Breaking Bad: It’s Really about Self Care

Breaking Bad: A colloquialism popular in the American Southwest referring to when someone has taken a turn off the path of the straight and narrow, when they’ve deviated from what’s right. J3NNIF3R at

No, sorry, I don’t watch Breaking Bad – we gave up after 2 episodes, which I understand is very difficult for fans of this show to understand…but the concept of breaking bad comes up repeatedly in my health coaching practice.

It usually rears its head when a client mentions (okay, complains) that there. is. just. not. enough. time. to get everything on the to-do list done. How could s/he possibly take time for self-care? There’s the commute, the job, the kids’ school, the kids’ afterschool, the volunteering, the carpool – s/he can barely put dinner on the table, and thank God for takeout!

I once commiserated with a neighbor (whose husband later became a member of the Cabinet) that I was constantly on the go from the moment I got up (considerably earlier than anyone else in the house).

“I know, right?!?” she exclaimed. “When I get up first, I get a load of laundry started, unload the dishwasher, get breakfast going, pack lunch, take a swipe at cleaning up the living room…. But when [he who shall not be named] gets up first, I come down to find him having a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper! What is that all about?”

I’ve laughed for a decade about how I can totally relate to that rant, but just recently, I suddenly realized what it is all about: it’s about our inability to “be bad.”

How many of us really just want to sit down and put our feet up after work, maybe have a cup of tea (or a glass of wine?), read a book, … just relax? And how many of us don’t do just that?

One day last year, I came home from work, dropped my bag in the back hall, headed for the kitchen, pulled my sweater off and dropped it on a chair, then turned to unload the dishrack to prepare for making dinner. My husband was leaning against the counter reading the news on his iPad and looked up at me in complete disbelief. “Do you really not have time to put your sweater away?”

Wow, I thought – them’s fighting words for someone who’s been home for half an hour and hasn’t even noticed the dishrack is full!

But as I turned to reply, I suddenly realized that he was not being snarky. He honestly could not believe I didn’t take the time to transition from work to home. Huh. And he really didn’t see anything “bad” about standing there doing something he enjoyed instead of starting on dinner…. So maybe this was a learning moment?

In her writing and speaking, Geneen Roth addresses this topic, saying that if we tend to be “very good” (i.e., we do what we are expected to or think we’re expected to at all times), we grow to resent it and act out “being bad” in our relationship with food: it’s very often why we eat what we know is not good for us or eat without a sense of moderation.

So in a sense, “being bad” is good for us. Now, I’m not suggesting you take up the drug trade as in Breaking Bad, but really – what would happen if you took 30 minutes to unwind after work? I imagine dinner would be 30 minutes late. Honestly, my husband and kids really wouldn’t care.

I’ve started urging my clients to “be bad” – within reason of course. Most often, the things we consider “bad” (because they take away from the time we have to do what we think are important things) are actually critical self care activities: taking time to work out, developing a spiritual practice, demanding “me” time, spending time with a friend, eating a croissant (just 1!), having an extra cup of coffee, getting a massage, sleeping an extra 10 minutes….

Start keeping track of how many times you deny yourself a self care activity on the pretense that you’re “being good.” And then “be bad” more often – you can tell Santa a health coach made you do it?


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