There’s probably something you do that you class as a cringeworthy bad habit. Relieve your guilt and stop your self-flagellation by reading about the good sides to ten common bad habits, and how you can use them to your advantage.
People who are messy may sound like they’re making up lame excuses for their bad habits by pointing out how disorder helps them to be creative. It turns out they’re telling the truth, and scientific research backs them up. Chaos does indeed encourage people to think outside the box and come up with novel solutions. Volunteers in a study at Northwestern University were faster at solving puzzles when they were in a messy room as opposed to a tidy one. They also drew more creative pictures in a messier setting.
Since disorder has such a powerful effect on the mind, you may want to save your mess for the right context. Keep your accounts tidy and orderly, but allow clutter in spaces where you need more creativity.
What could be a bigger waste of time than trawling the internet for cute animal pictures or amusing videos of pets doing daft things? Plenty of things, surprisingly. Studies have shown that, as counter-productive as it seems, this common habit can actually help your brain to focus and complete tasks accurately. Researchers at Hiroshima University found that viewing images of cute baby animals triggered care-giving instincts, making people take more care on subsequent tasks.
Now that you can guiltlessly surf the web for cute animal images, bear in mind that it’s even better if you can find a video of a puppy or kitten doing something hilarious. Laughter reduces blood pressure, relieves pain and makes the body more resilient to stress.
Nibbling on your nails is considered a bad habit, but only because of social convention. Back before we had nail scissors, humans would likely have bitten their nails for two reasons. First, it keeps them from getting too sharp and from injuring us, and second, it exposes the immune system to bugs. Research consistently shows that small exposures to bugs will help boost immunity.
If you’re not a nail-biter, rest assured, you don’t have to start. Follow the principle that small amounts of exposure to bacteria are health-boosting, so don’t sterilize, scrub or scour your body too much.
Talking about other people seems to be a global fascination. People can’t resist a good story or secret, and there are whole magazines devoted to celebrity gossip and members of the public telling tales. Sharing other people’s news has a whole range of mood-boosting benefits. Researchers at Brown University found that most people’s mood improved for up to four hours after spending just 20 minutes gossiping with a friend. 96 percent of people were able to reduce tension and anxiety this way.
The benefits of gossip are really about bonding and connecting with others. Use gossip positively, and not as a way of judging, criticizing, or ostracizing other people.
Your mother may have told you that cursing is a sign of a limited vocabulary but using a little blue language can actually make you feel better when you’re subjected to stressful experiences. Swearing may be particularly useful in the workplace, especially in times of crisis. Swedish scientists have revealed that employees who suffer unfair treatment at work, and don’t find ways to express their anger, double their risk of having a heart attack. Researchers at the University of East Anglia found that swearing at work helps employees to cope with stress and frustration, and cursing can encourage team spirit.
Make sure you let off a little steam when you’re suffering from stress, including an odd choice curse or two if it helps to lower your blood pressure. Make sure you only use naughty words in front of people who are unlikely to find it offensive, and be aware that certain words may prove too fruity for most ears.
You may have been led to believe that ‘early to bed, early to rise’ was the best way of organizing your sleep, and may have come to think that having a lie-in is a bad habit. But research by Japanese endocrinologists shows that people who wake up before 5am may put themselves at risk of cardiovascular disease. Hardened arteries, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, and obesity were more likely in people who got up earlier, scientists found. These findings held true, even though the amount of sleep was the same. Research at Stanford University previously concluded that the most restorative sleep occurs between 2:00 a.m. and 6:30 a.m.
If you have to be woken by an alarm clock, this shows that you haven’t got enough sleep. Respect your natural sleep cycle, by going to sleep when you’re tired and letting yourself have as much sleep as you need.
Fidgeting may seem like a sign of restlessness but when you’re doing it, you’re actually trying to make the brain more alert and focused. Just as you yawn when tired to bring more oxygen in to keep the brain awake, when you fidget, you’re trying to self-stimulate in order to boost mental and physical alertness. And fidgeting is a really effective way of increasing attention. Studies show that this particular habit improves your working memory performance. If you’re not convinced by that, then consider that fiddling and fidgeting also speeds up your metabolism, helping your body to stay fit.
If you feel bored, tired, or your attention to a task is waning, try doodling, twiddling your thumbs, or tapping your foot to bring your focus back.
Angry outbursts can be habitual for some people. They seem to always throw a wobbly if they don’t get their own way. Expressing small amounts of anger can help to relieve tension and stress in a healthy way, and can help you stop bottling up your frustration and turning it against yourself. Unexpressed anger can turn into anxiety or sadness, and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University revealed that anger is a healthier emotion because it produces less cortisol than fear.
Keep your tension levels low by expressing anger in healthy ways; a mini-rant, punching a pillow, or pounding the streets during an angry run, are all good ways of letting out stress.
So many people have the bad habit of checking social media sites at every opportunity. But having a social media presence can help you behave better and stick to your goals. Research shows that announcing intentions on social networking sites allows an individual to more easily stick to their plan. And if you’re checking social media often, you’re helping others to stay on track, too.
If you have an important goal you want to achieve, announce it on Twitter and Facebook so others can keep you accountable and cheer you on.
Sometimes if you focus too hard on a problem, you can end up more confused and stuck than before. Using conscious thought means you can become too rigid and limited in your thinking. While daydreaming is sometimes thought of as a form of procrastination or non-commitment, researchers have found that it could actually help you to think outside the box to solve tough problems. Scientists at University of British Columbia scanned the brains of people when they daydreamed and found that the habit activated brain regions linked with problem-solving abilities.
The reason why daydreaming is so powerful is that the thoughts you have come from your unconscious mind. You can encourage your unconscious to be activated by using hypnosis or performing a task you know so well that your mind is free to wander.
Featured photo credit: bark via flickr.com
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