Our Habits: What Is Too Much of a Good Thing?

When it comes to our habits, What is too much of a good thing? How do you know when you drink too much? And for that matter, how do you know when you smoke pot, watch porn, shop, or use social media too much? If you have a guilty pleasure (or complicated way of coping) is it something to minimize and avoid or something to enjoy without fretting?

restaurant with people with bad habitsThe answer lies in a complete, honest assessment of the good and bad things that come with your habit. Yes, drinking wine, gambling, and binge-watching bring us good things. Unless we’re complete Puritans, we all must admit that relaxation, excitement, confidence, and escape are good things. What does your habit do for you? Does it enhance your social life, work life, family time, or alone time, like mixed drinks making it easier to mix, designer clothes boosting your confidence in the boardroom, or video games revving up your down time?

Now, what about the bad things that come with your habit? Here is where honesty comes in, because we all go around kidding ourselves about a lot of things, like the impact of pot, porn, or shopping on our lives. Start with a stark look at the personal, professional, legal, and medical aspects of your life. Does your habit lead you to lose control and cause consequences in any of these areas?  Hopefully, if you’ve had a DUI from drinking or a chronic cough from smoking, you’re not blaming it on the policeman who pulled you over or the bad air in Los Angeles. What about that last weekend in Las Vegas, or the office Christmas party? Have you ever embarrassed yourself, endangered yourself, or violated the trust of a good friend, spouse, or business partner? You may be tempted to give yourself a pass on these things, but you shouldn’t, especially if you haven’t been able to modify your habit to keep them from happening again.

Sometimes our habits come with hidden costs. What about opportunity costs? We only have so much time, energy, and money to spread around. Does your obsession with World of Warcraft cause you to miss family events? Or do you make it to your cousin’s wedding, only to spend half your time on Instagram? Or does peeking at all those perfect bodies online make you less aroused by the woman you love? Or does that Louis Vuitton bag really fit your budget? Finally, are you leaning too hard on any of these “old familiars” and failing to develop new ways to feel entertained, excited, and beautiful?

Of course, no conversation about controversial habits would be complete if I didn’t raise the question of What does your husband or wife think? Or what would they think, if you weren’t hiding it from them?! Doing something on the sly is rarely the right solution. All too often, it forces you to lie about where you were when you were smoking pot or what happened to the money you spent at the mall. And once you’re caught in a lie, your spouse will have a hard time trusting anything you say. So bring your habit up with your spouse, and be open to how he or she feels. You don’t have to stop playing online poker just because it makes your husband or wife nervous, but you should factor that in, because . . .

In the end, you need to consider all the costs and benefits of your habit before deciding what to do.If the benefits outweigh the harm, then enjoy! If not, then see if you can minimize the harm by being more moderate. If you’re unable to do that, then you should really think about stopping. It might feel like a sacrifice, but it’s a lot easier than trying to be moderate. And it pushes you to find new and healthier things to do for yourself!

–Dr. Adam