The Be Bad Guide to Healthy Living

En route to Bali for my latest adventure, I braced myself for a 13-hour stopover in Hong Kong—a total inconvenience, an unnecessary expense and bother. Before I left town I had browsed through promotional images of hotels online and was attracted to one with a stylishly regal, decadent-looking pool. Swimming seemed like a refreshing treat after a 15-hour flight and the room was modestly priced so I decided to go for it.

In the Hong Kong airport I waited at baggage claim until the carousel stopped. There was no sign of my luggage. “It’s checked through to Bali,” an airport authority told me when I reported it. “But we can get it for you if you like.” I paused and decided that I didn’t really need anything in it so I let them keep it, then head off with my minimal hand luggage.

As I was checking into the hotel, I enquired about the pool. “It’s closed now. It reopens at 7a.m.,” the concierge told me. I craved the coolness of a swim as it was muggy and hot, but made do with a shower.

Jet-lagged and up early the next morning, I sat in bed reading, eager for the pool to open. As I pondered whether it would be as spectacular as it looked on the Internet, I suddenly realized that my swimsuit was in the luggage at the airport! My heart fell. I was so looking forward to swimming. I could swim in my underwear, I thought, but I hadn’t been wearing a bra so that would mean… At that moment, my “bad girl” opened her mouth.

“Don’t worry about it,” she told me. “Swim topless.” I assumed that swimming topless in a four-star hotel in Hong Kong was not allowed, but she urged me to go ahead without asking, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do then I would get away with it. I felt thrilled to even consider this plan, and I so yearned to swim that I decided to take the risk… and I got away with it!

Being bad once in a while is quite therapeutic. A charge comes from breaking rules or inventing them yourself that being perpetually good can never provide. Occasional mischief adds spice to our lives, a certain richness to existence. We all know there’s a dark side, so why hide from it?

Some people are chronic “good boys” and “good girls” who pride themselves on their obedience and restraint and can’t imagine being otherwise. Others predictably make food, alcohol and drugs their outlet for being bad an ultimately stale solution that is bound to fizzle. If ever they clean up their acts, a new, unsettling sense of being “too good” is prone to creep up on them. Lacking other outlets for being naughty once in a while, they induce a backlash of self-sabotage. Old habits return in full force, positive changes come undone, and they are back to square one with abusing food, alcohol and drugs. The remedy to this pattern lies not in cultivating more discipline and willpower, but in actively seek other, healthier ways of being bad. Now this is where being healthy gets really fun!

Discovering opportunities for mischief and rule breaking that don’t hurt anyone, of course, requires close attention. The hotel pool in Hong Kong was the perfect window for a little delinquency, and the buzz I got out of it lasted for days. But that was a rare situation. How often is one caught at a hotel with a gorgeous pool, between flights, longing to swim, but without a swimsuit? In that case, devising a happily naughty solution was not rocket science, but the true art is to find harmless ways of releasing your “bad girl” or “bad boy” in your daily life.

So how can you support your health and be bad? First, it’s essential to enjoy being bad. That’s half the benefit. Sometimes in this world that prizes hard work and sacrifice, the simple act of enjoying yourself feels strangely naughty. When we consciously endeavor to be bad we must also consciously opt to enjoy ourselves. Second, as you reflect on how to be naughty, remember what you are aiming to accomplish: Freedom from restrictions that are neither helpful nor true to your values, connection with the spark of life that surfaces in wicked and fiendish grins, and a remembrance that anything, yes anything, is possible.

Sample these ideas to get your creative juices going: Picture leaving work in the middle of the day to go see a movie, alone or with friends or even on a date. Can you already feel your pulse quickening with shock and excitement? Or better yet, try a “double feature at the movies,” pay for the first movie and then sneak into another one directly after for free. Perhaps erasing emails without even checking them would give you a rush, or if you are like my friend’s mother who has never taken a sick day in her life, calling in sick and taking a day off work would be an utter “be bad” success.

The spectrum of ways to be healthfully bad is broad and diverse. It can range from going to a strange looking restaurant in Chinatown and ordering the weirdest thing off the menu, to sun bathing naked or skydiving. Flirting and dressing in sexy clothes can make you feel wonderfully bad, as can explorations outside your usual sexual repertoire. Giving license to your taboos might turn out to be healthy for you. How about an indulgent evening of self-pleasuring, beginning with a whole box of fancy chocolates all for yourself, eaten in a scented, candle-lit bath, followed by what ever else turned you on? Are you starting to enjoy yourself? “Be-bad-makeovers” parallel the health benefits of any spa treatment. Try it and observe if you feel healthier the next day.

How could being bad apply to your exercise routine? If you don’t like the gym but are a member anyway, use your membership to luxuriate in the steam room. Or simply end your membership and, instead, commit to a sensuous Latin dance class so that you can burn calories as you flirt on the dance floor. Or live out your Cirque du Soleil daydreams in a circus class, or your stripper fantasy at cardio-strip class. Wouldn’t it feel bad-ass to be able boast that your shapely abs came from hoola-hooping rather than crunches? Or what about getting out of town weekly for winter surfing with a thick wetsuit, or hitting the slopes with a snow board? Daring to weave through traffic on a bike while most commuters are entombed in the subway feels wonderfully mischievous, as is arriving to work sweaty, simply because you walked. Here’s the bonus: exercise that gives you the thrill of being bad provides extra motivation to stay with it.

Leaving work early aside, would leaving work on time would make you feel naughty? Or taking all the vacation time to which you are entitled? A staggering 26% of Americans take none of their vacation time! I don’t know whether its martyrdom or masochism that motivates them, but I diagnose it as a classic symptom of “being good.”

A change is as good as a holiday and any degree of being bad would be a start for such people. For those who do take your vacation, how about taking leave without pay and going on a long backpacking trip around a foreign continent? Do it on the cheap and notice how you can spend less than if you were at home. What a deliciously bad sense of satisfaction that would give! The world you leave behind will remain as it is, but you will be transformed by the experience.

That’s what being bad does. It bursts the padded bubble that builds up around you in your city life, sending you flying like an exploded balloon with the realization that you really can create whatever reality you want. I encourage you, discover where you can color outside the lines, and explore what lies beyond predictable, everyday routines. View being bad like a safety valve that releases excess pressure and prevents dangerous explosions. Always doing everything perfectly and by the book diverts you from knowing the shadow side of yourself and harnessing the energy that lies there. Being bad once in a while gives you access to alternate corridors of your mind tricky, devious, playful, exciting, hair-raising, tantalizing, crafty pathways that await your exploration. Dive in, have a naughty adventure, enjoy every moment, don’t hurt anyone, and of course, don’t get caught!

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