Break bad habits in a ‘snap’

by Brad Isaac on July 12, 2006

If you are troubled by a simple bad habit like biting your nails, a method you can use to assist in quitting is a variation of cognitive behavior therapy.  Cognitive Behavior therapy or CBT, is typically used to treat depression, anxiety and other mental conditions.  But with a simple twist we can use it to break bad habits.

At its most basic level you would use a trick based on "Thought Stopping."  Thought stopping is a method that can be used to prevent harmful thoughts from continuing.  A scenario might be a man is trying to get over a marriage that has just ended.  His inclination is to think "She was everything to me.  I’ll never meet another woman again."

To apply thought stopping, the instant he caught himself thinking about his ex-wife he’d respond with a vocal or mental  "STOP!"  Accompanied with the "STOP!" would be a physical response.  If he was sitting, he might stand abruptly or clap his hands together.  The important idea is after practicing this technique, his mind becomes accustomed to breaking the habitual/obsessive thoughts.  Thus, he begins to feel better.

You can use this to break a bad habit such as nail biting or cracking your knuckles without screaming or the dramatic physical response.  First, grab a rubber band and place it around your wrist.  Hey, make sure it’s loose.  It should never be tight or you risk cutting off your circulation.

With your rubber band around your wrist, the next time you find yourself engaging in your bad habit, yell "STOP!" and reinforce it by snapping yourself with the rubber band.  I am not talking about self abuse here.  Just a physical reinforcement that you don’t want to do that behavior any more.  By using the rubber band, you can practice CBT anywhere without scaring your co-workers to death with your screaming.

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{ 1 comment }

July 28, 2006 at 4:39 pm

This is actually a rather intriguing approach. In some ways it reminds me of Skinner’s classical conditioning. I’ll have to think of a way to test it out myself to see how it works!

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