The good side of “bad” habits

So many times it’s not that we don’t know what to do to lose fat, get stronger, and improve our health.

We know that there is no “one size fits all” solution — as much as fitness marketers want us to believe that this is the case, and that their product or service is exactly what we need.

However, most of us aren’t completely clueless when it comes to what we need to do to at least be a LITTLE bit healthier or happier.

As a matter of fact, go ahead and stop reading.

Take a moment to write down some changes you could make right now that you think might improve your life or your body in some way.

Here are mine (I’ve listed the first five to come to mind in no particular order of importance):

1) Stop drinking so much coffee.

I’ve got a pretty low tolerance for caffeine, and coffee usually ends up leaving me bloated later in the day and restless at night. I’ve noticed these effects every time I start drinking coffee consistently, and then they subside when I quit.

2) Incorporate more variety into my diet.

Eating the same things over and over again might be contributing to nutrient deficiencies or food intolerances. The fact of the matter is that my health is far from perfect, and (despite what your mom might tell you) neither is my physique. It’s not out of the question at all to consider that either of these may be playing a role.

3) Visit with my family more often.

One of the most common regrets of those passing onto that next place is not spending enough time with those they love. I know life is short, and I have been making an effort to dedicate my time to what I consider “worthy” pursuits, but I can’t help but think that I might want to shift my energy a bit more towards actually seeing my family. After all, it wasn’t until recent centuries or decades that families really even had the option to live so physically distant from one another.

4) Put my phone in the glove box or trunk when I drive.

Distracted driving is comparable to drunk driving in terms of risk, and I’ve absolutely caught myself in close calls as a direct result of distraction. One of the most effective ways for me to minimize my own risk is to shape my environment such that there isn’t even the opportunity for distraction.

5) Be social more in Raleigh than in cyberspace.

Social connection is repeatedly associated with health and happiness, whereas excessive social media use is repeatedly associated with the opposite. I’ve noticed that the more time that I spend inside my apartment, scrolling feeds or watching shows, the more I experience depressive symptoms; the more I get out and interact, the more I experience the opposite.

So, if I already recognize habits and behaviors that might not be serving me, and am aware of specific ways in which they might be having a negative impact in my life, why don’t I just change?

Why don’t I just stop drinking coffee every morning?

Why don’t I just start eating a wider variety of food?

Why don’t I drive up to visit my parents in Blacksburg or my brother in Richmond — both within a 3–4 hour drive (depending on how hard I push the Versa) — or fly to see my sis?

Why don’t I just put my FN phone away when I’m driving?

Why don’t I just shut the computer and go to a Meetup, cafe, bar, or restaurant?

Well, I have.

Every single one of these five changes I’ve attempted — and perhaps even maintained for a while — multiple times.

But just didn’t stick to them.

Even now, having been aware of these habits and behaviors and what my life looks like with and without them for years, I find it difficult to take any action to change them.

If you’re honest with yourself, you might not be too shocked to read this.

Consider the habits and behaviors that you’ve listed for yourself.

How long have you been thinking about making these changes?

How many times have you attempted these changes but regressed to how things were before?

These questions aren’t intended to call you out or to justify my own inconsistency, but rather just to encourage a little bit of introspection.

So why don’t we make these changes, or stick with these changes when we give change a shot?

That’s one big question, and there are countless answers to it that I’d like for us to explore.

For this post, though, we’ll focus on only one — every single habit and behavior, even those that we may want to change, serves a purpose.

Even those habits that have significant negative effects on our lives, in some way, shape, or form, also have at least what we perceive to positive effects on our lives.

I enjoy the buzz and the focus of the caffeine, the flavor of the coffee — especially when I add a bit of cocoa and stevia to it — and the interaction with the baristas every morning (the reason I don’t just buy a damn coffee machine).

Cycling through the same foods repeatedly makes grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation, cooking, and cleanup a breeze. I know exactly what to buy, and how much, when I go shopping. I know what my grocery expenditure is going to look like every month. I know roughly how much time I’m going to have to set aside for prepping and cooking.

There’s an opportunity cost involved in any effort — even one as worthy as visiting family. Weekends are limited, and it’s not possible to do everything that I’d like. Some weekends I attend fitness conferences; some I spend doing nothing here in Raleigh; some I spend visiting with friends in other cities. Saying, “yes” to traveling to see family necessitates saying “no” to some of these other opportunities.

Keeping my phone in the cabin accommodates using Google Maps to get to unknown destinations, playing music of my choosing through the audio system, and (just being real) entertaining myself at red lights or in traffic.

Spending time on social media fast-tracks the process of connecting with people that I know have common interests — even if virtually — and allows me to carefully curate what I do or don’t “say” and “do”, putting forth a representation of myself that reflects who I want to be — even if that isn’t a 100% reflection of who I actually am.

It’s critical that we look at these benefits objectively and honestly, even if (or especially if) we don’t like what we find as our motivations.

This objective assessment of our habits and behaviors gives us quite a bit of power,

We no longer feel weak, lazy, or unmotivated because we don’t make these changes.

Rather, we acknowledge that even the habits we might want to change do serve a purpose, and the benefits of these habits and behaviors play a role in assessing how (or whether) to change them.

After exploring the roles that specific habit or behavior might be playing in our life, we can ask ourselves two questions:

  • Is there a way for me to experience the benefits of this habit without also the detriments?
  • If not, are the benefits specific to this habit worth those detriments?

Let’s consider my little coffee conundrum.

Is there a way for me to get the buzz and focus of caffeine, without the bloating and jitters of coffee?

Sure — I’ve swapped out coffee for green tea many times and experience a solid buzz without the bloating and nighttime restlessness.

Is there a way for me to get the flavor of coffee without the bloating and restlessness?

I’m not sure — it’s possible that a different bean or roast might accommodate this, but figuring this out would take time and effort, and pursuing flavor alone might come with other tradeoffs.

If I were to switch to decaf, for example, I wouldn’t get the same caffeine buzz.

If I were to switch to an alternative bean or roast, I might have to start making coffee at home rather than go chat it up at the ‘bucks.

So, even if I am able to find an alternative to coffee for my caffeine fix, finding an alternative for the flavor and the ritual of going to buy it might be more difficult.

Thus, the second question must be asked, since we may not always get everything we want.

Are the flavor of the coffee and the interaction with the baristas worth the bloating and poor sleep?

Typing this question, I gotta say that it doesn’t really seem to make much sense for me to continue to with this habit in its current form.

Now, does this mean that I’m going to just stop drinking coffee altogether, effective tomorrow?

No way.

Remember, “all in” is not always the most effective approach.

Maybe I’ll switch to decaf or to green tea to get some of the benefits of this habit with less negative effects.

Maybe I’ll start gradually weaning off by ordering a small size each week (currently rocking a venti every day).

However, I’m well on my way towards long-term change, as I’ve taken an objective look at how this habit affects me — negatively and positively — and explored my options in terms of making gradual change.

Now I can take this approach to the other habits and behaviors I’ve listed above.

For now, you might do the same.

Consider a habit or behavior that you might want to change, look at it objectively without judgment, determine how it may or may not be serving you, and explore what options you might have in terms of change.

Until next time, have a most excellent week!

Originally published at on June 24, 2018.

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