50 Everyday Mistakes—and How to Fix Them
You may not even realize that these everyday habits could be harming your health. Learn what they are and how to avoid them.
Setting your alarm for the middle of a REM cycle
Humans sleep in five-stage cycles. Waking up in the middle of a REM stage (when you sleep deepest) leaves you groggy and grumpy—but get up during one of your light-sleep stages, and you’ll rise feeling refreshed and alert. Find your perfect bedtime with a free site such as sleepyti.me, which gives you four optimal bedtimes based on when you need to get up, or a sleep-tracker app such as Sleepbot, which uses motion and sound sensors to wake you from the lightest phase of your cycle. These are the four stages of sleep and the importance of each.
Wrinkling your face with a cotton pillowcase
“Persistently pressing your face into a pillowcase causes trauma to the skin,” says dermatologist Dennis Gross. “Over time, this trauma, aggravated by the friction of cotton, can cause permanent creases as our collagen breaks down.” Switch to silk or satin cases to minimize creases. Thinking about buying new bed sheets now, here is what you need to know.
Taking a silent shower
Does music give you chills? That’s your brain rewarding itself with dopamine—the same way it reacts to eating potato chips or falling in love. So put on your favorite tune, sing along (the deep breathing associated with singing has been shown to improve heart health), and lather up. Try these other smart things that you can do in the shower.
Ditching your eyeglasses
Beyond the “brainy” association, specs draw attention to your eyes—the windows to empathy. Here are the best glasses for your face shape.
Suits (and other professional attire, such as lab coats) really do make you look more competent. So do designer labels. This infographic is the perfect guide to learn how to comply with your office dress code.
Sticking to a mainstream look
While matching your outfit to your job is important, one study found that adding an offbeat element—such as red tennis shoes—to a traditional ensemble can make you look more competent because you seem unique. These outfit mistakes make you look messy.
Locking away the family jewels
There’s power in imitation. Wearing your father’s watch, for example, may help you subconsciously embody the traits you most admire about him. Try these other tricks to perfectly accessorize your outfit.
Saving your favorite dress for a special occasion
Wearing your most beloved clothes whenever you feel like it could improve your own mood, according to a U.K. study. Fill your closet with these dresses that every woman should own.
Leaving food on the counter
You are what you eat and you eat what you see, according to a study in Health Education & Behavior. People who keep foods such as cereal, cookies, and muffins in plain sight tend to weigh more than those whose treats stay tucked away. On the other hand, keeping healthy foods visible correlates to slimness. Train your brain to hate junk food.
Ignoring the fitness tracker fad
Trackers do more than count steps; they also pick up deviations in heart rate and skin temperature. Using that data, Stanford University researchers studied 60 volunteers over two years and found that fitness monitors could flag when you’re catching a cold or even signal the onset of a serious condition, such as Lyme disease. These are other things that your fitness tracker knows about you.
Going on autopilot during your commute
A Harvard University survey of more than 2,000 volunteers found that when our minds wander, we’re more likely to become unhappy than when we’re focused. Here is what successful people do on their commute.
Not listening to an interesting novel on your commute
A volume of recent research shows that reading fiction not only engages our fickle brains but also increases empathy, fostering a deeper understanding of new experiences and views. (Good prep for that morning meeting.) It also can help your commute go by faster.
A National Highway Transportation Safety Administration report found there are about ten times more crossing-path crashes involving left turns than right turns. Be alert when you turn, and consider a slightly longer route to avoid those intersections where you often see ambulances. Read up on these other safe driving tips in case you ever find yourself in a scary situation.
Checking e-mail constantly
Close that browser window ASAP: In a study in which workers were asked to either check their e-mail only three times a day or as often as possible, the thrice-daily group felt about as much stress reduction as people who use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualizing a “happy place.” When you do take the time to check your email, make sure to follow these etiquette rules.
Snubbing your desk plant (or not having one at all)
Voltaire’s Candide was probably speaking in metaphor when he said each of us should tend our own garden, but a slew of research shows that workers with actual deskside flowers or foliage are more productive than those without. One study even found that people surrounded by office plants performed better on tasks involving memory and attention. Choose from one of these indoor plants that can detox your office.
Avoiding your mother
A University of Wisconsin study found that participants exposed to a stressful situation (public speaking followed by solving math problems in front of an audience) showed a marked decrease in stress hormones and an increase in happiness-producing oxytocin when they spoke to their mothers on the phone immediately after. If you need a little bit of a push to reach out to your mom, read these stories, they’ll make you want to pick up the phone ASAP.
Being obvious with password reminder questions
Anyone on Facebook can see that your dog is named Bosco, which makes that password reminder a weak link for hackers, security experts say. Instead, treat your answer as a second password. Use a string of letters and numbers that isn’t easily gleaned from public profiles. Example: If the reminder question is “What was your first dog’s name?” a strong answer would be “H3[email protected]!” Experts share how you can make stronger recovery questions.
Letting your water bottle run dry
According to research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, increasing your daily water consumption by just one cup could reduce your total daily calorie intake, as well as your consumption of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. Try these tricks to drink more water everyday.
Not doodling through meetings
Doodlers may look as if they’re tuned out, but chances are they’re retaining even more info than the active listeners. In one study in Applied Cognitive Psychology, subjects who monitored a monotonous phone message for names of party guests recalled 29 percent more information later if they had been doodling during the call. Meanwhile, among science students who were asked to draw what they’d learned during lectures and readings, doodlers not only retained more information but also reported more enjoyment and engagement with the material.
Taking your coffee break in the office kitchen
Step outside instead, and your waistline will thank you. A study at Northwestern University found that people who get the majority of their daily sunlight before noon have lower BMIs than those who catch some rays later in the day. Here is how coffee can help you learn.
Scoffing at Instagram kittens
Cuteness releases oxytocin, and oxytocin reduces stress. One study at Hiroshima University in Japan found that people who looked at pictures of baby animals before completing a task performed far better than those who observed photos of adult animals or neutral subjects. You should also be watching more funny cat videos, the benefits of it may surprise you.
Staring down at your phone
The average head weighs 10 to 12 pounds, but when you let it hang down to read on your phone, it’s the same as putting 60 pounds of stress weight on your neck, according to a study in Surgical Technology International. The solution: Hold the phone more in line with your eyes—or, you know, leave it in your pocket. If you find it hard to take your eyes off your phone, you may be a cell phone addict.
Going to the bathroom before you really have to
Does controlling one impulse help you control another? Hold that thought: According to a study published in Psychological Science, people tasked with finding solutions on a full bladder tended to make better decisions, thanks to what researchers called “increased impulse control in the behavioral domain.” Other things your bladder wants to tell you.
Picking the wrong stall in the bathroom
Some experts say that the stall closest to the restroom door likely has the lowest bacteria levels (and probably the most toilet paper!). The first stall may see less traffic because it’s near the entrance and people want privacy. Follow these etiquette tips when using a public restroom.
Dining al desko
There are lots of reasons why eating in front of your computer is a bad idea—research shows you tend to eat more, make less-healthy choices, miss out on lunchroom camaraderie, and are more likely to hit a creative wall. In a recent study, workers who took a 30-minute lunchtime walk three times a week felt more enthusiastic—and less stressed—immediately after. Here is what healthy people do on their lunch break.
Ending short texts with a period
Yes, it’s the proper way to end a sentence, but that dot may make you seem like a jerk. That’s what researchers at Binghamton University found when they showed study participants digital invitations followed by a one-word response: Sure, OK, Yeah, or Yup—shown with a period and without. The responses that ended with a period were rated as less sincere. Make sure to avoid these other annoying texting habits.
Touching public remote controls
University of Arizona germ expert Charles Gerba found that remote controls in hospital rooms harbored more germs than many other common items found there. (Beware of hotel remotes too.) Watch out for these other everyday items that are dirtier than a toilet seat.
Putting your fingers on the checkout touch screen
Self-checkout screens house nasty bacteria, including fecal, says Gerba. Avoid these other areas with lots of bacteria.
Not washing your hands after a drive
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London swabbed a number of steering wheels and found nearly nine times more germs on them than on public toilet seats. Make sure to sanitize these other items that you normally forget to clean.
Not replacing your kitchen sponge or dishrag often
These are hands down the germiest surfaces in your home. In a random study, 75 percent of sponges and dishrags had bacteria such as Salmonella growing in them. Make sure that your kitchen sponge isn’t harboring MRSA.
Not protecting your toothbrush
According to a study from the American Society of Microbiology, toothbrushes, especially those in communal bathrooms, showed fecal contamination. Speaking of dirty toothbrushes, how gross is it to share a toothbrush.
Refusing to even think about exercising
Letting a past exercise experience enter your head actually can motivate you to get up and move, found University of New Hampshire researchers. Even participants who thought of negative exercise memories still hit the gym more than those who didn’t think of any. Try these gym hacks to make your workout less of a chore.
People who exercise with a partner exercise more than people who go it alone, especially if that pal is emotionally supportive. These other tricks can also motivate you to get moving.
Going straight to the showers
Frequent sauna visits may reduce the risk of dementia, suggests a recent study in Finland. Men who took a sauna four to seven times a week were 66 percent less likely to receive a dementia diagnosis than those who took a sauna once a week. Read up on these other benefits of hitting the sauna.
Popping too much aspirin
More is not always better, says Vernon Williams, MD, director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine in Los Angeles. “For many, the thought is that if one pill helps a little, two must surely help a little more. This can quickly turn dangerous.” Aspirin overdose can happen if too many doses build up in your system at once (dehydration, kidney problems, and old age make the risk more likely); symptoms range from tinnitus to drowsiness to coma. Choose safety, and stick to the boring recommended dosage. Instead of taking that second pill use it for these surprising benefits instead.
Paying with cash
A good cash-back credit card can save you thousands of dollars a year. One of the best for everyday spending is the American Express Blue Cash Everyday card, which gives you 3 percent back on every grocery store purchase, up to a maximum of $6,000 a year. Just remember: You have to pay off your card balance every month or you’ll negate the benefits. These are habits of people who are great at saving money.
Cramming your headphones into your pocket
The theory that the universe tends toward chaos should be gospel to anyone who has ever tried to untangle a pair of headphones. Try this knot-prevention trick: Loop the cord around your hand until there’s no cable left dangling, then cinch it in the middle with a plastic bread tag to make a compact figure eight. Here is what your favorite music says about you.
Scrapping the napping
Harvard researchers studied more than 23,000 people for six years and found that those who regularly took a 30-minute siesta had a 37 percent lower chance of dying from heart disease than those who stayed awake all day. These are other good things that happen to your body when you nap.
Bathing the kids
Depending on their age and activity level, young children and babies don’t sweat or smell as much as adolescents and adults. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, children ages 6 to 11 need to bathe only once or twice a week (assuming they haven’t been playing in mud).
Not eating by candlelight
When Cornell University scientists altered half of a Hardee’s fast-food restaurant to include low lighting and atmospheric music, customers in the modified section not only ate slower but also consumed fewer calories and reported enjoying their food more than customers who ate identical meals in the standard dining room. When eating out, remember to keep in mind these etiquette tips.
Going all organic
According to the Environmental Working Group’s latest “Clean Fifteen” list, nonorganic avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, and frozen sweet peas show little or no signs of pesticides. Save your money for organic versions of more pesticide-laden foods, such as strawberries and apples. Avoid these organic foods that are still junk food.
Ending your night with Facebook
Research shows that you should end screen time well before bedtime; otherwise, it could take you longer to nod off and even cause you to produce less sleep-inducing melatonin. (That means TV and computer as well as phone screens.) If you can’t part with your night time social media surf, try wearing blue light sunglasses.
Not ending your night listening to “Clair de Lune”
A new study found that people who listened to music with a tempo of 60 to 80 beats per minute for 45 minutes before bed fell asleep quicker and had a better quality of sleep than those who didn’t. Why? The music may relax the body, which improves sleep quality. Try classical music with an adagio tempo—or almost any Carrie Underwood tune. These songs will give you the best night’s sleep.
Pooh-poohing video games
Who knew playing could relieve pain? When your cognitive resources are focused on a mentally demanding game, you have less attention to give to external stimuli, including pain. In one study at the University of Washington Harborview Burn Center, patients who played a virtual reality game called SnowWorld reported a reduction in pain comparable to that from a moderate dose of hydromorphone, a painkiller.
Putting square containers in the microwave
The corners of rectangular containers usually attract more energy than other areas, leaving the food in those spots overcooked. A round container will allow food to reheat more uniformly. Steer clear of these other common microwave mistakes.
Forgetting to log out of Amazon and PayPal
According to tech experts at makeuseof.com, “You might as well leave your credit card lying on the table at your local eatery” if you neglect to log out of a shopping site or app on your phone. If it were to be stolen, the thief would gain unrestricted access to your accounts and card numbers. So log out—and don’t check the box in the app that asks to save your username and password. Be aware of these other online scams that could get you in trouble.
Standing there and arguing
Can a padded chair help cushion your verbal blows? According to a study from MIT, Harvard, and Yale, sitting on soft surfaces actually makes people more flexible and accommodating—that’s why Bruce Feiler, author of Secrets of Happy Families, suggests moving heated conversations to a sofa or other cushioned seat. This knit chair is the ultimate cozy cushioned seat.
Paying full price online
Back in the day, clipping coupons seemed like the kind of thing only your grandma had time to do. But there are several apps that will automatically save you money when you’re shopping online, either by alerting you to coupons or by magically applying a discount for you at checkout. Two worth exploring: Piggy (joinpiggy.com) and Coupon Sherpa (couponsherpa.com).
Wearing just any pajamas
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reminds us that our body temperature naturally drops when we sleep. Wearing pajamas that make you feel too hot or too cold could disrupt this natural drop in temperature and, as a result, your body’s sleep cycle. Want to ditch the clothes all together? There are more benefits than you would think for sleeping naked.
Neglecting your house of worship
Women who get out to attend religious services at least once a week have a 20 percent reduced risk of death, regardless of whether they smoke, drink, or exercise, says a study of more than 92,000 women by Yeshiva University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Researchers credit the emotional support and respite from stress that going to regular services can provide. Amen to that. Read about how and why we pray.