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Why can’t I stop stroking my beard? Breaking the habit!

If you’ve got a beard all you are growing a beard it feels awesome to stroke it. Stroking a beard is a natural part of owning a beard. Maybe it is formed as a habit from when it is growing. When your beard is growing you are constantly checking in with your beard to see how it is going. Are there any wispy bits? Are there any long bits? Is it growing evenly? This habit gets deeply rooted into our subconscious which means that stroking at beard becomes unconscious and you do it without even thinking about it. In this article, we are going to go over all of the ways that you can stop stroking your beard as well as the answer to the question: why can’t I stop stroking my beard?

In a hurry? This is the answer – You cannot stop stroking your beard because it has become a habit. Habits are formed when we experience a situation that cues us to touch our beard. This is reinforced by a reward at the end of the habit which can be someone looking at your beard or you feeling good about the way your beard is looking. Breaking this cue – action – reward loop will be one of the best ways that you can stop stroking your beard out of habit.

To understand how habitual your beard stroking has become and the underlying reasons for your persistent stroking we need to understand what a habit is and reasons you may be stroking your beard in the first place.

It’s become a habit

Anything that we do without thinking about it is a habit. You may find yourself sat in a meeting stroking your beard. Perhaps you/your beard if you are insecure or you just need something to occupy your hands. Perhaps you are touching your beard because you are obsessed with its style and want to check that everything is sitting in the right place. No matter what it is habits start from a very small and conscious decision which we then learn to do automatically. Here are a few reasons why you may have started touching your beard.

Insecurity

There is no doubt that growing a beard can make you stand out. Some people do not like standing out of a crowd. Even though growing a beard is really fun and is an excellent addition to your style it may attract the attention of more people – and that may make you insecure.

You see, humans are social animals. We like to fit in and not draw too much attention to ourselves. Growing a beard can be an act of wanting to stand out and that can increase the amount of insecurity that you feel.

Perhaps, you have always felt insecure about the way you look. And growing a beard can either exacerbate that or make it less of an issue for you. Whatever the issue there is no doubt that touching a beard consistently can be a sign of insecurity. Breaking this habit means looking deep inside yourself to find out the real reasons you are insecure and tackling those head on.

We’ll talk a little bit about this in the section, below.

Fidgeting

I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to stop my fingers from fidgeting. My hands and fingers are constantly looking for things to play with. You may have seen the fidget spinners as well as the other fidget toys on the market. This signals to me that there are plenty of people with the same affliction.

The thing is, when you have a beard and you are a fidgeter there is no doubt that your beard becomes one of those things that you obsessively play with.

One technique that you can use to stop yourself from fidgeting with your beard is to keep your hands busy with other things. Perhaps you do need to buy a fidget toy or fidget spinner to keep your hands occupied. One of the things I notice is that if I am surfing the Internet with my right hand my left hand will automatically reach up to my beard and start tugging and playing with my beard. In this instance I need a circuit breaker. Something that my left hand does when I reach for the mouse with my right hand… Haven’t quite worked out what the best circuit breaker is at the moment but having a cup of tea in front of me seems to do the trick.

To check it’s style

Another reason why you may be constantly touching your beard is that you are checking that it is sat right and it is styled properly. I know that when I’m out and about I am self-conscious that my beard is not sat right and it looks not very good.

The check it’s style I quite often tugged at the sides and run my hands along the lines of the beard feeling for any particularly long hairs. If I find the long hairs I tend to twist and stroke them making it worse.

A simple way to check this is to excuse myself and head to the bathroom and look in the mirror. I often carry with myself a small pocket comb which I used to brush out my beard a couple of times a day in the bathroom. Doing this has enabled me to keep my beard in style and also stop me from checking it so often during the day.

Boredom

Another simple reason why you may be stroking your beard so much is that you are bored. Boredom is responsible for a lot of things including obsessively stroking your beard.

If I find myself in a board situation I will do one of two things. Firstly, I accept that I don’t have to be entertained all of the time and I use the time to do a little bit of self reflection so that I enter a little bit of a meditative state. By simply controlling my breathing and breathing slowly in and out I can quickly overcome the boredom.

Secondly, I simply fill my time with an activity that I like doing. In the past I’ve taken up sewing, writing, knitting, and simply doing chores to combat my boredom. Also, reading a book has been one of the ways that I have combated boredom and reduce the amount of time that I have been stroking my beard.

Compulsion

There is a condition called Trichotillomania which is a hair pulling disorder. If you find that you cannot stop doing any beard stroking or pulling you may have this. It is a mental disorder that involves irresistible urges to pull the hair out from your beard despite trying everything you can to stop it.

For some people this is very mild and is often manageable. However for others there compulsive urge is overwhelming and they may have significant loss of hair in one part of their head or face.

For some people this is a focused activities where they pull out their hair intentionally to relieve stress. And for others it is automatic where they may play their hair without even realising it while doing activities such as watching TV or scrolling through Facebook.

If you feel like you have a compulsion you should contact your health professional as soon as possible and talk about the options available for treating your compulsive stroking and hair pulling.

As long as you are not in the compulsive category there are some things that you can do to stop you from stroking your beard hair so much.

How do I stop stroking my beard?

Understanding the best way to stop yourself stroking your beard means you need to understand how habits and new actions are learned.

I first learned about habits through a book called The Power of Habit (click here to be taken to purchase the audiobook, paperback, or Kindle version). In this book the author discusses the science behind habit formation and how to make and break them.

The idea is that your brain is constantly trying to reduce the amount of energy it uses to make decisions. After a few rounds of a habit-forming activity the brain can reduce the amount of activity required and turns it into a habit. This initial activity can form a good habit or a bad habit. Ideally, we would be using this knowledge to increase the number of good habits we have – like looking after our beards properly. And reducing the number of bad habits we have – like stroking and pulling at our beards.

Understanding habits

The process of creating a habit relies on the concept of a habit loop. This provides a framework for understanding what causes certain behaviours to be triggered without you even thinking about them.

To understand the habit loop you need to think about in terms of three components. A queue, a routine, and a reward. By understanding these three components you are able to eliminate bad habits and establish better ones. Let’s take a look in more detail at what each of those three components mean.

Cue

A cue is anything that triggers the habitual behaviour. It is anything in the environment, time, proceeding moments that you associate with performing these actions.

Think about when you are most likely going to stroke your beard. Is it when you are sat at the computer? Is it when you have a few hours of downtime? Is it when you are reading a book? All of these will give you an insight into the sorts of cues that are causing you to stroke your beard without even thinking about it.

Each time the cue and behaviour is linked the habit gets stronger and stronger. This means that it could be completely automatic before you even know it. If you want to increase the amount of good behaviours that you habitually do you need to look at a cue to start them off. As you practice this cue behaviour cue behaviour connection it will become more and more automatic.

Once you have been cued the next step is the routine.

Routine

In this second part of the habit loop this is the behaviour or routine that you want to change or reinforce. In this instance it is the stroking or pulling of your beard.

Once again, think about when you are most likely to stroke your beard. This will give you an idea of the cue that has triggered this routine.

Once your beard stroking behaviour has been started your brain is looking for the positive reinforcement that you get from engaging in the habit so that it can now it has done a good job.

Reward

The reward part of the habit loop is one of the most important parts. This is the thing that tells your brain that your habit is a good habit and that you should continue doing it. This is the brain’s way for reasoning that your habit should stay as an automatic function.

There are a number of ways that you can reinforce your new habit including giving yourself a small sweet treat if you have not touched your beard. In the next section we are going to look at how to change your beard stroking habit once and for all.

Change the habit

It may take a little bit of persistence and trial and error but follow the steps and your be able to stop stroking your beard quickly.

In the past, when you have tried to stop doing something you’ve properly focused on the habit instead of the cue or the reward. In the power of habit the author teaches us that you should be focusing on the cue and the reward to change the habit.

Change the cue

To change your habit all you have to do is think of the cue that you normally associate with that habit and decide on what specific action you will take to stop that cue from triggering your beard stroking habit. It could be that scrolling through your phone causes you to stroke your beard. How about reading a book instead? Perhaps, it is boredom that is causing you to stroke your beard. How about picking up a new hobby that you like instead.

It can take some trial and error to change the cue but once you have found something that breaks the habit loop you will have solved the first part of the puzzle. Research has shown that new habits are easier to form when you are a new location and you’re not been exposed to familiar cues. Perhaps simply changing way you do certain tasks will change your beard stroking habit.

Create a reward

Lastly, you should consider the last part of the habit loop which is what reward will you give yourself once you complete something. This will take a little bit of trial and error to find out something that really gets you going but look deep inside your motivations for doing the habit in the first place and you’ll generally find your reward.

For example, if you are constantly checking your beard because you are insecure – tackling the insecurity had on will be the best thing you can do and the reward will be something that makes you feel powerful and secure.

A large part of this is being conscious of your instincts, thoughts, and behaviours. If you are unsure about these you can simply sit down with a book and write out all of the instincts, thoughts, and behaviours that you have the full stroking your beard.

For more reading on developing good habits check out the authors website – click here to be taken to more information about forming positive habits.

Does stroking your beard hurt it?

Stroking your beard doesn’t necessarily hurt it unless you are being overly harsh and tugging or pulling at the hair which can dislodge it from the route. Continual stroking on the outside of the hair is protected by the cortex (the overlapping tiles on the outside of the hair).

It’s only an issue if you start stroking it with hard objects which could break through the cuticle and cause damage to the hair shaft. As long as you use your fingers and not your fingernails you’ll probably because very little damage to your beard.

However, making sure that you minimise the amount of abrasion on the beard hairs will make them last longer and look healthier, shinier, and more nourished.

Does stroking your beard help it grow?

No, stroking your beard does not help it grow. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. Some people like to massage the skin underneath the hair near the roots and they say that it helps improve blood flow to the area where the beard is growing. Once again, there is no evidence to support this and you should probably avoid stroking your beard to excess.

The only way you can be sure to grow your beard is to look after your body, either right nutrients, and get a good night’s sleep. Looking after your body is the number one way to protect your beard and make sure that it grows thick healthy and strong.

Summary

If you can’t stop stroking your beard think about the triggers and cues for your habit. In this article we discuss the reasons why you may be stroking your beard and the power of the habit loop and how you can break the habit loop with simple actions and planning.

The good news is that are probably not hurting your beard very much by stroking it unless you are doing it obsessively with your fingernails or a hard object.

Good luck at changing your beard habit and I’d love to know how you get on!

The Author


Andy Stapleton

Andy is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He is an avid beard grower and after many years of growing and trialing different beard styles, he started this blog to share the tips, tricks, and science that he has learned along the way!