How do you know when an activity is good or bad for you? Sometimes your brain lies and says it is good but then you regret it after. Maybe it's something hard now but pays off long-term. How do you know if you should suck it up and endure the hardship now to receive the payoff later? What if you're just abusing yourself and you don't realize there is no long-term payoff?
Life is full of these gifts, work, vices, and hurt.
a gift: feels good now and is good for you long term (e.g., laughter).
work: feels bad now, but long term is a net positive (e.g., working out)
vice: feels good now, but bad long term (e.g., junk food)
hurt: it feels bad now, and bad long term (e.g., cutting yourself)
I built a system to classify activities into these categories independently of how my brain feels at a given time so I can better align my actions with my deepest convictions.
3 steps to classify an activity as a gift, work, vice, or hurt
1) List out the values in your life, in order of happiness or whatever metric you use.
Here are some of mine. They change over time.
- my goals: feeling a sense of purpose
- physical health
- family: having healthy bonds with family members
- social life: time with friends
- shelter: having a place to live
For inspiration, see some common themes in Maslow's hierarchy. Re-order them accordingly.
2) Decide what value the activity falls into
"going out to a party this evening with friends" contributes to my social life.
"jogging first thing in the morning" contributes to my physical health.
"coding a feature for my startup" contributes to my goals.
3) Now ask 2 questions:
- does the activity feel good or bad when you do it?
- does the activity make you give up a higher priority value that you intended to focus on instead?
Keyword here is "intend". If you intend on working out, but instead go party, and you listed physical health as being more important than social life, then you have just sacrificed your higher priority values for immediate gratification. This action of going to a party in the evening is a vice in your life.
If you had to pick your top 3 of each type, what would they be?
In short: appreciate gifts, maximize work, minimize vices, eliminate hurt.