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When Bad Looks Good

Bad habits. We all have them. Some call them vices others call them faults. Either way, they’re bad for a reason. They hurt us. I think Ed Sheeran wrote it best in his song Bad Habits. Sing it with me:

“Every time you come around, you know I can't say no. Every time the sun goes down, I let you take control. I can feel the paradise before my world implodes. And tonight had something wonderful. My bad habits lead to late nights endin' alone.Conversations with a stranger I barely know. Swearin' this will be the last, but it probably won't. I got nothin' left to lose, or use, or do.”

A Relatable Song

As the title suggests, the song is about what happens when we give in to our bad habits. Perhaps starting with pure intentions, but then heading in a downward spiral of self destruction. In the Bad Habits music video, Sheeran personifies his “bad habits” as a blonde vampire wearing a pink work suit and fangs. Proving that giving into our bad habits, transforms us into a completely different and unrecognizable person. I found this representation quite brilliant. We all have vices we struggle with. You know, not getting enough sleep, too much screen time, eating junk food etc. There’s an element to each that’s enticing and inviting. Bad habits seem good in the moment. Who doesn’t want that addicting rush of dopamine coursing through your veins? If it makes you feel good, how can it be bad, right?

Easy Does Not Mean Good

Indulging in our vices is easy. That’s why we stick with them. Well that and the instant reward it offers. It’s interesting to see the correlation between bad habits and instant gratification. Here’s an unpopular opinion.. easy does not mean good. Just because it’s convenient doesn’t mean it's right. Our level of discipline determines our ability to say “no” to temptations. This idea of delayed gratification is neither popular nor attractive. We want instant results and to feel good about it. Breaking a bad habit doesn’t feel good at first, but it's good for us. Like bitter medicine, it tastes bad but does good. Habits [good or bad] are formed when done frequently and consistently in the same context. To continue taking the bitter medicine, we have to have a reason for doing it.

Accepting Delayed Gratification

The question remains, how do we break a bad habit? After doing research, I learned that the 2021 debut of his song Bad Habits, came with a significant realization for Sheeran. The singer said it was the anticipated birth of his daughter Lyra and wanting to be a reliable husband for his pregnant wife that led him to knock out his bad habits. To delay gratification shows our willingness to endure some form of suffering. Knowing we have to work at it consistently and won't get results right away. That’s what a good habit looks like. Getting a degree takes time. We can't just overnight a diploma. To get strong results we’ve got to put in strong effort. Just like the bamboo farmers in China.

Bamboo: A Test In Patience

The Chinese Bamboo plant takes roughly 5 years to grow. For 4 years, farmers will water their bamboo plants without seeing any sprouts. But when the 5th year arrives, the plant grows at an astounding rate; 90 feet in 5 weeks to be exact. That is roughly 3 feet per day! Imagine being a bamboo farmer and watering your plants for 4 years without any visible results. It’s enough to make a person go insane. Yet the 4 years of watering and waiting prove to be fruitful. In China, bamboo is seen as a symbol of resiliency. It teaches us that working consistently towards our goals will produce results if we keep at it.

Breaking Bad Habits

Nipping a bad habit in the bud begins with understanding what triggers it. This is often a combination of our surroundings, and the promise of an instant reward. There are different ways to tackle our vices. When forming a new habit, research shows preparation is key. Meaning we think ahead so that we’re not put in a position where we’re tempted to give in. Let’s say you want to start running in the morning. Recognizing that you will be tired, you put your shoes in front of the door the night before, which forces you to confront them in the morning. Another strategy is to replace a bad habit with a new one. For example, if you’re trying to quit smoking, instead of reaching for a cigarette, you chew gum. When forming a new habit, research shows that having some type of reward afterwards can speed the process along. One author shared she only listened to audio books while working out. That way it gave her something to look forward to. When breaking bad habits, it’s also effective to have an accountability buddy. Someone to keep us in check on the days when we're tempted to slip into vices.

The bottom line is we all have bad habits. But we also have the capacity to break them. It’s a matter of understanding ourselves, thinking ahead, and being consistent in making changes. Otherwise we could end up with fangs, and flying around in a pink suit!

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