Comfort words feel the pinch

Okay guys, Jim Moore has found a way to help him break his catchphrase habit.

History teacher, Calderglen High School, South Lanarkshire

How many of us have certain words, phrases or mannerisms we use all of the time in class? If you say, "Not me!" then you're either very lucky, not being entirely truthful with yourself, or you're oblivious to the fact you're doing it.

"Okay guys . . ."

For me it was saying "Okay guys": "Okay guys, let's get in and settled quickly"; "Okay guys, listen up"; "Okay guys, today we're going to . . ."; "Okay guys, time to pack up"; "Okay guys . . ." repeat ad nauseum. I also had a bad habit of saying "youse" as a result of English being the secondary language to my Glaswegian mother tongue.

I was aware that I was doing it and the kids most certainly were. I was giving them lots of ammunition with something so obvious to impersonate me with. Other teachers had pointed it out to me too, but no one had any advice on how to stop it, except for telling me just not to say it! But if it was that simple then none of us would have our little signature phrases to contend with.


This really began to bother me, but I had a plan. A good friend of mine is a hypnotist who also runs positive thinking seminars. What does that have to do with teaching? Well, his job revolves around how the brain works; whether it's (allegedly) hypnotising people, showing businessmen how to win the upper hand in deals, or improving people's memory.

I described my problem to him and he explained to me that I was using "comfort words": words people rely on when they're anxious or need assurance. It makes sense when you think about it, but how do you stop using them?

Nip it in the bud

He advised me that, anytime I was speaking to the class, I should pinch my index, middle or ring finger with the edge of my thumbnail. This is a trick that public speakers use all the time.

He went on to explain that you use these comfort words subconsciously and, in order to stop using them, you need to bring it to your conscious mind. When you pinch your finger it creates a slight bit of pain, you can still talk and do your job but, in the back of your head, you are aware that it's there. Your brain does the hard part and joins the dots by telling you that you're feeling this pain because it's supposed to remind you not to use your comfort words.

Because it's always in the back of your conscious mind, it's continually reminding you not to use those words. So, whereas you would normally just blurt the words out without thinking about it, now you have a subtle reminder to think about the words you are using when speaking. The exact same is true of "comfort actions".

Breaking the habit

It doesn't work instantly, but eventually you'll train your brain to stop using your comfort words and actions. Once you've managed to break the habit, you can stop pinching your fingers when you teach. If a new comfort word or action comes along, just do the same thing. It does sound strange and I thought my friend was pulling my leg when he suggested it, but it really does work. Give it a try.