philosophy

How Your Bad Habits Serve You

Are you sick and tired of your own bad habits getting in the way? Are you frustrated that you can't seem to stop even though you know they're shitty habits?

Let's try a different approach.

First, I'll tell you something that might sound a bit crazy:

Your bad habits are serving you in some way.

You're not crazy.

You're doing it because it works on some level.

In some way, your “bad” habits are helping you to cope.

Good on you for finding a way to cope.


Instead of beating yourself up for your bad habits, why not try a different approach. Let's celebrate your coping mechanism.

Then you can give yourself a little self compassion and take a moment to figure out what exactly you're coping with.

Once you understand what you're trying to cope with, you might be able to start to replace your bad habit with a good one.

It doesn't need to be perfect right away (or ever!), just 1% better than yesterday.

To Hear, One Must be Silent

Ogion, when asked about the ‘use’ of a plant call the fourfoil:

“When you know the fourfoil in all its seasons root and leaf and flower, by sight and scent and seed, then you may learn its true name, knowing it’s being: which is more useful than its use. What, after all, is the use of you? Or myself?... to hear, one must be silent.” The Books of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

Our perspective is almost always from the point of view of utility. “What can I use this for?”

And that question defines things for us.

It makes sense for a human to be interested in what things in the world might be useful for. And it makes sense for things to be defined that way.

But this perspective doesn't always lead to the true being of things and, if misapplied, can lead us to miss the point entirely.

Pay attention. Look. Listen. Notice the world around you for what it is.

To hear, one must be silent.

Embracing the Work

Something I read on Seth Godin's blog this week got me thinking.

If you don't have time to clean up, you don't have time to cook.


The good part of your thing isn't the whole thing.

Even the stuff you love takes work. It takes preparation. Cleaning up afterwards.

And probably, most of the time, you don't love the crap parts of your thing.

The good parts don't magically make the work not work. You can be passionate about cooking and not like cleaning up sometimes.

Both can be true at the same time.

Stop worrying about figuring out what you're passionate about. Figure out what work you're prepared to do and do it.

Embrace the work and you'll enjoy the good part of you thing more.

Find Out What Your Teacher is Teaching

This year, I read 27 books in total. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, a large proportion of those ended up being important.

But you don’t always have to be reading an “important” book to find something profound.

A friend gave me a hint a few years ago. When reading, rather than just writing down or noting things that seem profound; try paying attention to interesting turns of phrase or descriptions you like. Perhaps this seems obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me.


It was in this way that I cam across something interesting in the first of the Books of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The protagonist of the novel starts his apprenticeship with a great mage, but is impatient to learn something. He complains to his new master:

“But I haven’t learned anything yet!”

To which the master replies:

“Because you haven’t found out what I am teaching” replied the mage, going on his steady, long legged pace along their road...


How often are you impatient to learn? What do you expect from your teachers? How will you know when you are learning?

Have you found out what your teacher is teaching?

Is Knowledge Power?

Knowledge is power. Or so the saying goes.

This is misleading. By itself, knowledge isn't useful. More knowledge isn't always better.

What really generates the power of 'knowledge' is acting on that knowledge.

Does it feel like you don't know enough or have enough information to get started?

You can get some perspective on your own knowledge by asking yourself this question: how do I know what I know?

If you 'know' something to be true, find out why you 'know' that.

Maybe you know that 'carbs are bad' because your Dad said so when you were a child. Have you enquired any further than that? How did he know 'carbs are bad'? Suddenly something you 'know' might seem less true.

Time to create some knew knowledge!


How do you create knowledge?

Sometimes it feels like your knowledge is just there. But it's not.

You construct knowledge. You're constantly assembling the puzzle from the things you perceive to create knowledge.

So, as you make your way through the world, constructing your knowledge of it; keep these questions in mind:

  • So what? What’s important, useful, and/or valuable about this information I’m getting?
  • How can I use this information to help right now?
  • Which information is actually helpful, and which is not? If you don't know, ask yourself how would you be able to tell the difference between helpful and unhelpful information?