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Kicking Your Old Habits

Breaking Bad Habits for Good!

Constance found herself pulling her hair again. She had done so most of her life, but in the last few months had become aware that her hair was actually thinning. She knew she had to stop. But how could she break a fifteen-year-old habit?

A lot of people develop simple but annoying habits that they find very hard to break: nail biting, hair pulling, skin picking, knuckle cracking, and a host of other disturbing behaviors.

Regardless of the nature of the habits, the technique of habit reversal usually works very well in breaking them. Constance could have benefited from habit reversal's five main components.

  • Recognize that the habit is a strong or persistent urge that is not rooted in deeper psychological problems. Unfortunately, there are still many mental health practitioners who maintain there is inevitably a deeper meaning behind simple habits, and that it is necessary to unearth and treat this underlying process in order to break the habit successfully. Recent evidence shows this to be untrue.
  • Keep precise records of urges and count the number of times that you actually succumb to them. It has been shown that the very process of counting and record keeping tends to give one an immediate sense of control over the habit.
  • Develop an awareness of the chain of events that leads to or results in the unwanted behavior. For instance, you may find that boredom, watching TV, talking on the telephone, driving in the car, and doing routine tasks that call for very little concentration set off the habit you wish to break.
  • Learn relaxation methods as a means of combating the urges. As soon as you become aware of the desire to give in to the habit, it is a good idea instead to sit down or lie down and start breathing slowly and rhythmically while deliberately letting go of tension throughout your body.
  • Substitute a response that is incompatible with the unwanted behavior. For example, brushing your teeth instead of eating a cookie; petting your cat instead of twirling or pulling your hair; using your hands - gardening, drawing, typing, and so forth - instead of biting your nails or cracking your knuckles.

If you really desire to quit the habit, this five-easy-step process really works.

Adapted from The 60-Second Shrink: 101 Strategies for Staying Sane in a Crazy World, by Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D. and Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. Available at online and local bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers, Inc., PO Box 6016, Atascadero, CA 93423-6016 or phone 1-800-246-7228.

Reviewed by athealth on February 5, 2014.