• Often, we can address a bad or a time-consuming pattern of behaviour and throw it in the bin, writes Helen Razer. (Getty Images)
Helen Razer discovers that - with a little help - even the nastiest of habits can be forgotten.
By
Helen Razer

17 May 2017 - 5:29 PM  UPDATED 18 May 2017 - 11:11 AM

I suspect that each of us has at least one bad habit. Even in the odd case that this does not hold true for you, I certainly keep our species’ bad habit average up by having several all on my own. These include: talking loudly over others, talking loudly over others while unconsciously emitting spit from my loudly talking mouth and cheating at Words With Friends. I also routinely lose paperwork, accuse others of losing the paperwork I suspect that I have lost and emailing my employers with an upbeat, “Yep! I’m totally on that deadline!” when what I am, in fact, “on” is a seventh game of Words With Friends, in which I may have resorted to cheating.

The purpose of this disclosure is not just to caution you against playing word games with a devious lump like Helen. It is, in fact, one rather more uplifting. After some decades, I have discovered that bad habits can simply be forgotten. It is true that, particularly in the case of the lost paperwork, I have sought bulk-billed advice to help me forget—never underestimate the good even an average psychologist can do. But, the point is: we creatures do have the capacity for minor self-improvement.

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Much of the time, we really can address a bad or a time-consuming pattern of behaviour and throw it in the bin beyond memory. I have, for example, nearly forgotten my bad habit of losing paperwork—once, I could make entire forms disappear into air while walking no more than three metres—and I have almost utterly forgotten my bad habit of openly glaring at toddlers, of whom I was long very envious for both their exciting wardrobes and social privilege that freely permits them to say, “I bored and want go home” whenever they fancy.

As one lives just a little longer, one discovers just a little more immunity to self-criticism. This is not necessarily because one becomes better with age, but it is because one becomes bored. When I was 18, I couldn’t bear the idea of looking at my flaws. Now that I am 200, I have found that my flaws are more irritating to endure than they are terrifying to inspect, and so, I have succeeded in correcting a few of them.

I have spoken with my long-suffering therapist about the facility to be less crap over time, and he, a quite learned man, assures me that he has never met a person without it. Many bad habits can be abolished, or at least diminished, he says. But, when we are made anxious, the bad habit has the habit of returning.

Many bad habits can be abolished, or at least diminished, he says. But, when we are made anxious, the bad habit has the habit of returning.

One of my bad habits is asking my therapist quite personal questions—in part, I blame his comfortable armchair. When we were talking last week about my own tendency to return to form-losing when I was anxious, I asked him if he, a person born in Punjab, had noticed the broader social tendency for fearful white Australian people to return to the bad habit of racism.

He said that he had considered this at length, and was quite cross about it not only as the object of racism, but as a clinical psychologist. He mentioned the time last decade that the Australian government had claimed that Sudanese refugees had failed to “integrate”, and the time last week that the Australian opposition had claimed, in an all-white TV commercial, that a hazy “Australia First” policy was the way out of all trouble. In both cases, said my shrink, the communications had, whether consciously or not, provoked feelings of anxiety and then suggested the bad habit of racism as its solution.

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This, he said, it would be a bit like throwing a year’s worth of paperwork at me while yelling “fill it out!” and expecting me not to lose both it and my mind. Bad habits can be largely forgotten, but, under great stress, they can be remembered.

This is not to forgive or excuse those who meet fearful communications with a racist response, any more than it is to forgive or excuse me for misplacing my 17th form. It is, however, to say that racism is a very bad habit which can be forgotten, and one that those in authority must quit reminding us to resume.

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