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Bad Habits and How to Stop Them

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A person with a disgusting array of bad habits.

Are you a booger miner, a chronic belcher or phantom er... flatulator? Do you find it impossible to hold back in correcting people's grammar or typos, or perhaps you strum your fingers on your desk and whistle tunelessly to the annoyance of your work colleagues? If so, this entry is for you.

Bad habits don't necessarily make you feel good, but you can't help doing them. Many of our bad habits come down to curiosity or a deep-rooted grooming instinct. Bodily exploration must certainly be one of these, which tends to lead to poking about, chewing, taking delight in, making noises with, whatever nooks, crannies or other bits you are blessed with.

The trouble is that in civilised company, it looks or smells yuk. It seems that, for whatever reason, people who disapprove of bad habits, usually do so because they have such a guilt complex about doing it themselves that for you to be doing it openly means you are getting away with something they can't. Unfortunately we can't all get away with scratching our rear ends in the middle of meetings, or putting our elbows on the table, or whatever. Be warned that giving up one bad habit could mean that you just replace it with another. After all, these things evolve into a sort of personal comfort blanket and if you are feeling insecure or bored, you will find something or other to twiddle with.

But just how do you deal with the annoying/yukky side of human nature? Just how do you give up bad habits? We asked you, the h2g2 Community, and this is what you came up with. And it's not pretty.

General Distraction Techniques

Announce it to the world - tell your friends, especially those who see you the most, what habit you're trying to kick and give them free rein to give you grief if they catch you in the act.

One of the best ways to distract yourself and wean yourself off the habit is 'tea therapy'. Basically, every time you get that little craving for a cigarette, or get a bit stressed because you can't bite your nails or whatever, simply make a cup of tea, sit it in front of you then get out the digestive biscuits and dunk away. After three biccies and a mug of tea you'll be calm and have forgotten about your craving altogether.

Verbal Tics and Conversational Padding

Verbal tics are annoying. And here's why. They're a sign of a limited vocabulary: it signifies the dumbing down of the English language. Phrases like y'know, sorta, like, knowarramean at the end of every sentence can be heard in television interviews, in the office. They're used by supposedly intelligent people, but all they do is fill the air with meaninglessness. Try and avoid overusing phrases such as etc, etc, etc, right, and innit. Think about it in these terms: that one phrase can end up defining your whole personality, which makes it easier for people to do impressions of you.

Also, can you really take someone seriously who keeps saying 'all righty then' like Ace Ventura or Flanders off The Simpsons. Talking of TV programmes, quoting The Simpsons, Father Ted, Withnail & I or The Life of Brian ad nauseam is a terrible habit. Some people have it so badly they can hold an entire conversation using nothing but quotes. Quotes like 'Puh-leeease', 'd'oh' and 'to die for' were only remotely smart the first time when someone much cleverer and witty coined them.

Also consider the following irritating conversational padding:

  • 'I was just like oh my god' - what is that supposed to mean? Apart from the fact that the speaker is quite probably barely literate and happily inane.

  • 'Whatever' - with accompanying vacuous dubbya sign.

  • '24-7' as in 'Being press secretary is a full-on, 24-7 assignment'.

  • 'Get a life' How annoying. It's plain as the nose on your face that I have a life. Idiot. Get a vocabulary.

  • 'Well, not really, but yanno.'

Cracking Your Knuckles

Ooh! I hate it when people do that! Sometimes I make joints crack, either accidentally or because it feels out of place and feels that it needs to crack, but people who just sit there cracking their knuckles makes me cringe! It's horrible!

For some people cracking joints really grates on the nerves. Cracking joints is not harmful. Cracking joints is just popping bubbles in the fluid in your joints. However, if you're thinking about giving it up, think about it impairing your joint development and giving you arthritis if you carry on. Even though it's not true, it can help you give up.

Being Contradictory

A friend on my course at uni argues with anything I say... and even some things I don't. She'll argue until she's blue in the face, and usually still argues when she finds out she's wrong (which is nine times out of 10). This is most definitely a habit, as it seems she just disagrees with me without even thinking about it. She's not even any good at arguing - she just uses 'arguments' such as 'because it is' and 'it just is'. She gets incredibly tetchy when she can't swing me around to her (usually false) point of view, and ends up storming off and/or having a major hissy fit.

So what to do about this sort of behaviour? Well, you can:

  • Switch off - and you can find that you haven't heard a single word that's been said.

  • Don't talk to her.

  • Pretend to hold the opposite point of view to the one you actually do, and then listen to them defend what you actually, secretly agree with.

  • Convince her to join a debating society. Resort to flattery if necessary. There are a couple of possible outcomes:

    • She gets absolutely squashed by an experienced debator who has no patience for her nonsense

    • She finds out she's terrible at it and that squashes her

    • She finds out that there's a difference between babbling aggressively and having a conversation or even an argument of actual value and that thought and listening come into it

    • She's entirely sucked into the cult and can barely come up for air and studying let alone pestering you with unneccesary conversation, (she's got to save her strength for the tournaments after all).


Procrastination is something that a lot of people do: putting off things until the last minute, or just not doing them at all. As a consequence you can spend a lot of time rushing to meet deadlines and/or making excuses. This creates a lot of stress that you could have avoided by just doing things as soon as they come across your desk. But you end up not doing the things that come in today because you're working on the stuff from last week. Your work or your grades can suffer because you put off assignments until the last minute.

Supposedly procrastination is caused by fear of failure, fear of success, pefectionism and a whole load of other things as well. It's a very self-destructive thing that can cause you to really lose control of your life, and can sometimes even affect those around you..

Serious procrastination is not a good habit, and you could end up making yourself ill with the worry. So set yourself an earlier deadline and if you meet it buy yourself a treat. It's simple but it works (you might end up skint, but that's another problem).

Also, as with everything, there is a book: The Procrastinator's Handbook: Mastering the Art of Doing it Now by Rita Emmet, which provides some good insights and tips about conquering procrastination. But don't put off following the advice in it though.

Giving up Smoking

There are some marvellous tips on how to give up smoking in the h2g2 entry.

Sobering thoughts sometimes do the trick - here's the wise words of one Researcher:

I tried to give up smoking for 20 years before I hit a method that worked for me.

I had a heart attack. Luckily I recognised the symptoms and called an ambulance, thus when I had the second heart attack, which would have been fatal without medical assistance, I was already in hospital. Worked for me.

Shame I didn't listen to my wife and children who'd been nagging me for 15 years.

The onset of bronchitis can also give you a nudge in the right direction. It gives you all the fun of lung cancer without the inconvenience of dying. Here's the outcome after one Researcher's bout:

I've now been off the smokes for over four months (after 20 a day for over 20 years) and haven't felt any real cravings for a while.

Here follows another, less painful aid to giving up smoking:

After decades of attempts to give up smoking, and throwing away countless cigarettes so that I could start the next day without temptation, seldom lasting more than two hours, I finally gave up with no problems and almost no cravings after making my own version of a self-hypnosis tape. I included on it all the reasons for giving up - all the potential health problems, the amount it cost every year and every decade, the discomfort of craving for a cigarette when in a situation where it was not possible to smoke, and so on.

I played the tape daily when I was feeling drowsy, lying in a relaxed posture while listening to the tape in a quiet room.

I didn't stop immediately, but I did so fairly soon with no great problems and no desire to smoke, unlike the previous occasions when I had stopped for short periods. Smoking addiction is at least 95% psychological, so if you get your mind right, the physical addiction problems are minor.


The easiest way to give up chocolate is through distraction and avoidance. Think about something else, don't go into shops that sell it, don't allow anyone you work/live with to eat it in front of you (there's not much you can do about strangers, so try not to stare at them while drooling).

I managed to not have any for weeks without thinking about it much, then they had a meeting in the office yesterday and supplied chocolate! I managed to avoid pigging myself and only succumbed to one wagon wheel, but since then all I've thought about is having some more. Have a drink of water, brush your teeth, anything to stop your mouth watering for the taste is good.

Try and get into enjoying healthy alternatives. Eat fruit, good quality sandwiches, olives, sundried tomatoes, things like that. That way, you won't get so hungry, and junk food will start to taste like junk in comparison.

Pulling Out Hair

This complusive condition is called trichotillomania. Unfortunately, it seems that it might be in some way related to OCD and depression.

I used to pull my hair out when I was a kid, started it when I was around 8 years old I guess, and continued til I was about 12. I have no idea why I did it or what finally changed that caused me to stop, though I remember the first time I pulled my hair out, the fascination I had with the twinge of pain/pleasure that came every time I plucked a hair. I'd also feel for the odd-textured hairs and go after them first. I'd pull them singly and always inspect the root. It didn't seem... succcessful, I guess, if there wasn't follicle attached. It was really awful because I hated being bald, and for a couple years I was almost totally bald on the top and sides of my head. Nothing seemed to help me stop, either, though my mom made me a stocking cap and gave me gloves... still I'd find myself surrounded by a handful of hair every time I was sitting still in one place for a while, and I'd feel so ashamed and flush the hair down the toilet so it wouldn't be found.

Maybe you could talk to a doctor, find out if it's due to some kind of chemical imbalance that can be adjusted. In my case that was probably the first real symptom of a series of things that eventually culminated in clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder, which I still struggle with. I'm working on ways to control that without using antidepressants now, but I think my life would have been much easier had I known what was 'wrong' with me in my younger years. Best wishes to you, and I'm glad you've found another outlet that won't leave you bald.

Another Researcher now keeps tweezers handy and plucks hair out of her legs instead. Even though she says that she starts to feel nervous and edgy when she can't find her tweezers, at least it is an area that she would remove hair from anyway so it's less destructive than hair on her head. It is however, embarrassing, so she can only do it when there is no one around, which means she does it a lot less. However, if you are exhibiting this sort of behaviour, as the Researcher quoted above says, it would be just as well to go to the doctor.

Toilet Seats - Up or Down?

Along with fiddling with your bits and not asking for directions, leaving the toilet seat up is a specifically male bad habit. But is it a bad habit at all? Why isn't leaving it down a bad habit? It all depends on who's going to use the toilet next, doesn't it?

Women should think about the whole 'toilet seat' issue before they class it as a bad habit. The reason the toilet seat goes up in the first place is to give men a wider area to aim at. Now would you women prefer the seat left up, by accident, every once in a while or a wet seat to sit on when you next go, think about it. Having to put the seat down every once in a while doesn't seem so bad now, does it?

Anyway how hard is it for you to put the seat down, you've got gravity on your side. Men have got to lift it up in the first place. And they've got to bend further down to reach the seat to lift it. You can see why they forget to put it down again sometimes.

But think about this to inspire you to put it down.

I used to live in a flat where the bathroom cabinet was directly above the lavatory. The thought of ever once having to fish out my tooth brush because it jumped out the cupboard was more than enough to ensure the lid was always shut after use.


It wasn't so long ago that I lived in my step-father's house and swearing was just part of my everyday language. In fact, everyone swore so much that I didn't realise how many expletives I used. Anyway, I left home and met my future husband and after several weeks of dating he turned to me one day and said 'will you stop using foul language when we are out on dates.' I was obviously horrified and suddenly became accutely aware of how much bad language I was using so I used this awareness to cure myself; everytime I swore I wrote it down, carrying a notebook and pen wherever I went. I had to ask friends and family for help but I soon began to use less and less bad language and am pleased to say I am now completely cured.

Using bizarre phrases instead of swearing works quite well. Knowing the h2g2 Community as we do, saying 'Oh, random fluctuations in the space-time continuum!' is an excellent replacement expletive. Other favourites, useful for high stress occasions and which are similar to the classics 'Oh sugar!' and 'Plucking bell!' but which have a friendly, imaginative tone are:

  • 'Bananas!'
  • 'Feknods!'
  • 'Sugar-plum-fairies!'
  • 'Dolpers'
  • 'Ploff'

The upside to this method is that it can't offend anyone, usually amuses anyone who hears it, and then takes your mind off whatever it was you were swearing about. Even if you think you don't swear excessively, many people make a conscious effort to cut it out completely as soon as they have children. By the time they were talking it is second nature not to. There are risks though, as this Researcher explains:

When my son was small, I used 'oh flipperty flops' as a way of not saying something unprintable! And after a while he told me off when I said it because it was a 'naughty word'. So it's not what you say, but the way that you say it. Try imagining your elderly mother/aunt/partner's mother is with you. That should help.

Nose Picking

Perhaps the worst bad habit, picking your nose is horrid, yet every day it happens and just a few centimetres below your eyes. Lost in thought, bored with nothing to do many people find there's nothing like having a good delve. According to one Researcher...

It's not just boogers... it's the eye-watering thrill of pulling out a clump of errant nasal-hair.

This last comment led to a number of admissions about unusual habits to do with ear wax and the like. For more comments such as 'Toe-jam. Is that me or sock?' and 'I still eat scabs', see the conversation titled 'Nose Picking'. They haven't been included here on grounds of the Editor heaving all over her desk, but they are extremely amusing nonetheless. Read them if you have the stomach for it. Ahem.

Hope is not yet lost if you're determined to be a former nose picker. Below are a few things you can do to help your nose picking problem:

  • Put your nose pickings in the bin - The worst thing in the world is to put your hand under a table or chair, then bring it out to find it covered in snot. Don't put other people in this situation and put your pickings in the bin.

  • Carry a tissue or handkerchief with you always - So you start picking your nose, there ain't a bin around, and you've got more than you can handle out of your nose. What do you do? Get out your tissue and handkerchief and use it to wipe your nose and finger, removing the disgusting pickings.

  • If you have to pick your nose - do it in private. Just don't do it while everyone is looking at you because it looks disgusting.

  • Wear gloves - You can't pick your nose while wearing gloves.

  • Grow your fingernails - rendering subconscious nose-picking painful and awkward to do.

  • Wear nail varnish which is prone to flaking. Nothing puts you off a rake around 'up there' more than a sharp bit of nail varnish shrapnel.

Farting in Lifts

The wonderful thing about disgusting habits is that they are free, non-damaging to the environment or your body, but are delightfully naughty. Farting in lifts is just too much fun to be legal. Especially in really tall corporate buildings.

It's a fact that some people fart more than others. Which begs the question, is there a 'flatulence' gene? In one Researcher's family it's so bad they've had competitions and once had to evacuate the house...

Besides the usual baked beans, sprouts, onions, boiled eggs, etc, I found that 'stop-smoking' lozenges also exacerbated the effect. So I changed one anti-social habit for another. At least farting doesn't kill you!

Chewing Cheeks and Tongues

The inside of one's mouth is a constant source of fascination for many people. Scraping bits off the inside of your cheeks, shaving the fuzz off your tongue with your thumbnail and chewing the insides of your mouth appear to be pretty harmless, but if you're determined to stop, think about it knackering your taste buds or put the bits under the microscope - the look of them might put you off.

Hand Brake Ratchet

You're supposed to depress the nipple and lift the lever smoothly. Not pressing in the nipple of the hand-brake when applying it is apparently detestable. The problem comes when you keep doing the clicky-clicky rachet thing, wearing down the rachet, which is a little cog which various levers stick on and helps hold the handbrake on. You don't want the hand-brake to unlock and send your pride and joy rolling down a hill do you? Think about that. The choice is yours. Press the nipple in or lose your car.

Nail Biting

Nail biting is a common enough problem - it only gets out of hand when you start nibbling them beyond the quick and eating a significant proportion of your cuticles. You can make some fair old excuses for yourself. 'Ah, but what with being a bass player I have to keep my nails short' (normally accompanied with a smug look) is a good one, but, as we all know, it is a lie.

The fact remains that if you bite your nails and cuticles eating crisps is agony. That 'rubbing salt in the wound' phrase really has meaning when you're enjoying your salt 'n' vinegar. However, here's how a few Researchers dealt with the problem:

  • Nail polish and a really good manicure might put you off biting them. And getting into a good routine with looking after them this way might keep you from biting them forever.

  • Get someone to give you cold, hard cash if you stop. A sponsored non-nail-biting fundraiser could also raise lots of money for charity.

  • Learn to play guitar. You need long ones to pluck the strings of your plucking hand.

  • Remember that those flaky scabby bits and stubby nails don't look very nice.

  • Restrict yourself to one fingernail on each hand, then stop altogether.

  • If you bite your nails because of stress, find other ways to relax.

  • Put plasters over the tops of your fingers. Yes they will go wrinkly. But it really does work, as there is no access to nails to bite them down. Three weeks is the recommended time frame. During this time, you will put your fingers in your mouth to bite, but will only hit plaster - which isn't the most pleasant experience. Thus you also get used to not putting your fingers in your mouth. When the plaster comes off you see your lovely nails and you no longer have any urge to bite - leaving you with beautiful hands.

  • Get a group of fellow nail-biters to give up together for support.

  • Use false nails. You can buy false nail kits - complete with double-sided sticky tape or super glue - but you're not liable to get a neat result, making it to easy to nibble them off. Invest in a proper treatment at a beauty salon: the cost incurred will help to work as an incentive. Ask the beautician to fix the nails very firmly and to cut them quite short - this will give you chance to learn that your fingers are now a quarter of an inch longer. It's good if you can learn now, because until you do you will find that you may bend your nails back much more than non-nail-biters too. If you can keep the nails on long enough - don't fiddle with them - by the time they come off, your nails will have grown, and you'll know how to live with them - all in one easy step!

  • One additional tip: if you break a nail, never be tempted to bite it smooth. The habit comes back and you bite it right off. Keep emery boards in every room in the house, in the car and in your wallet. They keep temptation away.

Computer Solitaire and Other Easy Computer Games

One Researcher tells their story:

I don't know whether this qualifies as a bad habit or an addiction, but it certainly did get out of hand, wrecking my right shoulder for a while.

When I first got my home computer in 1997, I was delighted to find that it had computer solitaire games, in particular Free Cell, which is my favourite. I proceeded to go over-board, playing 25,000 games of Free Cell in the first two years after getting the computer. With all that mouse clicking, my arm and shoulder became chronically sore, to the point where I had to learn keyboard commands that would allow me to minimize use of the mouse.

One solution that worked for a couple of years was to limit myself to three games of 'Free Cell' a day. Eventually, though, I backslid (especially in winter, when the light from the monitor beckoned me, and I was bored sitting inside most of the time ) and would gradually expand beyond the limit of three.

At present, I haven't played any Free Cell in at least three months. Abstinence makes the hurt go yonder.

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