gifts, work, vices, hurt

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.

  1. my goals: feeling a sense of purpose
  2. physical health
  3. family: having healthy bonds with family members
  4. sleep
  5. social life: time with friends
  6. 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.


best work I invest in
  • calisthenics: its difficult and I don't always want to do it, but ultimately builds me up longterm.
  • running
  • daily/weekly reflection
top vices I must avoid
  • social media notifications: context switching cost reduces focus on my goals.
  • late night social events: sacrifices sleep which I value more in most cases
  • carbs binging: sacrifices focus meaning I lose ability to work towards my goals.
gifts i appreciate most
  • walking: enjoyable + improves physical health and focus
  • playing piano: easy, relaxing, also helps clear my mind longterm so I can focus better.
  • loving yourself : trying to appreciate this more.
ways i hurt myself most
  • dishonesty with myself: convincing myself i think something to avoid considering the bigger picture or causing conflict
  • not saying whats on my mind: doesn't facilitate growth, feels repressive and stressful

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.


What if I plan on sacrificing sleep, then is it still a vice?

If you plan on it, then this isn't a vice. You just don't value sleep as much as you value other things. We all have different values.

Isn't it ok to enjoy vices in moderation? everything in balance right?

No. If it delays your future return, its not actually giving you a net positive, you're just not thinking longterm about your life.

Could an activity change categories?

Yes. Running typically is work to me, but if I go and run to escape from something I classify as higher priority then running becomes a vice.

  • june 8 2022: 1.5 years since I wrote this and the list of vices/gifts/work/hurt are almost identical. Don’t hurt myself with poor sleep/diet anymore now it’s more about boundary setting. Being blunt. Saying what’s on my mind if it’s better longterm. Not gaslighting myself.