How to stop cracking my knuckles (and other negative habits)

(Before this thread gets humungously sidetracked into the whole arthritis vs no arthritis debate, I’d like to say that I’m only trying to stop because it’s upsetting my coworkers. And also partly to see if it’s possible!)

How do I use Beeminder to discourage myself from a habit that I often don’t even notice I’m doing until my coworkers tell me to stop doing it? Traditional goals that require me to enter data don’t seem likely to work, and generally cracking my knuckles takes little enough time that something like TagTime isn’t going to do much good.

Does anybody out there have any success stories, tragic tales of failure or even just ideas?

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  1. Beemind “Days I did NOT crack my knuckles” (It’ll be either 1 or 0.) & start with a really shallow yellow brick road, then ramp it up as you get better. You still need to enter data, but only once a day. If you’re not sure what the result was for that day it’s a 0.

  2. Put a sharp ring or a rubber band with a thumbtack through it around your knuckles so you notice when you’re doing it.

(Just some ideas, I have no personal experience with a knuckle cracking habit.)

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I’ve recently stopped picking at the skin on my fingers, a bad habit that I’ve had for as long as I remember, and that I had considered to be maybe intractable because it was just too ingrained for to long, and too tempting (my fingers are always right here with me, and I generally started picking without realizing it). I had also put off trying to tackle this with Beeminder for a long time (since I started using Beeminder in fact), thinking that it was going to be hard and I was very likely to fail. I had previously succeeded in stopping picking for a full month on a few occasions, but ended up backsliding. I’m now at almost three months, so hopefully I’m over the hard part.

I just simply created a do-less goal for number of times picking, initially choosing a number that I thought was much higher than I would have any urge to get close to (I think 10 times/day or something). Initially it was of course hard, and I’m sure that I missed a bunch of times if you were to go over a video recording of my day or something, but in general it worked very well (to my complete surprise). It was hard at first but the urges got less after a few days or a week, and I reduced the road rate (with a huge safety buffer). After about two months I made a different goal of not even touching the skin on my fingers (in the way that would normally provoke an urge to pick it) as a way of increasing the intensity.

I think that even if you miss a lot of datapoints at first because the habit is so unconscious, just the fact of entering the data into Beeminder is brings it more into your consciousness, and trains you to recognize when you are doing habit, which by itself is helpful in reducing or eliminating it. Anyway, it’s worked for me, YMMV.

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I can’t think of a way to apply this to knuckle-cracking but for nail-biting here’s a clever idea I heard from a user (grepping email and googling is not turning up who!), namely, get gross tasting nail polish (googling that phrase turns up many possibilities for this purpose) and beemind the regular application of it.

The trick to these things is cracking the habit cycle. Basically, all habits follow this:

Cue -> Routine -> Reward

I’d suggest using beeminder to beemind the habit breaking process. Specifically, keep a log of what the reward is. After you pick your cuticles, note somehow (I use a pocket notebook) how you feel before and after doing the habit. Continue doing this for a few days or a week to determine why you’re doing the habit.

Once you figure out why you’re doing, determine an alternative activity that will give the same reward. This will take some experimentation, I’d suggest trying one a day (again, beeminding it) until you find one that works.

Once you have that, the next trick is to remind yourself to do the new activity during the Cue rather than your current Routine of cracking your knuckles.

Remember the principle of addition. We don’t eliminate old behaviors, we replace them with new ones. It can be to one to one or one to many.

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I do remember reading something like this before (possibly on blog.beeminder.com?). I’ve created the dutchie/cracking-knuckles goal for those that want to follow along at home. I shall report back in a week or two!

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Your public awaits! (:

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I think it’s working pretty well. Here’s the goal. The general feeling is that I’m doing it less, and I’ve definitely stopped myself from doing it quite a few times. I’ll probably dial down the rate in a couple of weeks after the stress of moving offices and house at the same time is over.

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^
This.

I’ve found this to be true with one of my unconscious, do-less goals. I have something that I track a couple of times a year and find that the effect lasts many months past the tracking.

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I’ve been experimenting with discouraging myself from impulsive negative habits, too. (Skin-picking and nail-biting, which I think was a topic a while back?)

I’m finding that a “do more” mentality works better for me than a “do less” approach. So right now I’ve been experimenting with giving myself “happy hand” points for each discrete time chunk I can resist the bad habit. Say, one point for every quarter-hour that I didn’t pick. And on the flip side, a negative point for each nail-pick within the given quarter hour. Then I set a reasonable “do more” goal, and try to track throughout my work day.

No picks from 10:30 - 10:45? 1 point! One pick? 0 points. Two picks? -1 points. And so on. The nice thing is that I can always get a positive tally for the day, as long as I keep the awareness up long enough.

I found this approach to work for me for a few reasons:

  1. It builds intentionality, because I set out ahead of time to resist the habit for a small chunk of time, rather than just catching myself after the fact.
  2. Rewarding positive actions – I get the reward of logging a nice little happy point every 15 minutes, instead of potentially dreading having to log failures.
  3. It’s bite-size. Theoretically, I can do anything for 15 minutes if I put my mind to it. A whole day? Not so much.
  4. I get to reset things right away. Even if I have a ridiculously bad quarter-hour and end up in a negative zone, I get to start fresh immediately with the new chunk of time and pull myself out of the hole, rather than racking up failures that just haunt me throughout the day.
  5. Awareness – Since the possibility of success is always around the corner, I end up logging even the negative points more honestly – and, as noted above, it’s really the awareness and reflection that helps to break the habit. So I put little comments in next to the negative points to remind myself what the trigger was.

Been doing this for a few months now. We’ll see how it goes.

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