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Can You Shock Yourself Out of A Bad Habit?

27/02/2015 11:24 | Updated 28 April 2015

An American firm has come up with a wristband that jolts people into giving up bad habits. You just pick the behaviour you wish to prevent and choose the punishment - the wristband does the rest. Buzzes in your ear, demands a financial forfeit or even gives you a mild electric shock.

This sounds a bit extreme to me, but then so is the fact that some of our worst habits could actually be shortening our lives. Smoking, eating unhealthy foods, staying in bed when we 'meant' to go to the gym - all of these have the potential to send us to the grave that little bit earlier. But are electric shocks the answer?

There are many ways to change our habits. I once had EFT 'tapping' to get rid of the negative 'victim' emotions attached to a physical attack I experienced - it got rid of my 'poor me' habit. Some people swear by hypnotherapy for, say, giving up smoking. "Putting you into a receptive state a hypnotherapist speaks to your subconscious, the part of you that acts automatically," says hypnotherapist Lucinda Meade. "Our 'thinking' brain, the conscious part where willpower comes from, is enormously energy sapping and drains us quickly - humans who are naturally wired to conserve energy prefer to take the easy route. Hypnotherapy helps you create new habits and feelings that are 'unconscious' and automatic".

Without such treatment the brain resorts to always using the same pathways when initiating behaviour, so people literally get 'stuck in their ways', according to Professor Ben C Fletcher from the University of Hertfordshire, author of Flex: Do Something Different. But if you take a different route to work or sit in a different chair to your usual one you'll break down habits and increase behavioural flexibility - opening yourself up to changing other habits, like alcohol abuse and smoking.

Changing your eating habits is one of the hardest things of all. You start out full of good intentions, but soon slip back to your bad old ways when habit takes over - the packet of crisps on the way home, the 'nibbles' while cooking dinner. So you have to set up new eating habits - and stick to them by using reminders. Apps like the Nordic Diet Coach, which texts you reminders to eat at set times and trains you to eat a certain balance of foods actually work a treat if you use them right. "Choose the changes yourself and make sure they're realistic. And think about the benefits of changing your diet, not just the process. If you find it hard to stick to your new habits, positive reminders will help steer you back," says the app's nutritionist Marika Venäläinen. Of course there may be a lot of steering going on. Experts now believe it takes anywhere from two months to eight months to build a new habit.

But maybe shocks are the best solution. Ever since I read somewhere that chewing the inside of your cheek in moments of stress could actually lead to mouth cancer, I've found I'm more conscious of doing it - and have stopped. That's the kind of shock that works for me.