Mrs. Smith was so happy. “I’ve cured my husband of biting his nails.”

I said to her, “Wow, after all these years. How did you do it?”

She smiled with amusement, “I simply hid his teeth.”

Now that’s one way of breaking a bad habit! If only I didn’t have hair…let me explain.

I twirl my hair. I grab a piece of hair on the right side just at the base of my head. I twirl that hair and then rub my thumb back and forth. It feels so good, or at least it used to. When I was younger I did it only if I was nervous or anxious. Now I do it so much that my elbow aches when I cock it up there to twirl. I think I have tennis elbow and I don’t play tennis!

Mr. Webster, as in the dictionary Webster, says that habits are a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior. It also implies that one is doing something unconsciously and often compulsively.

Can you think of anything that plagues you in this way? Habits can be good or bad. Although I tend to think that for most of us the list of bad habits would be longer than the good habits.

I remember hearing a story of Eddie Bernstein. At the age of twelve Eddie was hit by train and he lost both of his legs. This son of Jewish immigrant began riding around in a goat cart, selling newspapers. In the mid ’30s, he left the Depression-ridden South and moved to Washington, D.C., where he established himself on a wooden platform on F Street between 12th and 13th Streets.

He joked and chattered and begged for his living. Women shoppers often took pity on the legless pan handler. One of the women, Evalyn McLean, owner of the Hope diamond, gave him a capuchin monkey named Gypsy. It did tricks for what Bernstein called his “clients.”

For more than 30 years, through three wars and half a dozen presidencies, Bernstein occupied his corner. But only in the spring and summer. Winters, the Monkey Man would disappear.

In Florida, however, the Monkey Man was known as a prosperous businessman who wore sporty clothes and walked about on two artificial legs. He liked to read The Wall Street Journal and talk of his travels to Israel, Greece and Spain. He owned an $80,000 building containing a disco called the Red Garter, a home worth $30,000, and had $16,000 in cash, $46,000 in Washington checking accounts and $365,000 in a bond account with Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.

Then why did he go on begging? His banker said: “I think it was a lifelong habit.”

Have any habits? Do you do anything that is keeping you a “beggar” on the streets of an otherwise prosperous, fulfilling life? You know, there are many things that are not wrong, but that are simply not the best thing for us.

Take an honest inventory. If you have something nagging at you or making you sick or keeping you in chains then make a decision to break that habit. Although difficult, it is possible to break a habit.

How? Make a list of the negative effects of the habit. Plan a strategy. Be realistic; breaking habits take time. Celebrate each day of success and don’t punish yourself for a short relapse. Start immediately.

I don’t know about you but I’m ready to be free of my bad habits… beginning with the one that has ruined my elbow for tennis!

Larry and Linda Kloster sponsor this column.

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