My name is Crystal, and I’m a nail biter. It’s been 46 days since I quit nail biting, and I’m holding strong. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you (others of you out there, you are now glued to the screen wondering how I did it). Because let’s face it, this can be a tough habit to kick. I know first hand. I’ve been trying (unsuccessfully) for 38 years to pull that off, and feeling frustrated that whole time. This is even more ironic because I’m a Health Psychologist. I KNOW how to do this (at least 57 different ways). But it’s that whole physician-heal-thyself, thing. It just never works out the way you think it’s going to when you’re working on yourself.
I don’t know that I ever really started biting my nails. I just always have. And when I say always, I mean from my earliest memory, which probably means since I had fingernails to bite. I’d go through phases here and there where it would ease off, but no matter how many different strategies I tried – I always ended up back where I’d started with nails weak, broken and nibbled off.
And I tried everything over the years to quit nail biting. Dandelion juice nail polish? Check. Hypnosis? Check. Neurolinguistic Programming? Check. Setting rewards for myself if I could grow my nails out? Check. All kinds of weird and wonderful ideas that always worked for a little while but never stuck beyond the 2-3 week mark.
I even tried getting fake nails once a few years ago, but that was an epic fail. It turned out to be a pretty unpleasant experience, painful to get them put on, painful when a couple broke off within a week of getting them done, and even more painful to have them removed (totally NOT how it’s supposed to be BTW, but I didn’t know enough to know that anything was amiss since I’d never had it done before). Turned out that bad experience was due to the person who actually knew how to do it being called away and someone trying to cover for her. Not a good situation all around.
And after that, I just kind of gave up on the whole idea.
Until my birthday rolled around this year. What changed? you may be wondering. Well, nothing on the outside. I just got to the point where I’d had enough. That line in the sand, that moment when I looked at my hands on the keyboard – like I do all day, every day – and thought ENOUGH. This is ridiculous. I’m a grown-ass woman of 38 years old, who runs a successful company, manages a household, helped raise a really awesome kid, and does some seriously cool creative stuff. I can do things like decide to write a book and it gets done simply because I decide to do it. And I can’t do this?!? WTF??!?
Yeah – ridiculous, right? There is NOTHING else I have been trying to do for 38 years. And failing at. It’s just not how I roll. I would never give up on anything else that I wanted, so why this? That will have to be a topic for another day, since I’m still pondering. What matters is that I sat myself down, and did a little thinking. I asked myself:
Why did I want to quit nail biting?
To prove to myself that I can. That’s a big one. Also, because I spend most of my day, every day, at the computer and I see my hands either directly, or indirectly out of the corner of my eye pretty much all day every day. Which means that all day, every day I’m confronted with something I’m NOT doing. Something I feel like I’ve been failing at. NOT a message that I want in my face all the time.
What would quitting nail biting do for me?
Definitely, I would feel more like the professional that I am. Like someone who is in direct control over her choices, and her life. Like someone who is polished, and calm, and values all the parts of her body. Even fingernails. Especially fingernails. I would know that I really could do ANYthing I set my mind to.
When I tried to quit biting my nails before, what were the failure points?
My nails were never very thick or very strong. So even if I didn’t bite them, they would often just break and then it would drive me crazy that they were different lengths and then suddenly they were all the same length. Which was gone.
Or I’d get absorbed in what I was working on (writing or studying or puzzling out some tech problem for a project) and then suddenly realize, no more nails. And then I’d start the quitting cycle all over again. And again. And again.
What did I know about behaviour change that could help me kick the nail biting?
Sometimes you can’t change the behaviours without changing the physical reality that goes with them. For example, if you want to spend more time standing then you can set yourself up with a standing desk. Then you can’t sit. So you don’t. And eventually, standing becomes the habit. Not because you made a choice each time you approached your desk. But because you arranged it so it wasn’t a choice. Control the environment, and change the behaviour.
How does that relate to me and the nails situation? Well, I always promised myself that when I grew my nails I’d go and get a manicure. But what if I did that the other way around? Sure, there wasn’t enough to work with at the start but I knew that there were options for getting tips put on at first until my own nails grew out. And if I got a gel polish manicure, that would toughen them up so that they wouldn’t break. AND if I got them a fun, bright colour then it would constantly call my attention to the fact that my nails were pretty, and polished and fun and make me feel good every moment that I wasn’t biting them.
So I switched the feedback loop from negative to positive. And guess what? It’s working.
I went with purple the first time, and had fake tips to get it long enough that there was something to polish and look nice. And then when I went back a few weeks later I got blue, and by that point it was almost all my own nails underneath the polish. Next time, I’ll probably try a different colour – and it’ll be all my own nails.
I have found the ritual and the artistry displayed by the person doing the painting, and spending the money on having it done, and spending the time to make the appointment and going to get it done, all contributes to the fact that I’m making a statement to myself and to others that this matters to me. That I am making a positive choice for myself, and I’m committing to and following through on that commitment.
What seems like a small thing, really isn’t. And it’s interesting to see how that is rippling out to other areas of my life.This week I'm changing direction. Because #iamworthit Click To Tweet
I would encourage you, if you’re thinking about breaking a habit, to ask yourself the four questions, and then see if there’s anything in your environment you can change to help break that habit.
- Why do you want to quit?
- What would quitting do for you?
- When you tried to quit before, what were the failure points?
- What do know about yourself, and about behaviour change that could help you kick this?
Remember, you’re worth the effort.