Breaking Bad: Tips to Break Nervous Habits
I have many nervous habits, from biting my nails to chewing on the inside of my lower lip. While sitting, I also tend to bounce my leg, run my fingers through my hair and tap my finger nails atop a desk or table. And while these habits are intended to calm nerves, they actually make me feel more edgy. I know that my habits are annoying, and I also know it makes me look unprofessional, but I feel compelled to keep doing them, even after my nails look like a two-year-old boy’s and my hair sticks out in all directions like Cruella deVil’s.
Nervous habits also include many other activities such as overeating, hair twirling, and smoking. According to psychologists, habits usually aren’t just dangerous, but they take people away from more productive tasks. When I sit in front of the computer tapping my fingers and staring out the window, worrying about a perceived problem, I’m not working.
The Steps to Recovery
1. Want to quit. Otherwise, nothing is ever going to change. Once the decision is made to give up a habit, a person must choose to either quit cold turkey or find aids and tricks that help. Nail biters, for example, can wear gloves or keep their hands in their pockets. Another solution is to find other activities that occupy the hands, such as knitting or squeezing a stress ball.
2. Identify when your bad habits start. For instance, I typically bite my nails when I’m worried. My thoughts will leap from one possible scenario to the next as I chew away like a maniac. Knowing these types of triggers can help a person track when habits happen and how to stop them from being automatic behaviors.
3. Accept the challenge. Habits like smoking and overeating are a bit more challenging, but they can also be broken. It might be necessary in these instances to change your daily routine – such as skipping morning coffee in order to avoid that first cigarette of the day – or seek assistance from a doctor.
Where do bad habits come from?
Nervous habits are often the result of stress. Many of us therefore need to set goals to reduce stress. This is a process that can be achieved through these three steps:
1. Determine what creates stress for you and think about your coping strategies. A stress journal is useful for recording trigger events, your immediate response, and how you feel about it.
2. Identify why you want to reduce stress, whether it’s to break a nervous habit or benefit your health. If the reason comes from you rather than someone else, it will be easier for you to make a permanent change.
3. Set a goal to decrease stress in your life by establishing short- and long-term goals. For instance, a short-term goal to lower stress might be to take a 15-minute walk each night, while a long-term goal might be to find a better balance between work and your personal life.
While these steps are intended to reduce stress, the ultimate goal is to change a bad habit. Intermediate goals must be set along the way to help you reach the desired result, and stress reduction can be one of them. Moreover, rather than declaring to never overeat again, it may be more beneficial to say you will begin to notice each time you overeat and stop the behavior at the point it starts.
Slip-ups are inevitable throughout this process, but they aren’t necessarily failures. You haven’t failed just because you find yourself twirling your hair in the middle of a meeting. The important factor is that you make the decision to stop a behavior when it happens. Achieving success won’t be easy, but it will certainly be worth the effort.