It’s Apropos!

An Interviewer recently asked “How older people can address annoying habits”

Questions:

If a retiree in their 60s or 70s is aware he/she has some annoying personality trait (like talking too much) and maybe is teased on occasion by his/her family about it, are there any practical steps this person can take to improve, address or eliminate this annoying habit? (i.e., exercises or behavior-changing tools or tips you can suggest, etc.)

Can you give an example of how an older person can change a negative part of his/her personality for the better?

To what extent is it possible for a retiree in their 60s or 70s to change a longstanding but negative behavior? Can an “old dog learn new tricks”?

Answer provided by Cynthia Lett:

It is always easier to change a behavior if you haven’t been actively engaged in that behavior for very long. However, you asked how a 60+ person can change annoying habits. First of all, they have to want to change their behavior. Merely knowing it is annoying to others isn’t much incentive if they have been getting away with it all along with no consequences. The offender has to learn of the negative responses they are getting because of that behavior in a constructive manner. For instance, being told that commenting on other’s dress in a negative way hurts feelings and thus encourages those being insulted to not invite the offender to events in the future, may be a good incentive to try to stop the behavior. Someone close to that person can say that the offender would have been invited to more social functions if their comments about how others dressed weren’t so mean.

It has been shown (and I couldn’t quote exactly where) that to change negative behavior for positive is easier when a close, non judgmental friend or relative offers quiet reminders to the offender to stop the annoying behavior. To encourage consistent change, someone whom the offender trusts and has their best interests at heart can suggest, “I know you mean to be kinder when you talk with people. I could nudge you when I hear you being unkind and it will remind you to think of a nicer way to say what you’re saying to them.”

As an etiquette expert, I sometimes hear the opposite however. My own father who was 82 years old at the time, said to me at a formal dinner we were both attending and sitting next to each other, “I know I am not behaving the way you teach your students to behave at the table but I’m 82 and I honestly don’t care one whit what people think of the way I eat. I am too old to change.”
With that kind of logic, I just had to accept what he has done all along and not allow it to bother me, since nothing I could do would change it.

One thing those around a boorish offender could do that might help the offender want to change is to point out the unkindness at the time it happens rather than letting it go and then coming back to it later. Many people, no matter what age they are, are unaware of their unkind speech or actions and will not know that change is necessary unless they are called on it in a quiet and encouraging way like I mentioned above.

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