Nervous Fidgeting and the Doodler’s Dilemma

Do you constantly twirl your hair, crack your knuckles or hum aloud? These habits could be drawing unwanted attention.

Nervous Fidgeting and the Doodler’s Dilemma

By Mark Swartz


Tapping your fingers on a desk improves your mood. Doodling or sketching during a meeting helps you concentrate. Bouncing your legs persistently may relieve tension.

Each of these habits can aid productivity. But your colleagues and boss might interpret them adversely. To them you may appear nervous, distracted, or just plain strange.

The problem is your habit’s been part of your life long as you can remember. So must you ditch the ingrained behaviour? If not, at least be aware of the impression you’re making.


How Nervous Habits Develop

It starts with something innocent enough. Like quietly tapping your feet to a happy tune. Biting off a mere slice of your nail because it’s uneven. Because these types of actions give you comfort, you’re likely to repeat them.

Given time and recurrences, a habit can start to form. It is, after all, self-soothing. Can be done almost anywhere. And distracts you from stress or boredom. Also it becomes so natural you forget it might seem odd to others.

Some of these behaviours are very common in the workplace. Here’s how fellow employees might perceive them differently than you do – especially at meetings or in open office settings.


Limbs That Love To Move

It can be distracting when you’re constantly in motion. Drumming your fingers on the desktop as you imagine a favourite song playing. Bouncing those restless legs up and down to release excess energy. And when was the last time you sat up straight and stopped fidgeting your body?

All of this body language can be viewed as character deficits. It looks like you have uncontrolled anxiety. You’re bored and can’t wait to get out of there. At worst it could mirror substance abuse.


Noticeable Vocalizations

Chomp, chomp! Ah, the joys of chewing gum and blowing bubbles. You may not be aware it’s one of the most annoying traits of a coworker. Hardly makes you look classy either.

A less obnoxious tendency is to hum (or sing) aloud. Possibly you’re blissful and can’t supress the music within. Or to you your voice sounds like a choir accompanying an orchestra. Too bad most people are off-tune. And the mangling of a song’s words? Embarrassing.

At least you’re not always muttering aloud to yourself. Tough that’s how some people process information effectively, nowadays you’d better have a Bluetooth speaker in-ear or be thought of as, well, eccentric.


Oral Fixations

The mouth is notorious for making you look questionable. Nail biting is less a sign of healthy grooming as it is an anxiety signal. Plus it’s gruesome to see how people dispose of the slivers. Frequent lip biting and cheek chewing can also telegraph distress.

Worse is putting objects into your oral cavity. Ever found yourself idly nibbling the tip of a pen? Never mind how unhygienic that is. The image it conveys of you is rather un-adult.


Other Kinetic Actions

It can clear your head to doodle or sketch at an important presentation. Art is good for the soul. Yet your boss might disapprove, wondering if you’ve completely tuned out. As for hair touching and twirling, it may come off as compulsive. Start breaking or pulling out follicles and you could have trichotillomania.

Additional movements that are jerkily conspicuous? Continually checking for messages on your mobile could indicate a device addiction. Knuckle cracking, if you can’t help it, creeps people out and promotes arthritis.

You can snap your elastic bands, squish a rubber ball, or pace the hallway to concentrate. If this clears your head and increases productivity, keep doing it. Know, however, that some folk will think you peculiar. Consider forewarning your boss not to worry. 


Nervous habits are mostly harmless. It’s not until they interfere with your functioning, or signs arise that others are put off, that it’s time to hit the kill switch.