Bad habits like nail-biting, knuckle-cracking, smacking one's lips, thumb-sucking or similar "traits" that are irritating in children can become a real embarrassment and hindrance to achieving success in later life. No longer regarded as endearing by any stretch of the imagination, bad habits can stop you from getting that fabulous dream job, hooking up with the cutest guy or girl in your neighborhood and stop you from developing a new circle of friends after leaving college. Here are seven steps to help you quit bad habits for good:
1. “out" Your Reasons for Your Bad Habit
As soon as you notice you're engaging in your bad habit, try to analyze how you feel and what circumstances brought on your bad habit in the first place, advises Susan Jaffe, MD, a New York City psychiatrist with a private practice.
2. Write It down to Make It Stand out like a Sore Thumb
Seeing something in black and white can help us putting it into perspective and deal with it. Logging bad habit incidences for a week, says Janet L. Wolfe, PhD, a clinical psychologist working in New York City, helps to establish a baseline. Write down thoughts you had when biting your nails or cracking your knuckles, what triggered your bad habit and your emotions at the time you were doing it. "This will make your bad habit more conscious," she says. Now analyze the collected data and identify typical triggers. Were you bored, anxious, irritated, angry or sad? Finally, write out a list of the advantages and disadvantages of your bad habit behavior and record every incident of it. As soon as humans measure anything in writing, they become more aware of it and tend to change or at least modify their behavior.
3. You Have to Want to Change
The fact that you should change/break a bad habit isn’t always the greatest motivating factor. You have to want to do it – with your heart and soul. Dig deep into your emotions to find the reasons you want to change as this will help give you the willpower and drive to succeed. Do not use guilt as a factor. This is disrespecting yourself and is also seeing your habit as a failure or weakness. You need personal strength and confidence to change.
4. Make a Plan
Everything good in life starts with a plan. If you can wake up one morning and say “today I am going to stop…” and carry it through, all power to you. But, habits develop over time and therefore, it can take time to break them. Breaking a habit requires a plan. When are you going to start? Will you set a target end date? What methods will you use? Do you need tools, equipment, products to help you? A plan is the hook you hang on to to act.
5. Show Commitment
This is probably the hardest part of the "ditching your bad habits" process. You must commit to stop biting your nails, cracking your knuckles, smacking your lips, or incessantly talking or whatever else your bad habit might be. Say it out loud to everyone in your life: I commit to NOT biting, cracking etc. Tweet it to all your friends, family members and colleagues. Stick a note above your desk, on your bedroom mirror, on the fridge and the inside of your front door. Regard your word as your bond, like a medieval knight jousting with honor at a tournament hosted by a king. Repeat while waiting for your daily bus ride: Thou shalt not bite nails, crack knuckles or smack lips!
6. Tackle the Underlying Causes
When you know what triggers your bad habit, you can begin to deal with the underlying causes and stop for good. Perhaps via meditation, yoga or Reiki, therapy or simply by dipping fingers daily in hot mustard and chili to stop your nail biting habit. If nerves are prompting you to chatter incessantly or pick at dead skin on your thumb, learn to relax. If boredom is the trigger, take up new hobbies. If anxiety triggers it, get therapy. Regain control of your life!
7. Ask for Help
If "going cold turkey" is too hard, enlist the help of family members, friends and colleagues. Ask them to say something whenever you bite your nails, crack your knuckles etc which will bring your attention to the bad habit instantly. Not by telling you off with a "stop doing that" - ask them to simply say "knuckles" or "hands" or "beak", if you're fingers start creeping up again to pick your nose. This leaves the choice of stopping firmly with you, not them.
When you’ve accomplished your goal, reward yourself. You might not just have broken a habit, but in dealing with some of its underlying causes, you may have kicked out some blockers to your health, happiness and wellbeing.
Do you have a bad habit you want to break? Do you think you’re ready to try?