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10 Bad Habits That Can Make You Healthier, Happier, And More Successful

10 Bad Habits That Can Make You Healthier, Happier, And More Successful
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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.

1. Being Disorganized Enhances Creativity

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.

 2. Watching Cute YouTube Videos Can Make You More Productive

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.

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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.

3. Biting Your Nails Boosts Immunity

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.

4. A Good Gossip Boosts Your Mood

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.

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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.

5. Swearing Relieves Stress

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.

6. Sleeping In Protects Heart Health

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.

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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.

7. Fidgeting Improves Alertness

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.

8. Throwing Tantrums Reduces Tension

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.

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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.

9. Social Media Keeps You Accountable

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.

10. Daydreaming Helps You Solve Problems

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.

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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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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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