Tap into the cause of annoying habits

January 06, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

They're your problems, but we're going to be nice -- one o our many New Year's resolutions -- and tell you how to solve them.

We've decided that in 1993 we're going to break these horrible habits, once and for all. And we're going to help you do the same.

* How to tame nervous tics -- or, at the very least, how to stop biting your nails, twirling your hair and bouncing your legs.

Keep a "bad behavior diary" so you know when you're biting your nails or twirling your hair or bouncing your leg up and down. Once you know that, you can determine why you do the things you do.

Maybe it's stress. Or worries about work. Maybe your life is falling apart before your eyes. Whatever, you must confront the deeper problem and learn to handle it in another way.

Dr. Robert Erard, a Franklin, Mich., psychologist and president of the Michigan Psychological Association, recommends practicing your habit over and over. "If you start practicing that habit at

particular times, voluntarily, deliberately, slowly, it begins to be something you're consciously aware of doing," he says. "You begin to do it in those repertoires that you're voluntarily in control of." Once you are in control, you can stop your bad habit.

Dr. Erard also recommends doing something else when you feel the urge to bite, twirl or bounce. Instead of biting your nails, clench your hands. Frequent manicures also seem to reduce the biting urge.

If you twirl your hair, make sure to brush or straighten it immediately after you're done. "If you just play with your hair," Dr. Erard says, "the pulling will get longer and more intense and you'll just keep doing it."

Leg bouncers should stand up or flex their feet or knees when they feel the urge to bounce because "quite often, people who are shaking their leg are feeling restless," Dr. Erard says.

* How to stop being forgetful: Buy one calendar and write down everything -- business meetings, social obligations, grocery lists, BTC your bad habits. Your calendar or planner should be the focal point of everything you do, says Belinda Flum, manager of the Franklin Quest Co. in Troy, Mich., which sells Franklin planners to super-organized people.

She also recommends keeping everything in its assigned place. Keep car keys in the same place when they're not in the car. (And make sure you know where they are before you go to sleep. If you think you'll forget where you left them, write yourself a note in your calendar.) Make sure bills are filed in one place so you remember where to find them. And keep a neat desk and tidy house.

* How to stop being a slob: Nancy McCarthy, office manager for Merry Maids in Madison Heights, Mich., recommends easing into tidiness by cleaning messes a little at a time.

"Take small areas and achieve that," she says. "You don't have to clean the entire dining room. Start off by cleaning the buffet." Then, clean another piece of furniture.

"The key," she adds, "is to maintain what they've already cleaned.

"If you make your goal too high, it's so overwhelming you won't achieve it.

"Any goal, no matter how large, can be attained if you don't look. If you're climbing Mount Everest, you don't put your goal at the peak. Your first goal is 'I'm going to reach this ridge or peak or whatever.' You maintain that goal and then you look up."

Bottom line: It's just a matter of retraining.

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