originally appeared on the Internet scene in 1996. Since its inception, it has become a preeminent provider of psychological assessment products and services for human resources personnel, therapists and coaches, academics, researchers and a host of other professionals around the world. The staff of PsychTests AIM Inc. is made up of a dedicated team of psychologists, test developers, researchers, statisticians, writers and experts in artificial intelligence (see

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