Overcoming Bad Habits


Today we are discussing a wonderful tool called Awareness Chart which can be used with oneself and with children to correct unconstructive habits. Habits as we all know are actions that we have been doing over a period of time and now are automatic. Habits are good when they work for us but when they don’t, they can be a problem.

Again, we all know how difficult it is to correct a habit which can be something as simple as nail biting, as unproductive as gadget addiction, as expensive as shop holism or something as harmful as addictions.

But why do you think it is so difficult to overcome a habit? It is mainly because we have become so used to doing these things that they have become subconscious now. We end up doing them without even realising it.

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Awareness Chart

The technique that I am discussing now, with the help of a case that I had handled, helps you understand how to make subconscious habit more conscious and then to deal with them with awareness.

So Neeraj, a 7-year-old boy, was brought to me with a complaint from school of him touching his private parts in front of everyone. He was doing this at home and in school and was proving embarrassing for everyone. This had been going on for about six months. The parents had tried to explain to him and when that didn’t work tried scolding him, hitting him and even scaring him with an extinguished matchstick to make him give up the habit. But to no avail.

In desperation they had taken him to a psychiatrist who had put him on medication for anxiety. The result was that though he had stopped touching himself, he had become extremely lethargic and was sleepy all the time. As a result, he wasn’t coping well with school, tuitions and studies and had become irritable because of it.

The parents tried the medicines for two months but seeing their effect decided to stop them. Stopping the medicine led to him becoming active again but he also started touching himself again. This is when they got him to me as the class teacher was insisting that she wouldn’t let him sit in the class as all the other children kept looking at him and the teacher couldn’t stop him without embarrassing him or herself.

On further questioning as to when and how this had started, they told me that he had developed a urinary tract infection. Because this causes a lot of itching, he had got into the habit of scratching himself for relieving the itch. With medicine the infection had cleared up but the habit had remained. When he was corrected, he would stop for some time, then without realising he would start again. However, a lot of times he wouldn’t even realise he was being corrected until the person yelled leading to a lot of frustration on both the sides.

To help with this I suggested they use an Awareness Chart. Like all charts, an Awareness Chart has rows and columns. The rows have the days of the week and the habit/habits to be corrected are put in the column. In this case as we were focussing on only this habit, we had only two columns. The first column was where, every time Neeraj touched himself, a cross was to be put. In the next column he would get a smiley if the crosses were less than the number decided (in this case 5) or a frown if they crossed this number. This chart was to be put in a place where everyone could see it and crayons and stickers were used to make it more colourful and conspicuous.

While this was possible at home, at school it would have proved very embarrassing for Neeraj. A variation of this was discussed with the class teacher who very obligingly, along with the other subject teachers, agreed to co-operate. She was asked to chalk off a small portion of the black board and every time Neeraj would touch himself she or the teacher present were to draw a small line in this area. This worked as a sign for Neeraj to stop without the teachers having to say anything, thus saving them all embarrassment.

Within a week of this Neeraj’s habit had stopped totally at school and had reduced considerably at home. To make it more effective, we added incentives like appreciation, visits to the park, play time with parents etc. for positive reinforcement. The habit stopped totally at home within two weeks. The parents were asked to continue the chart for two months after which they could stop it. In case the habit resurfaced they were asked to get in touch with me again. It is over a year now and Neeraj has happily not needed to come back.

So, an Awareness Chart can prove to be a wonderful tool in getting rid of unwanted habits. The reason it works is that it is a constant visual reminder to the person, making him continuously aware of his habit. While continuous correcting after a while turn into nagging which is often ignored this is a solid visual mark of their deed making it imperative for them to correct it. Also, since it is visible to everyone the individual works more consciously on getting ticks and smileys rather than crosses and frowns which in turn act as motivating factors for him.

While this tool can seem a little childish, it has proved equally effective with adults also. I’ve tried the same chart, with sketch pens and stickers for adults who are even more intent on avoiding the negative marks. However, like all tools its effectiveness might vary from person to person. I suggest you try it and in case you need more help do feel free to get in touch with us.

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