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7 useless obsessions that are actually good for you

By Amy Shearn, Oprah.com
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Fri September 28, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Trying to quit smoking? Procrastination habits can keep you busy
  • When meteorological neurosis strikes, don't fear for the worst, prepare for it
  • Learning new skills helps your brain get brainier

(Oprah.com) -- Time sucks can be such, well, time sucks. But here's the good news: Some of these silly manias that eat up your evening hours can actually have constructive consequences.

Fixating on the Mysteries of the Slinky
You will never make one go down the stairs right. But the time you spend puzzling over this activity is time not spent snacking or saying mean things to your mother on the phone. Ditto for Pinterest, frantic knitting or daily study of the Google Doodle. If it's the procrastination that's keeping you from completing that encyclopedia you've been drafting for 20 years, then we don't need to tell you to knock it off and focus. But keeping you busy so you don't smoke five more cigarettes tonight? Slinky away, friend.

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Stalking your Mycroft
No, it's not something from 50 Shades of Grey, though stalking your Mycroft—that is to say, educating yourself in the many fabulous ways your nemesis is succeeding in life—is a terrific way to make yourself crazy. (We're not talking about an archenemy; someone who is actively hurting you is someone best ignored when possible.) We mean the Mycroft Holmes to your Sherlock (you know, his brilliant, diabolical brother who makes him crazy but also pushes him to be his best). This is someone whose accomplishments make jealousy fizzle in your chest: those glamorous party pictures! Or that well-trafficked blog! Or that impressive list of vendors carrying her handbags! Or whatever it is. But instead of withering in self-pity, think about what your own goals are, and how you could better achieve them, how you could, perhaps, steal a bit of that mojo for yourself.

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Buying spam for the bunker
To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you don't need a weatherman to know that the weather's been really weird lately. Record high temperatures, Midwestern draughts, flash floods in China and Russia, hurricanes hitting the East Coast. So you'd be forgiven a bit of meteorological neurosis: a check of Weather.com every hour or so; the occasional night spent staring at the ceiling contemplating typhoons. But—take it from an experienced worrier here—what you want to do is use that worry as a kind of internal Google Calendar reminder and prepare yourself for a big thunderstorm or power outage by getting together your flashlight (bonus points for extra batteries), that hand-crank radio you always hear you're supposed to have, first aid kits—the whole deal. In other words, instead of fearing the worst, prepare for it.

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Worrying that he's going to cheat
If you can't stop wondering whether he's going to, whether he wants to and how you'll flame his Facebook page if he does, maybe all that energy could be better channeled. Consider a) what might make him want to do such a thing, b) why you think he might be doing such a thing and c) what you could do to avoid such a thing—affair-proofing, if you will. In your imaginary scenario, is he looking for more sex, more fun, more attention? And in your real life, is he spending a lot of time listening to that song that goes, "As much as you accuse me of cheating, I might as well have..."? Palpate your relationship for the weak spots, think about what changes you might want to make or, here's a radical suggestion: maybe talk to him about what you're feeling.

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Anticipating the non-silk pink slip
Here's something guaranteed not to help your job security: An hourly powwow with coworkers about who's getting fired in the next inevitable round of cuts. Here's another one: "casually" strolling by your boss's office a hundred times a day in an attempt to read whether or not her expression seems "laying-off-y." If you're starting to feel the recession-time job-cut jitters, update that dusty résumé and start networking like crazy. Oh, and maybe back up all those personal photos on your work computer...Just in case.

Collecting Striped Shirts
Maybe your French--new wave preoccupation induces you to buy way too many boatneck striped shirts and attempt the occasional ill-fated Brigitte Bardot--inspired bouffant/eyeliner situation. But even this fixation can be parlayed into something useful; instead of turning away, head into it full-throttle. Instead of listening to that Serge Gainsbourg record a millionth time, par exemple, learn French. (After all, it's been proven that learning new skills helps your brain to get brainier. Same goes for fixation on a silly YouTube "Call Me Maybe" cover video that induces you to take up the ukulele, or Top Chef habit that manifests itself in advanced-home-chemistry experiments. Like, you know, gumbo.

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Fiddling with the world's most perfect linen closet as Rome burns
We all have our little household-cleanliness quirks. I know I am completely unfazed by underwashed curtains or a smudged-up wall (I only recently learned you were actually supposed to clean walls. Who knew?), but the specter of a disorganized closet drives me immediately bonkers. It's hard to justify time spent arranging impeccable washcloth towers when the rest of the house looks like Saddam's palace after the rioting, but we're all about taking joy where you can find it. And when you're the queen of the closet, you can order your underlings to deal with things like vacuuming.

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