Wow, most people have the opposite problem and knit much too tight!
If you want to change any of your habits, you must concentrate on them. Eventually the pathways in your brain that you have made by concentrating will become the normal firing pattern for that particular activity. Knitty.com had an article a while back about how to loosen up your knitting and it advocated this approach. I suggest the same for getting it a little snugger.
Of course, the only reason I suggest this is because you mention the hand pain with the smaller needles. Otherwise I would have told you to just use smaller needles as well.
I'm a boy, by the way.
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