Most of us have bad habits; we bite our nails, spend too much time scrolling through Facebook, we snack on junk food even when we're not hungry, or we may regularly drink too much or use drugs in excess. In moderation, these things are not necessarily unhealthy, but they become "bad" habits when we overuse them.
It's important to remember that having "bad" habits does not make us bad. It makes us human. For the most part, these things we consider bad habits are actually coping skills that we have developed to address some kind of issue we are having. We may be stressed, and find that compulsively biting our nails is a form of anxiety relief. We may be self conscious, and drinking to excess helps us feel more confident at parties. We develop habits through addressing our concerns in the best way we know how.
The problem with continuing to rely on bad habits for coping, is that they don't work longterm; they come with their own set of consequences which usually make whatever problem we are attempting to cope with even worse. For example, I worked with a client who, when stressed at work, would bite her nails so far down they would be constantly sore and bleeding. Although having something to chew on gave her temporary distraction and relief from the demands of her job, her injured fingers eventually made it so hard for her to type that she fell even farther behind at work. The most important work I did with this client was to help her find alternative coping skills.
When saying goodbye to a bad habit, it is important to replace the ineffective coping skill with one that will work better. In order to do this, we must first identify the need we were attempting to meet with our old habit. For my client, her nail biting was a response to the work related stress she was experiencing. She needed relief. After identifying the need, we must figure out which elements of the old habit were working. Nail biting worked in the short term because it provided her with distraction and kept her hands busy. We kept these two elements, distraction and busy hands, in mind as we brainstormed alternative coping skills.
In my client's case, she ended up replacing nail biting with making embroidery floss bracelets at her desk. Bracelet making incorporated the elements of nail biting that had been helpful, in that it kept her hands busy and provided her with distraction, but it differed from the old habit in that it was in no way self destructive. This new coping skills helped my client let go of her bad habit and address the real issue of her stress in a way that was direct and effective.
As you attempt to break your own bad habits I would encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Remember that your development of this habit was in an effort to cope, and then allow yourself to move on and identify other options.
Do you have bad habits that you're trying to break? Are there any alternative coping skills you might be willing to try? Please feel free to share in the comments, I would love to hear from you!