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Bad Habits

    About ten years ago I found out I have some really short hamstrings, and I was taught some exercises to help stretch them out and let them grow normally. I was told that the problems behind having short hamstrings would only show when I grow older, and that I’d need to do daily stretches to make sure my legs will be okay later in life. Of course, I put them off until this month, when I found that walking had become very painful, very often. Neglecting my health like this is a bad habit.

    All my life, I’ve picked at the skin on my lips and the inside of my mouth constantly. I do the same to my toes and fingers; any skin that can be clipped off, will be clipped off, even to a painful point. I’ll also obsessively clip my fingernails to the absolute minimum; if a toothpick could fit under my fingernails, they’re too long. My lips and fingertips can be beaten, raw, or even bleeding. Eating my skin is a bad habit.

    When you think about it, every one of us has a bad habit, usually something compulsive, something you do without even thinking about it, like soothing a canker sore with your tongue before biting down on it half-mindedly. Scratching mosquito bites, mixing a person’s name up nearly every time you see them, eating loudly, grinding your teeth, checking the fridge, popping your fingers or joints, leaving the bathroom door open…

    It’s subconscious. You might not remember when you began the habit, but ever since, you’re doing it without the slightest bit of thought. Just now, I realised I’m chewing the skin off my lips, and I had to quell the urge to do it again--I’m trying to break these bad habits.

    Every time I catch myself chewing skin off, I have to stop myself; every time I want to clip my fingernails, I kick myself and deny the temptation. It’s been going somewhat smoothly, but last night I finally gave in and clipped my fingernails once again. Before I did it, I had whites in my fingernails for the first time in possibly two years.

    But with clean and healthy fingernails came the occasional dirt/bacteria that could be removed simply and quickly. So, of course, I obsessively cleaned my fingernails, to the point where there was never even the slightest flake or crumb of whatever collects in there. I constantly carried a toothpick or similar implement to reach under, and when I didn’t, I’d seek something just like it wherever I happen to be.

    It’s very easy to say I just replaced one impulsive, possibly bad habit with another, which raises a good question; If I were to rid of every bad habit I have, would I just replace them all with equally bad versions? Am I inherently habitual?

    Well, of course I am. But the way I see it, if I am to destroy a bad habit, whichever habit replaces the old one is almost definitely better than the old habit--cleaning my fingernails instead of clipping it all off is infinitely better, in more ways than one. The only downside is I have to carry a toothpick around, which is really nothing if I think about it.

    My stepmother is a person particularly attached to her habits, though she might not be aware of its scale. For idle time, she won’t twiddle her thumbs; she’ll play some iPhone puzzle game variant, usually smoking while doing so. The repetitive action is enough to make it difficult to tell exactly how long you’ve been sitting there, and the stimulation for your brain is just enough to keep you playing, but just low enough to keep you from tiring out.

    Which must be why she chain smokes; she taps the gems, candies or replaceable macguffin on the screen, slides a column here and there, takes a puff, and repeat. If you don’t already know how long you’ve been on the phone, how can you remember how many cigarettes you’ve smoked? If all you’re looking at is the screen, how can you tell if your lungs are aching? If your time is paused and effectively looping, how could you see the clock in real life ticking past the next two hours? How can you tell if your stomach is hungry, waiting for the dinner you’re supposed to eat with your stepdaughter?

    Some of these habits are innocent. I don’t think I’ll ever intentionally break my habit of randomly checking the fridge every time I pass it; it doesn’t affect anything but add two seconds extra to wherever I’m walking. Some other habits, however, are harmful and misplaced; they eat away at you, deteriorate your happiness by the second, alienate yourself from others and vy to steal your identity; some are habits we only admit to others through anonymity and shame.

    Harmless habits can stay, but our harmful habits need to go. And they need to go as soon as possible before they become a lifestyle instead of a quirk.