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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

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.

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 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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