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Understanding Habit Maintenance: Unlocking the Secrets Behind Unwanted habits.


Habits are an integral part of human behaviour, shaping our daily lives through repeated actions that often occur unconsciously. While many habits can be beneficial, some can be detrimental to our well-being, such as nail biting and hair pulling (trichotillomania), Skin Picking, TICS etc.

Understanding what maintains these habits is crucial in effectively overcoming them through Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT). In this article, we will delve into the underlying factors that perpetuate these unwanted habits, shedding light on the complex nature of these habits.

The Habit Loop

To comprehend how these unwated are maintained, we must first understand the habit loop. The habit loop consists of three components:

1. Cue: The trigger that initiates the habit. It can be internal (emotions, thoughts, sensations) or external (situations, environment). 2. Routine: The habitual behaviour itself, like nail biting or hair pulling, which is performed in response to the cue. 3. Reward: The positive reinforcement or relief experienced after completing the routine, which reinforces the habit and makes it more likely to be repeated.

Identifying Cues

In HRT, recognizing the cues and building awareness of the triggers that prompt the unwanted habit is crucial. Cues can vary from person to person and may include stress, anxiety, boredom, frustration, or even specific environmental triggers. For example for some individuals, nail biting might occur during periods of concentration or deep thought, while hair pulling may be more frequent during moments of emotional distress.

Understanding the Routine

The routine, which involves these unwanted habits, provides a sense of temporary relief or satisfaction. Nail biters may experience relief from anxiety or nervousness, while hair pullers might feel a release of tension or emotional distress during the act. The repetitive nature of these routines reinforces the habit over time.

Unravelling the Rewards

Uncovering the underlying rewards associated with these unwanted habits is key to breaking the habit loop. Some potential rewards include:

1. Sensory stimulation: These unwanted habits can provide sensory gratification, be it tactile or even visual. 2. Emotional regulation: These habits may serve as coping mechanisms, providing a temporary escape from negative emotions. 3. Habitual comfort: Over time, these habits become familiar and comforting, providing a sense of security in stressful situations. 4. Automaticity: The habits can become automatic responses to certain triggers, requiring minimal conscious effort.

HRT Techniques to Break the Habit Loop

As a Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist working with Habit Reversal Therapy, my role is to help clients break the habit loop by introducing effective techniques to replace the unwanted routines with healthier alternatives:

1. Awareness training: Encourage clients to become more mindful of their nail biting and hair pulling behaviors by identifying the specific cues and rewards associated with these habits. 2. Competing response: Teach clients to develop alternative responses or behaviors that are incompatible with nail biting and hair pulling. For instance, clenching fists or keeping hands occupied with stress balls can serve as competing responses. 3. Relaxation techniques: Help clients learn relaxation strategies to manage stress and emotional distress, reducing the need for nail biting and hair pulling as coping mechanisms. 4. Cognitive restructuring: Address underlying beliefs and thought patterns that contribute to these habits, challenging irrational beliefs and adopting more constructive thinking. 5. Self-reinforcement: Encourage clients to reward themselves for successfully resisting the urge to engage in nail biting and hair pulling, reinforcing positive changes.


Understanding what maintains habits like nail biting and hair pulling is vital in effectively overcoming these unwanted habits using Habit Reversal Therapy. By identifying the cues, routines, and rewards associated with these habits, I can help you break the habit loop and establish healthier coping mechanisms. With patience, support, and personalized interventions, you can regain control over you unwanted behaviors, leading to positive changes and improved well-being.


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