Mod S2S Mentor

Breaking a Habit

"I have this nasty habit of using my nails to pick at scabs or pimples on my face. I'm worried that I'll create scars, but I can't stop. Do you have any ideas for stopping this habit?"

- Anonymous

I’ve never had that particularly habit, but I do have experience with wanting to break a bad habit and having trouble stopping. (For me, it’s a habit of tearing my own hair.) Different people often find different strategies helpful, but here are some ideas for anti-habit techniques, most of which I’ve used in some form myself:

  • Keep track: Take a planner, a calendar, a journal, or any other format that you can use to keep track of time. Every day, try to pay as much attention as you can to whenever you catch yourself falling into the habit—and then write it all down once you’re back home. Or better yet, if you have something small you can keep with you, like a pocket-sized notebook or a phone, you can do it right then and there when you catch yourself. Either way, there are multiple benefits to this tool. For one thing, paying attention and logging when you indulge in this habit might help you identify if there are specific times when you pick at scabs more than others. (For me, for instance, I know that I’m much more likely to start tearing my hair if I’m stressed—so when I’m feeling anxious, that’s an important time to stay on the alert.) If there are specific settings or risk factors that seem to be triggers that you can identify, you’ll know when you need to be especially careful.
    Another recommendation I have for keeping track is self-motivation. You won’t be able to go from picking at pimples every day to never doing it again in the space of a couple of days, but set yourself a goal—say, a certain amount of time to go without touching any scabs. If you meet your goal, then reward yourself with something you like; a favorite treat, a fun activity, etc. But if you don’t meet your goal, you don’t get that “prize”. Even though of course you want to stop your habit for its own sake, a little outside, additional motivation can be very useful for some people as well.
  • Generalize: This is pretty straightforward, but try to cut down on even harmless face-touching, if you can. Not to say that you can’t ever rub your eyes, brush something off your cheek, etc., but if your hands stay away from that area in the first place, then you won’t be able to get to the pimples. Be tough on yourself. :)
  • Reminder: If part of the problem here is catching yourself in the first place when you’re doing this, then the first step is to find something to increase the likelihood of noticing what you’re doing. There are lots of possibilities for this, but one would be to choose something simple (anything from the color purple to a stop sign) and try to associate it with the habit as much as you can. Then, whenever you see that item, that’s your cue to take stock of yourself and your behavior, see if you’ve been doing it, and, if you have, stop yourself. (And jot it down on your calendar!) When you’re at home, you could even do something like write on post-its or sticky notes and put them up around the house (on a bathroom mirror, bedroom closet, refrigerator door, etc.), to remind you whenever you walk past them not to pick at your face.
    For my hair-tearing issue, putting my hair in a ponytail serves as a good reminder, because when I absently reach up to my hair, I’ll find it pulled back, which jars me enough to make me realize what I’m doing. This probably wouldn’t be very helpful with picking at scabs, but I know that some people who struggle with nail-biting paint their nails to help them break the habit, and this might be helpful in your situation too. If your fingernails are a bright, conspicuous color, you’re more likely to notice when they’re coming up in front of your face—and, thus, to be better able to stop yourself.
  • Enlist help: This may feel a little embarrassing (or it may not), but if you feel comfortable talking to friends and/or family members about your habit, I’d recommend doing so. Explain how you have this habit you can’t seem to break. I’d guess that the majority of them have probably had a bad habit or two in their lives (most people do, at one time or another), so chances are they’ll understand where you’re coming from and be happy to help. Ask your siblings, if you have any, to let you know when they notice you picking at your face. Ask your parents to keep an eye out for scab-picking, or ask your friends to help you notice yourself doing it at school or when you’re hanging out. There are multiple advantages to enlisting help from others in combating your habit. First and foremost, assuming part of the problem is that you don’t always even notice yourself doing it, then having another pair (or pairs) of eyes to be alert can be very helpful. In addition, I’ve found that, for me, knowing that other people are watching can sometimes make me subconsciously stop doing it anyway (or, at least, not doing it as much). Sometimes, it can help motivate stopping if there are other people who are paying attention (and maybe nagging you a little about it too ;))
    And besides, who knows—maybe someone you know used to have a similar habit, and they’ll have some suggestions of their own that I haven’t come up with!

Hope some of this helps! Best of luck breaking your habit. <3

~ Sarah

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  • Hello am Camille I have the same habit to
  • That helped a lot, thanks!
  • This is really good and helpful. Thanks for writing it:)!
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