Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Getting rid of a habit

We all know that therapy also involves unlearning bad and unnecessary habits. Not being able to say a word is one thing, but avoiding eye contact, speaking faster, body grimaces and being tense in order to somehow avoid stuttering is not only unnecessary and doesnt look cool, but is contra-productive and actually makes a block worse. I think all people with PDS can agree that these habits are unnecessary, but then again once in a block we just cant prevent the habits from being executed by this vicious part of our brain that overrides our executive orders. I want to tell you the following story illustrating how difficult it is to get rid of a habit.

As a kid I was good at sports. But, I was terrible when it came to swimming. I couldnt swim well, not because I was unfit, but because I was not able to apply the breathing techniques well to do crawl. Why? I somehow developed this habit of choking when I tried to breathe into the water. So after a few strokes, I couldnt continue and gasped for air. Four years ago, I started swimming regularly. It took me nearly four years to get rid of this choking habit. Now I can swim crawl without problems. Parodoxically, even when I try to choke, I cant anymore... The unlearning of this habit came very slow.. Stage One, I tried to change and the choking was worse. I hated swimming crawl. Stage Two, I was able to swim longer without choking, but still experiencing a feeling of being uncomfortable and of having to choke any second. Stage Three, once a while I started choking again, and I was pissed off and switch to breast stroke. Stage Four, I was able to swim without choking, but still felt a bit nervous. Stage Five, I just swam without thinking about it. Stage Six, I realised that I conquered it and saying to myself "I got you. Come on. I challenge you. Make me choke!" I can now confirm that I am a recovered choker, but I am not sure whether I am cured! :-)

I hate to think that unlearning stuttering habits is probably even harder...


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom.

All the therapies I know for stuttering are based on one asumption: "learn this new habit, practice it every day, and the day will come that you will do it without thinking of it, you will forget the bad old habit". Is this assumption ever been demostrated? Well, most stutterers I know have not been so lucky...

Tom Weidig said...

I want to distinguish between
1) difficulty initiating speech
2) secondary symptoms resulting from 1) and learned over the years

Of course it is possible to reduce or eliminate 2) in the same way that I believe that everyone can run a marathon IF he or she follows my training schedule. Or in the same way that someone will loose weight IF he or she follows my diet program.

The reason why most people still have secondary symptoms (2), dont run a marathon, or are still overweight is because they do not follow the relatively simple rules. That is the problem. It is damm hard to change behaviour

With my choking experience, I just wanted to illustrate how hard and long-term it can be, but it is possible.

Therefore, I do admire people who have managed to reduce their secondary symptoms throught hard work and focused practise.

Reducing 1) is more difficult, but 1) is automatically less problematic without 2) or by using a fluncy shaping technique.

Unknown said...

My stuttering habits are so difficult to break simply because they are based on fear and stress. It's hard to not tense up when I think about using a telephone...because I've taught myself for 30 years to BE TENSE when you approach a telephone.

It's hard to unlearn the habit of tensing up when I have to introduce myself because I have 30 years of doing just that.

Habits borne out of fear and stress seem to be the hardest to overcome. :)

Incidentally, I've linked you to my blog, if that's okay. Feel free to do the same. :)

Tom Weidig said...

OK. I put you in my link list.

Your statement "My stuttering habits are so difficult to break simply because they are based on fear and stress." is a bit vague.

What happens is the following: We have a brain module called amygdala that associates emotions to situations to allow us to take fast decisions. For example, if we see a snake, our safest reaction is to jump even if it turns out to just look like a snake. So this module is responsible for our quick & dirty decisions. Then 1-2 seconds later our cortex makes a more thought-through decision. For example, it is a snake that is not dangerous, calm down.

Our problem is that as children the amygdala learned bad and unnecessary habits, e.g. to associate our inability to say a word with secondary symptoms or picking up the phone with fear, stress, nervousness, and so on.

So we automatically go into this mode when hearing it. Think about Pawlow's dog.

Unknown said...

Hi Tom,

Yes, I agree...we condition ourselves over time to react to things in a certain Pavlov's Dogs. My cell phone throat tenses and my palms get sweaty. I stand in line at McDonald's...and the closer I get to the counter, the more stressed I become...until once I get there, I completely block.

Sorry if my statement was vague, you seem to have made it more clear. What is the solution? To make attempts to condition ourselves to react differently to these situations? That seems very difficult, though probably not impossible.

Breaking 30+ years of a habit of reacting irrationally to something...I'm sure is not done easily.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom, i just want to share my experiences with stuttering and stuttering therapy. I have stuttered for as long as i can remember, but do know i did not as a young child. I figure it started (atleast to what i can remember) when i was in the 5th grade. I am now 20 years old and saw my first speech therapist in October of 2004. I continued to see her once every two weeks or so until maybe May of 2005.

Therapy helped me a great deal, i learned techniques such as voluntary stuttering which took the 'edge' off those situations which i felt uncomfortable in. However thats not to say i still become nervous when i need to, say my name or maybe order food in a busy resturant. Therapy helped me to accept stuttering i guess, and learn not to be afraid or ashamed of it. I found just having that type of mentality has made my stuttering much less severe. I went from 'bad days and ok days' to 'great days and ok days'.

I know therapy does not work for everyone, but it really helps one who does stutter to get past what everyone will think.

I to have bookmarked this site, its interesting to see how others with similar...'problems' (for lack of a better term) fair.

Anonymous said...

Psychologically based therapy has been around for ages and virtually none of it seems to work as either a palliative or cure for stuttering. I have been using Ativan (2mg) for many years when confronted with stressful situations that may lead to stuttering (I don't stutter when answering a phone or ordering at McDonalds). As far as I can tell, I am virtually 100% fluent with Ativan. Has anyone else had this experience?

Anonymous said...

Hi Tom,

ive been stuttering for my whole life,ive been in speech therepy my whole life and it doesnt seem to help,my stutter problem is i dont get enough air in my throat,and sometimes when i talk my mouth opens and nothing comes out and my head shakes,and it really bothers me when i talk in my social life,what is the best advice you could give me that could help me,

please e-mail me @

thank you

Anonymous said...

Tom, I have EXACTLY the same thing. Its a real pain.

Anonymous said...

hi,am an MBA student...i don't knw when this stuterring started on me...but its now spoiling my life and i fear that it may affect my career...
my problem arises mainly due to fear and stress...i can't speak among public.when iam going to speak i always think that i will stutter...
anyway i want to avoid this hel me...
my mail