If Changing Habits is so Simple…
According to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, “Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work.” And how do they work? Great news: It’s not that complicated! It’s all explained in the book, so time to change a bunch of bad habits then, right?
It’s worth a try.
And that’s why I’ve decided to apply Duhigg’s methods to break a bad habit of my own: Swearing.
More specifically I plan to use the tactics from The Power of Habit to stop reflexively saying “fuck.”
Duhigg writes that habits are loops wired into our brains. Each is made up of a cue that sets off a routine that provides a reward.
So with swearing for example, accidentally hammering my thumb instead of the nail is the cue that sets of my routine of one (or more) screams of “FUCK!”, which provides me the reward of thinking these cursing is soothing my pain.
These loops are impossible to destroy, which is what makes habits so hard to break. The solution is then not to try to break a bad habit, but to change the loop. As Duhigg explains,
“To change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine.”
It’s a good ol’ bait and switch.
No More Swearing, I Swear
Taking this knowledge of how habit loops need to be changed, not broken, here’s my strategy to buck the “fucks.”
Swearing has multiple cues. I don’t only swear when in pain, as in my thumb-hammering example above, but also in joy (“Fuck yeah!”), frustration (“What the fuck?”), anger (“Fuck you!”), and surprise (“Holy fuck!”). So for each of these cues, I need a new routine to get to the same reward.
While the cues for swearing vary, the reward is pretty much the same: catharsis. Or, in plain English, emotional release.
Swearing likely even has physical benefits as well. One study even found swearing releases of adrenaline which can make us more tolerant to pain.
So whatever new routine I implement to replace my swearing with, I have to ensure it’s cathartic.
The New Routine
Knowing the cues and rewards of swearing, I’ve got to decide on a new routine. Here’s how I made the decision:
First, I noted there’s nothing special about the word “fuck.” It’s not a magical word like… um… “abracadabra.” “Fuck” is just some noise that my (apparently) poor upbringing has taught me to utter in certain circumstances. In some alternate universe there’s no reason why the people there couldn’t be using “potato” in the place of “fuck.”
Secondly, while I intend to stop saying “fuck,” I don’t intend to stop expressing myself when cued. I’ll just do it in a way that’s less taboo and more child-friendly in my culture.
So with these points in mind, I went in search for a word to replace “fuck” with. One that’s just as short, punchy, and versatile. Knowing how often I’d be using it, I took the search seriously, and spent quite some time thinking about it.
And I think I found the word, the new routine to take the place of “fuck.”
That word is “chooch.”
I derived chooch from “chucha,” a common swear word in Panama that literally means pussy and is typically used like English speakers use “fuck.”
Well first of all, it meets the criteria of being short, punchy, and versatile. You can be a chooch, you can wonder what the chooch is going on, or you can just straight up scream “CHOOCH!!!”. It also sounds dirty without actually being so, and I still get a cathartic feeling from saying it. Lastly, I like that it has a nice symmetry to it.
And if you don’t like “chooch,” well, you can go chooch yourself.
Dig Deeper: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
What habits would you like to change?
If you say you have none, I suspect you might have a habit of lying that you could work on.
Everyone has bad habits. But nobody has to keep on doing them. And if you really want to break your bad habits, The Power of Habit is a good place to start.
While I didn’t much enjoy the second and third parts of the book, which go into changing habits of organizations and societies, I found the first part on changing individuals’ habits to be enlightening. Check it out and let me know what habits you plan on changing.
And as a fond farewell to “fuck,” I’ll leave you with this amazing scene from the TV show, The Wire: