Humans are curious creatures. We’re imbued with reason and ethics and our intelligence has allowed us to cure disease, build ever-larger cities, and travel to distant planets. But when it comes down to it, we’re still animals with all the unpleasantness that that involves, and still have animal urges that are intrinsically part of who we are.
Without getting too philosophical or religious, the fact is that most of these urges, while maybe having once served a valuable purpose, aren’t totally helpful to the modern person. Here are 15 natural urges to watch out for—and how to get them in check. And to check your urges at the door and become more confident, avoid doing these 15 Daily Habits That Are Killing Your Confidence.
Eat When Others Eat
“In a culture of coffee dates, working lunches, and cocktail-hour networking, it can be easy to ignore our body signals and eat just to fulfill a social norm,” says Naphtali Roberts, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Likewise, if a friend orders another drink, we’re likely to order another out of that social obligation, rather than because we actually feel like one ourselves.
Instead of letting this kind of mirroring dictate the amount and frequency with which we eat and drink, Roberts recommends, “Pausing, scanning, and choosing based on your body verses social norms frees individuals to treat their body with respect, but also have space to engage in aforementioned events in a more in tune mindful state.” And to embrace a healthier lifestyle, try these 100 Ways to Be a (Much) Healthier Man.
Cheat on Your Partner
While also an urge to bend rules in order to gain an advantage, this desire is often rooted in simple biology: Our hormones drive our attraction to the new and different and can cause us to lose interest in the person who has been there for us over years, if not decades. It’s natural to feel a desire to try something new—but it’s not healthy.
“The best way to deal with this urge is to identify when it is rearing its ugly head and hit the pause button,” says Stephanie Lincoln, a licensed mental health counselor and expert on eating psychology, as well as owner of fitness organization Fire Team Whiskey. “Take a step back and start listing the things that you do have and what you like or love about what you do have. That lady walking by may have a great body, but your spouse may be kind, funny and a great mom to your children. Are those things more valuable to you than a great body? Yes, of course.” Also, don’t even think about downloading Tinder—that’s one of the 20 Social Media Habits That Are Technically Cheating.
Cheat in Competition
“A competitive edge is also ingrained in our biology,” says Lincoln. “Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest is based on this principle. Our species was at one time in competition with other species and other groups of the same species for resources and thus survival. The urge to get something better than what we have or get something more than someone else can drive urges.”
But this bending of the rules can cause long-term damage to our social relationships and hinder our ability to legitimately improve performance in the years to come. Cutting corners might win us the immediate race against competitors but usually means losing the race that really matters—the one with ourselves. And for more ways to keep yourself honest, try these 20 Best Ways to Be More Mindful.
Our bodies are built for managing scarcity—for eating as much as we can when there’s food to eat and storing the fat so we can survive lean times. But while this may have served us in caveman days, now chomping down on a second Big Mac is not the healthiest behavior.
“So as we take a look at that 4th piece of pizza that we can’t seem to resist, how can we overcome our genetics?” asks Lincoln, who points to the mindful eating field of psychology. “Before you eat, assess if you are really hungry. On a scale of 1 to 4 (1 being ravenously hungry to 4 being full), where are you? Unless you are a 1 or a 2, don’t eat. And only ever eat until you reach a “3” on the scale. Once you reach a 3, stop.”
Another mindful eating skill is avoid eating in front of the TV or your smartphone, or while working.
“Sit, pay attention to only the task of eating. People who do this tend to eat less during the meal than those who are eating distracted,” she says.
Like impulse-snacking but likely more expensive, this urge to acquire or to get the same thing your friends have is totally natural, and rooted in our social instincts. But while you want to have the same (or better) quality of clothing and gadgets as your friends and rivals, this can quickly spiral into a buying-for-buying’s-sake and leave you in serious debt.
Be smart, create a budget, and stick to it. That doesn’t mean you can’t buy nice things, but, much like your shopping list, should be planned and not done on instinct. And whatever you do, don’t spend a dime on the 40 Things People Over 40 Should Never Buy.
Listen to Negative Thoughts
Negative thoughts come from a positive place: Self-criticism is usually rooted in an attempt to better ourselves or avoid dangers—not all of them physical. Thinking “this shirt looks terrible on me” can be healthy if it spurs you to dress better and look sharper. But if such negative thoughts start to dominate your mind, it can be highly maladaptive.
“Over time, these thoughts can destroy our self-esteem and outlook on life, even our health,” says J.A. Plosker, a social worker and college instructor. “The first step to stopping them is noticing when they arise. When you feel negativity coming on, acknowledge it, then, try to 1) let it pass; 2) replace it with a positive thought; or 3) reframe the situation and see it in a new light.”
He adds that while this isn’t a magic cure, it can build awareness over time so that these negative thoughts don’t become the norm. Instead, try these 15 Body Positive Affirmations That Actually Work.
Avoid Taking Chances
Similar to self-critical thoughts, sometimes our mind nudges us away from taking an action, rooted in a natural urge to avoid taking risks that could injure us. But now that we are no longer going out to battle animals or other people on a regular basis, the alarm bells going off in our minds are more often exaggerated or unnecessary. If we let our urge for comfort keep us from trying something new, it prevents us from learning or improving in the long run.
“New doesn’t always been unhealthy or dangerous,” says Naphtali Roberts. “Evolutionarily we are programed to flee or fight against new things. If we get hijacked by a flight response to new many of us will new engage in or try things that ultimately are beneficial or life changing.”
Fear Missing Out
Speaking of alarm bells we are better off ignoring, FOMO can often be one of the loudest and least helpful.
Humans are social animals and being expelled from the tribe could present very real dangers to our ancestors. But today, that more often comes in the form of not getting an invite to a party or learning after the fact that a few friends did something without us. It hurts, sure, but it’s not life-or-death. If you feel your fear of missing out has gotten out of control, consider honestly expressing your concerns to your friends, or adding some new social connections to your life so you aren’t placing so much importance on those others who don’t seem too worried about looping you in to what they’re doing.
The other side of the fight-or-flight response, is, of course, fighting. While it’s important to stick up for yourself and your loved ones, and natural to feel driven to anger when you or they are disrespected, it’s rare in our day and age to need to actually resolve anything with fists. If you’re the type who does not back down from a fight, consider the consequences that can result from a misjudged punch and rethink your action plan. If anger management is an issue, try relaxation exercises. Sit up straight, shut your eyes, and take deep breaths. Imagine a beach—and with every exhale imagine yourself releasing your tension into the air in front of you.
Whether at the end of a long day or in the midst of a particularly intense project at work, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed, like either the work is going to crush you or that you need to run out the door and as far away from it as possible. But while this kind of stress is not uncommon, it is often misplaced—there’s little that is really that overwhelming, once you get some perspective on it.
In order to get that perspective, try taking a few deep breaths, which can work miracles for helping to get you to “snap out of it” and focus on the task at hand afresh. If that doesn’t work, you might need to delegate some tasks or adjust your deadlines, but freaking out is not going to benefit anyone.
Why do today what you can put off to next week? The urge to procrastinate is often rooted in an avoidance of the negative feelings of stress we feel when we actually try to tackle a difficult task, or fears that we may do it badly. This is an understandable impulse and can often have a self-fulfilling tendency: the more we put something off, the more likely it is that we won’t do it as well as if we tackled it earlier. While whole books have been written on overcoming procrastination, one of the simplest ways to get past this urge is: instead of worrying about finishing a project, just focus on starting it.
Perfectionism is a slightly tweaked version of procrastination—an urge to avoid finishing something until we feel it is exactly right…which it may never be. We endlessly tweak and fiddle with something for fear that it is not quite perfect and in the process lose track of the bigger picture, missing deadlines or overdoing something that is much simpler than we’ve made it. This can be a tough instinct to overcome, but remembering that “the perfect is the enemy of the good” is probably a good start.
Grab Snacks in the Check-Out Aisle
You know the situation: You loaded up your grocery cart with healthy items and are all set to make some healthy meals at home, but then you get to that check-out aisle and spot the colorful candy bars.
“Impulse buys are urges gone wrong—Snickers has taken advantage of this with their ad slogan ‘Not going anywhere? Grab a Snickers,’” says Jerry Snider, who runs All In Health and Wellness.
It’s totally natural to be distracted by the delicious snacks, even if they are terrible for you. But to avoid making the purchase of something you don’t need, Snider suggest making your shopping list dictate your purchases and refocus on it when you feel the desire to grab something else.
“Hold your list in front of you and double check your items,” he says. “If everything on your list is sitting on the conveyor belt ready to be scanned, tell yourself you are done shopping. Keep repeating that in your head if you have to. When you convince yourself you are done with something, in this case shopping, you are much less likely to add anything else.”
Watch Too Much Entertainment
Similar to picking up snacks you don’t really need, we have a habit of continuing to watch television or surfing the internet long after our brains have shifted to autopilot. The predictability and comfort of these activities creates an endorphin rush to our brains, but also eats away our day and encourages a sedentary mindlessness. To overcome it, Snider suggests a similar solution as he advises for avoiding buying unnecessary snacks.
“How many times have you said ‘after this show I’ll turn the TV off’ and not done it?” he asks. “Draw the line and do not cross over it. Be careful not to add a caveat to your ‘I’m done’ phrase.”
Talking trash about someone behind their back can be immensely satisfying, and offers many short-term emotional benefits, from giving you a sense of superiority to helping define and affirm particular social norms. But over time, it can also have a degrading effect on friendships and connections and leave you feeling a bit dirty. Instead, when you feel the temptation to crack a joke about someone’s social ineptness, think about whether you would tell them to their face and how you’d feel if you did. If you’re still a gossip in your older years, you may have these 20 Teenage Bad Habits Older People Still Have.
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