How bad habits are the key to solving your problems

Life Lessons

How bad habits are the key to solving your problems

Your vices are actually solutions. That’s because bad habits solve problems, though not in the best way. We call them “bad” for a reason.

Drink caffeine-laced beverages from morning to night? They give you energy. Complain all the time? It’s a tool for self-expression. Smoke cigarettes? Those puff breaks translate to me-time.

Here’s a rough roadmap for backtracking from bad habits, and then upgrading them.

Step 1 Write down three bad habits.

Step 2 Note the upside of each habit.

So for the examples we’ve already drummed up:

  • Caffeine’s upside is energy.
  • Complaining lets you vent feelings.
  • Smoking cigarettes ensures time for yourself.

Step 3 Identify why you need the upside.

  • You need energy from caffeine because … you’re tired or over-scheduled.
  • You need to vent because … you’re dissatisfied.
  • You need time for yourself because … you’re constantly taking care of others.

Step 4 Tap a new habit.

Downing coffee keeps you alert and awake. But consider why you keep turning to it for jolts—a long to-do list? In turn, you could commit to saying “no” to one task a day. Start small: Don’t vacuum, skip the Twitter update, buy a delicious prepared meal instead of making one. Or maybe to combat constantly feeling tired due to lack of sleep your new habit becomes priming your parasympathetic nervous system before bed: read, pet your dog, cuddle with your partner.

Complaining is easy (and sometimes fun). It’s a lot harder to come up with solutions, which, I’m sure, is why complaining is more popular. If you complain with others, it could help you connect. Still, you’re exerting lots of energy on something negative, and that has zero upside, plus it’s not sustainable unless you enjoy infinite loops of awful. Solutions might take a while (waiting for your brood of kids to grow old enough to take care of themselves) or involve factors beyond your scope (foreign policy, world trade, the conveyer-belt boarding process of air travel). In the meantime, you could recast your perception of what’s negative, which, believe it or not, is an easy habit to become expert at.

Everybody deserves time for themselves. You don’t need a cigarette break to claim it. I won’t quibble over how hard it is to quit. But rest assured, if you do, a laundry list of more nourishing and healthful me-time activities awaits, from taking a solo stroll to listening to music.

Mitra Malek writes and edits content related to wellness, including for Yoga Journal, where she is a contributing editor. Connect at


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