Birds flying in the sunset

hard habit to break


Simon is passionate about ensuring that the stigma and discrimination associated with mental ill health is a thing of the past.
Based in Milton Keynes, Simon started Thrive - a mental health and wellbeing company - in January 2020.

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It’s addiction month here at the Health and Wellbeing Hub. When we say the word addiction, we mostly associate it with “bad” addictions such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, gaming, Love Island, coffee.


We don’t normally associate addiction with habit, again unless it’s delivered in a negative format. Smoking habit….drug habit, nuns…..(actually, forget nuns).


But are all habits bad? Of course not, they are behaviours and patterns that we act out, often daily. And we very rarely think about them, because most of the time they’re automatic behaviours, hard-wired into our subconscious.


Every time you get a t-shirt out, do you analyse how your arm works? Or do you consciously think about all the steps involved in putting that t-shirt on over your head? No, of course not. You just get on with it.

So how do you recognise a bad habit from a good one?

Well, I’m not here to tell you that. But I am here to tell you about my habit.


I am addicted to birds. By which I mean that whenever I am out, I will always be looking, analysing and generally trying to identify almost every bird I see. My wife is very much fed up with announcements of “Red Kite” or “Jay” every time one flies over the car.

But why do I call this a habit?

It’s a thing that I do regularly, and it makes me feel good. There are also times when it makes me feel sad though, and I’ll explain that later as well.


To understand my habit we have to go back to my childhood – in fact to my grandma’s house – where my formative moves as a birder were honed. My wonderful and lovely grandma would always feed the birds in the garden, but her failing eyesight wouldn’t allow her to see all of their various markings and colourings in detail. So she entrusted the identification to me.


Fast forward 37 years and I have just got back from Shetland, a wonderful and wild place where I have spent the week seeing exotic birds from all over the world. For example, Eastern Yellow Wagtail from China, a Western Bonelli’s Warbler from Spain, and a King Eider from Norway.


But, as we were getting ready for our flight home on the Friday evening, disaster struck – a tiny wading bird called a Long-toed Stint had turned up in Yorkshire. This bird, no bigger than a sparrow, should be wintering on a marsh in India right now. Yet here it was, thousands of miles off course, on an English gravel pit.


But why was that a disaster for me? Well, there was no way I could get there to see it, as we had to travel home to Milton Keynes the next day. 39 years had passed since the last previous occurrence in the UK, and I couldn’t go and see what could be a once-in-a-lifetime bird.


The highs of being on Shetland had swiftly become the lows of missing out on a very rare bird I really wanted to see. The addict in me had taken over and I felt hollow as I returned to Milton Keynes.


But I was able to feel better the very next day, when, responding instinctively to my habit, I travelled up north to see the bird (along with about 2500 other “bird addicts“).


All was well in the cosmos again and I had a tick (a new bird for my life list).


Birding is a very outdoors hobby and always keeps me fit.


But every now and then it really messes with my mental health.


What are your good habits? I would love to know what they are and how they affect your daily life and routines – for better or for worse.