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The Difference Between a Bad Habit and an Addiction

Is stopping by the bar after work every evening for two martinis a bad habit, or an addiction? Read on.

Is stopping by the bar after work every evening for two martinis a bad habit, or an addiction? Read on.

A new study suggests that drinking a bottle of wine a week increases the risk of cancer in women as much as smoking ten cigarettes, and that drinking three bottles of wine a week means that an extra thirty six women out of a thousand will develop cancer. Research over the past few years has turned the purported health benefits of alcohol on its head, particularly when it’s women who are drinking.

Nearly half of the clients I work with have a goal of cutting back on drinking, or quitting altogether. But, it can get tricky to discern between a bad habit and an addiction. Each require different paths of treatment, and impact the person in very unique ways. By the way, this does not only apply to alcohol, but to food, exercise, smoking, prescription drugs, and even sex and love. So, how are you supposed to know if you’ve got a bad habit or an addiction? Can someone who drinks “only” two glasses of wine every night be addicted?

A bad habit is an ingrained, learned pattern of behavior propelled by a stimulus and a response. It’s got a straightforward, routine quality to it, and a complete change can be made to break it within a period of a few months. An addiction is a complex and inflexible repeated behavior influenced by psychological, physiological and social factors. It’s often a coping mechanism for dealing with trauma or stressful emotions, and serves as both a distraction and a container that becomes increasingly necessary to function over time… until that coping mechanism caves in on itself. 

Whereas a bad habit can often be viewed as a nuisance or thoughtless behavioral pattern, an addiction is all-consuming, and will eventually erode your career, health, primary relationships, and self-esteem.

An addiction has an enticing quality, not unlike a secret lover—you’ll find yourself hiding, sneaking around, compromising, and making excuses over and over again.

Addictions and disorders — like an alcohol use disorder — trample over willpower and thrive on self-deception. As much as you say that you’re not going to drink for a week or a month, it may be all you can think about until finally, you rationalize caving in by telling yourself that you never really had a problem to begin with. Changing a habit can be hard work, but going to battle with an addiction often requires giving it everything you’ve got while altering your life constructs in the process.

So, to answer the question, “can someone who drinks only two glasses of wine every night be addicted?” YES. It is not the quantity that matters, but the consequences of that behavior and the difficulty in changing. 

For me, I knew that my relationship with alcohol had become an addiction when I could not stop drinking on my own, even though I’d given myself little challenges for years (Drynuary, “cleansing,” etc.). There were multiple consequences from my drinking which had started to impact my health, my relationships and my personal integrity. Alcohol had become my potion to suppress painful emotions and trauma. It took asking for help, and committing to addiction-focused treatment, to finally quit drinking (this year, I celebrate a decade of freedom from alcohol and cigarettes).


On the top of a sheet of paper, write down one behavior that is keeping you from living the life you desire. Fold it into two columns. In the first column, list all the consequences of that behavior. In the second column, write down all the potential positive aspects of changing that behavior. 

Power Question: 

In what ways is a bad habit or an addiction impacting your life? How might you be able to discern between whether it’s a habit or an addiction?

Thanks for reading! Have you struggled to discern between a bad habit or an addiction? Did something in this post resonate with you? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.



A Few Notes on The Quantified Self

Technology is a double-edged sword. Lifelogging can help you use it to your advantage.

Technology is a double-edged sword. Lifelogging can help you use it to your advantage.

A friend recently took to calling me the “bionic woman,” but it has nothing to do with using superhuman powers in service of my government. 

On the back of my arm, you’ll spot a blood glucose monitor, which I use to keep an eye on blood sugar levels. On my pointer finger, there’s an Oura Ring, which tracks sleep quality and heart rate variability. On my wrist, you’ll spot a smart watch, which counts daily steps, heart rate, and daily exercise. My menstrual cycle is logged in an app, as well as a host of other factors related to my hormones. I often enter my food intake and macronutrients on my phone, and I take note of my daily mood and the quality of each day in a goals-oriented planner. Excel is a good friend; once in a while, I’ll make an account of every minute spent over a week to figure out where I’m leaking time. I’ve also journaled since the age of 8 or so, taking note of most important conversations and events. In my religious life, I try and take at least a once-weekly inventory of where I’m missing the mark. Oh, and progress on my goals has been color-coded since 2009 (red, yellow, green). Perhaps this is one reason I became a coach!

Ok, maybe you wouldn’t call me a bionic woman. Maybe you’d call me obsessive, fanatical, neurotic, an extreme naval gazer. Whatever label one may slap onto this behavior, I am part of a growing community that subscribes to the practice of lifelogging, otherwise known as The “Quantified Self.”

The Oura ring provides sleep data, heart rate variability, and tracks daily activity levels.

The Oura ring provides sleep data, heart rate variability, and tracks daily activity levels.

This movement focuses on self-experimentation and self-knowledge using numbers, with the goal of enhancing happiness, performance, and health through the collection and analysis of data. By taking ownership of one’s health information, one can also handle medical challenges in a more empowered and informed manner, and perhaps avoid energy derailments, unnecessary prescriptions and medical misdiagnoses. As a coach and an avid practitioner of lifelogging, I know that this practice can be a lifesaver.

As an example, a few years ago a doctor in Singapore diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. “Take six months off and rest,” he advised. “There’s nothing else you can really do about it.” He said he saw this a lot in women “like me,” and that he had just diagnosed a lawyer and personal trainer with it as well. Admitting I was devastated by this news is an understatement. Based on my lifelogging data and research as well as a dose of intuition, however, I was able to conclude that his diagnosis was likely incorrect —there was something else going on. Taking the information I’d gathered to other specialists eventually led to the right diagnosis— a condition that has since been easily managed by keeping an eye on glucose levels and making a radical dietary shift.

In my coaching practice, these kinds of stories come up all the time. I also get to witness the many successes that arise from self-tracking. For people who have highly sensitive bodies or who lean toward being “feelers” more than “thinkers”, lifelogging can be particularly grounding, providing a kind of reality check. We’re in an age where industries that are supposed to support our well-being have become increasingly predatory. Our well being is thus hinged on taking more responsibility over our health by “knowing thyself” and doing our own research. Lifelogging has many benefits, and will only take about ten to fifteen minutes out of your day. We have little control over the things that may happen to us in life. Why not optimize the small sliver that we do have?

Action: Try out one form of lifelogging for a week. 

Power Question: How might lifelogging help you toward your goals?

As always, thanks for reading! Is Lifelogging a topic of interest to you? Let me know in the comments, as well as how you’re using it to improve your health!



The Excuses of Thinkers and Feelers 

Do you lean toward thinking or feeling your way through the world?

Do you lean toward thinking or feeling your way through the world?

If you want to overcome your excuses, it’s helpful to understand the language they speak. In your daily life, what typically dictates most of your actions— your head or your heart? The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a self-reporting questionnaire exploring an individual’s psychological preferences, and can be an insightful tool in the journey of “knowing thyself.” This test will also help you figure out where you are on the thinker/feeler spectrum. 

Thinkers are experts in rationalizing their way out of change. Their minds are oriented to find the nearest escape route if “necessary”, and the messages they tell themselves can be pretty convincing. Here are some examples of “Thinker” excuses:

“Most people who lose weight end up gaining it back anyway. It’s not worth my time to put in the effort. I could use my focus for better things.”

“I only drink two or three glasses of wine a night, max. Gerry drinks nearly two bottles each day. He’s the one with the real problem, not me.” 

“Work’s really busy at the moment. I don’t think I’ll have time to get to the gym regularly and commit to a personal trainer.” 

Feelers may sometimes allow their emotions to dictate their lives. Consistency is particularly difficult for them because they’re easily swept away by the stirrings in their heart. “Feeler” excuses sound something like this:

“I’m feeling depressed today. There’s no point in writing because my mood is low and I won’t be able to produce anything worthwhile.” (I am personally acquainted with this excuse!)

“I can’t believe Harriet did that to me—it’s too upsetting to even think about. I know I said I wasn’t going to drink this month, but I deserve a martini just for putting up with her b.s.” 

“I promised myself that I was going to go running this evening, but there’s a party I want to check out and I’d rather do that.” 

By exploring our own natural tendencies, we become better equipped to recognize our traps as they arise. Self-knowledge fuels the power to make change.


Take an abbreviated version of the Myers-Briggs test if you don’t know what your type is already or head to The Myers & Briggs Foundation for information on taking the MBTI assessment.

Read up on your type, and write down any insights that you find helpful from your research. 

Power Question:

What thinking or feeling excuses am I using that may be sabotaging my well-being? 

Thanks for reading! This is post #5 in a series on Habit Change. Have you taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator before? If so, how has it helped you? Can you recognize the thinking or feeling excuses that you usually tell yourself? Leave your comments below.



The Stages of Change

The process of change isn’t linear.

The process of change isn’t linear.

Around the time Journey’s hit, Don’t Stop Believing, skyrocketed to the top of the charts, two researchers, James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, invented a new construct of behavior change that would dramatically influence their field. This theory, the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change (or TTM), is widely used today as a tool to assess whether or not a person is ready to adopt a healthier behavior. TTM has stuck around for nearly forty years as the dominant lens that behavior change specialists use when working with a new client, and it encompasses six stages that individuals will encounter during any health transformation, including addiction recovery.

These stages are:

Precontemplation (“I’m not ready!” Or, “No Interest!”) - People hanging out at this stage have no intention of taking action in the foreseeable future, and often don’t realize they’re engaged in a problematic behavior. The drunk driver forced by a court judge to attend AA might be examples of people who fall into the precontemplation stage.


Contemplation (“I’ll think about it, but I’m still not ready!”) These folks have some inkling that their behavior is sabotaging their well-being, and will start to weigh the pros and cons. Negative consequences are on their mind, but change might feel a little too hard. 

Preparation (“Let’s do this!”) Individuals at the preparation stage are gearing up for action in the immediate future, and have begun taking small steps forward to address their self-sabotaging behavior. I generally meet people at the preparation stage. They’ve already read up on the issue they’re dealing with, and they’re trying to make manageable changes within the blueprint of their former life.

Action (“Check me out!”)  Superheroes in the action stage are fully engaged in reconfiguring their health and environment, and have made measurable modifications to their lifestyle in order to achieve their goals. They’re not afraid to ask for help, and they have probably enlisted a coach, therapist, personal trainer, doctor, or nutritionist for guidance and accountability.

Maintenance (“This IS Me!”) Here’s your butterfly. She’s been sustaining positive action for at least six months and works to prevent a relapse into old, nasty behaviors.

Termination (“What bad habit?”) A much debated category, termination represents people who are no longer tempted by their past and know they won’t again use their old habits as a coping strategy. This sixth stage has also been used for “Relapse,” where the individual has gone back to their old behavior. This stage was not included in the original version of TTM but was added as Termination to Prochaska’s updated model. 

While these stages are sometimes sequential, people can move in and out of a particular stage at any time— particularly in the first year of a health-related behavioral shake up.

Action: Give some thought to these stages of change in relation to your own habits. 

Power Question: Is there at least one health-related behavior that you’d like to change? Where do you currently sit on this model? 

Thanks for reading! Have you had any experience with using the Stages of Change to adopt a new habit or alter a behavior? I’d love to hear from you- leave your thoughts in the comments below. This is post #4 in an extended series on habit change.



Go Tiny! Aim Big! 

The small boulder and the mighty mountain peak share a few things in common…

The small boulder and the mighty mountain peak share a few things in common…

“If you want to change your life, you’ve got to have a goal that’s big enough to inspire you. Go big, or go home!”

“Change only happens incrementally. The tinier the shift, the easier it is to modify a behavior. Tiny habits rule!”

I’m betting that a lot of you reading this right now have come across both schools of thought. However, despite being treated as dueling approaches, micro-habits and big goals hang out together on the same curb.

Tiny Habits, an approach developed by Stanford behavioral researcher, BJ Fogg, is based on the premise that if we adopt a new habit that’s super easy to stick with, we’ll eventually make our way to the bigger goal by encouraging a snowball effect. From his research, Fogg concluded that only three things will change behavior in the long term: a) an epiphany b) a new environment and c) taking baby steps.

Since most of us won’t be able to uproot ourselves and epiphanies tend to be sort of rare, we’re left with learning from our earliest self. 

Fogg’s outlined three steps to implementing a tiny habit: 

1) You need to GET SPECIFIC. What behavior do you want to change? What outcome would you like to have?

2)  You’ve got to KEEP IT SIMPLE. How can you make the behavior easy to do? 

3).  You’ll want to TRIGGER THE BEHAVIOR. For example, you might say, “every morning after I brush my teeth, I’ll do ten pushups.” The trigger is brushing your teeth, and the Tiny Habit is ten pushups. 

What will prompt you to engage in the behavior? Does your trigger already exist, or will you need to create it from scratch? 

Finally, Fogg emphasizes that after you complete the Tiny Habit, you’ve got to celebrate. That could be as small as yodeling “Woohoo!” or giving yourself a pat on the back.

I’m a big fan of Tiny Habits and have shared Fogg’s principles in many corporate wellness talks. Visualizing big goals, like quitting smoking and running a marathon, coupled with beginning your journey to that goal by implementing a Tiny Habit, like lacing up your running shoes each morning after you finish breakfast, is a sure path to celebration. 


Check out BJ Fogg’s TED talk on Tiny Habits, and then try it out for yourself! (

Power Question: 

What Tiny Habit could you cultivate in working toward a bigger goal? What’s the trigger for that Tiny Habit? 

This is post #3 in a long series on habit change. Do you have any thoughts on big goals and Tiny Habits? Have you tried the Tiny Habits method before? Leave your comments below! Thanks for reading!



  Creating a Morning Practice

Rise and shine!

Rise and shine!

Yesterday’s post addressed the power of a daily morning visualization. Nesting this practice into a set morning routine will strengthen its potency considerably. Countless articles have already been written on the morning habits of highly successful people. Generally, they advise one to get up early, exercise first thing, engage in some type of motivational mental practice like prayer or mindfulness, and do the hardest tasks first. There’s even a bestselling book, “My Morning Routine,” detailing what famous people do as soon as they wake up!

In my years as a coach, I’ve found that there’s really no one winning formula for a morning routine — everybody’s different. One person might gain energy and focus by getting up at 8am, reading the Bible and walking their dogs as exercise. Someone else might find their daily golden ticket in a morning visualization, 5km run and cold shower before sunrise.

We all have unique goals, motivations, preferences and constraints. What matters is that a consistent morning practice has been established— something that you can rely on to weather bad moods, low energy, and challenging times. A morning routine is an insurance policy against the motivation extinction everyone experiences at least once in a while.

Setting up a sustainable, consistent morning routine requires some experimentation. I have yet to meet a single person who sets one up and sticks to it right out of the gate. Play around with all the “first thing” activities that might improve your life. Make a list of them. Can you imagine doing three of those activities within a block of thirty minutes to an hour? What combinations might work for you? For instance, you might consider:

Morning Routine #1:

6am: Wake up
Hot shower 
Morning Visualization 
45 minute workout at the gym


Morning Routine #2:

6:30 am: Wake Up
Morning Visualization
30 minute run outside
Cold shower 

Try each of your potential morning practice out for a week. Take note of any changes or ideas during this time. Which one feels most beneficial to you?

Action: Design a morning practice that will power each day. Write it out in detail. 

Power Questions: What three actions can you take in the morning to set you up for success? What would motivate you to stick with this morning practice?


© Tangram Fitness 2013