As humans, we all have bad habits. Even though I’m a Medical Intuitive and Licensed Counselor who has been helping people break negative habits—even addictions—for a very long time, I’m not perfect. Despite the fact that I know exactly what to do to break my bad habits and I’m working on it, I haven’t conquered them all. Most of us know what we need to do but still have trouble stopping. I hope the tips in this article can serve as a reminder of what you already know and also give you a few new strategies to reinforce healthier, more productive habits.
An annoying and rather unattractive habit I have is picking at my cuticles. I’m a rather tactile person, which means that I like to keep my hands and fingers moving. I can be quite sensitive as far as textures are concerned—maybe that is why loose or dry skin around my nails bothers me so much. As anyone who shares my habit knows, however, picking just makes the problem worse, as it is painful and causes more dry and uneven skin to be exposed. Understanding why you engage in the habit is a great first step in trying to stop it.
Two simple remedies I have found to be helpful are getting regular manicures and finding something else to occupy my hands. I really like the way my nails look after they have been painted, and manicures can be expensive, so this motivates me to refrain from mutilating my cuticles. I also figured out that I am most likely to pick when I am on a call with a client. To counteract this, I purchased a large gummy eraser, and I pull it apart into pieces and mold the fragments into balls, flowers, or even little animals. Over time, I have taught myself to automatically just go for my eraser when I sit down at my desk.
Here are some strategies to help you break a bad habit. How long it takes is up to you, depending on your level of determination and desire to change. Someone wanting to quit smoking may especially benefit from the first two strategies. Smoking impacts the health of not only the smoker but also everyone around them, and quitting has so many long- and short-term benefits. Everyone knows why smoking is unhealthy and why they need to quit, but they might not think about it in personal terms.
• Make a list of what problems the habit causes for you and the people around you. Looking at the ways your actions might be negatively impacting you, your livelihood, and the people you care about on paper makes them harder to ignore or deny.
• Make a list of how quitting the habit would benefit you and your loved ones.
• As I said above, figure out what purpose the habit serves and why you do it. Are you bored and does it help you pass time, such as spending too much time on social media or binging on Netflix? Does engaging on social media make you feel less lonely and help you avoid your fear of addressing social anxiety? Discovering the underlying problem and addressing it makes the need for the habit disappear.
• Find something else to take the habit’s place. Instead of grabbing an unhealthy snack when you are bored or tired, take a 10-minute walk or make a cup of tea.
• Set goals and reward yourself for your accomplishments. Start with something doable, like changing your pattern for one day, and do something nice for yourself. Make the next goal three days, then a week. Each time you achieve your goal, you will feel a sense of pride and know that you can live without your habit. If you have a fear of stopping, each time you do, you challenge that fear.
• Get help. There is nothing wrong with asking for help from a therapist or a friend, or even trying something like hypnotherapy. We don’t always have to do everything ourselves, and it takes more strength to admit we need help than to pretend we don’t.
• Decide how much you actually want or even need to quit. It is easy to be hard on ourselves or feel guilty because we aren’t living up to false expectations of perfection. We often think that we “should” be a certain way when we actually just need to be ourselves. Focusing on our “imperfections” makes us feel bad and like we don’t deserve self-love or self-care. The more we are nurturing ourselves, the less time we have for behaviors that are potentially damaging or time wasting.
No matter what destructive habits you are trying to change, it is important to be patient with yourself. For instance, if you are 35 years old and you have been picking at your skin since you were in high school, it will take some time to counteract over 17 years of doing a certain behavior. If you used to pick every single morning and night, and after a few months, you are only picking at night, celebrate that improvement. You may feel frustrated or disappointed that you cannot stop overnight. However, these kinds of thoughts will not serve you in the long run. If you stay consistent and continue reminding yourself why you want to change, I am confident that you will find success.