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Experiments in Behaviour Modification

15 February 201610:46AMlife

Somewhere along the line there I got a little foul-mouthed.

Something that I think people don't account for when trying to teach their kids not to swear is that swearing is super fun. The words are generally pretty fun to say just by themselves, and they give you an adrenaline rush every time you use them because they're just a little bit naughty.

And then that pretty quickly becomes a habit, and before you know it you're cursing like a sailor.

For me, this is bad for a number of reasons.

The first one is, of course, that I work with kids a lot. When you let the language flow fast and loose the chances of something slipping out in front of a crowd of kindergarteners is a significantly increased. Which, fortunately, I've never done.

Worse, though, is if you're talking to a co-worker, and forget that other people within earshot may actually pick things up as well. That one I have done a couple of times.

More interestingly though, swearing has more weight when you do it less. It has just a little more shock factor. I'm a pretty firm believer that, with the right comedic timing, a well-placed expletive can be very powerful, very illustrative, and hilariously funny - but that only holds true if you're not constantly working blue. Some of the best curses I've heard have come from people who are otherwise perfectly polite.

There's a scientific side to this as well. There's [some research] that suggests that swearing can reduce the effect of pain - and moreover, that such an effect is reduced when you swear more casually in your everyday life.

So this year, for the benefit of both myself and the children, I decided to cut back a little.

The traditional time to do something like this is New Years, but I decided to get a bit of a head start. Partly because I couldn't see the point of waiting, but also because I'm a bit of a non-believer in new years resolutions.

I made some last year and wrote them on coloured bits of paper and put them in a little baggie, which I forgot about until I started writing this. Clearly, even when you make the exercise of setting the things into a fun craft activity, they don't seem to stick.

To avoid this kind of situation happening again, I came up with what I think is a pretty cool system.

Every morning, I retrieve an elastic band from a big bag that I bought from Officeworks.

bag-o-bands

I slip it over my left wrist.

left wrist

If, at any point during the day, I happen to let slip an expletive of sufficient severity (you know the three I'm talking about), I transfer the band to my right wrist.

right wrist

And if, at the end of the day, the band is still on my left wrist, I get to add it to a rubber band ball by the side of my bed.

rubber band ball

I have no idea where the concept came from, but it does a lot of things right:

All of which could be done with apps or spreadsheets or whatever, but the advantages of this approach are:

As a system, I really like it. I think it suits this particular project perfectly, because it creates exactly the kind of subconscious filter I'm trying to build. It forces me to consciously decide whether or not I want to swear, and if not, the restriction generates some truly wonderful off-the-cuff creativity.

Maybe I can even adapt it to next year's resolutions - but then again, maybe thinking of the system to do it is half the fun.

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