I can’t remember a time when I didn’t bite my nails. I bit my nails with such frequency that if it was in fact a nervous habit, I must have been nervous all the time. I bit my nails to help me think, to ward off boredom, to help me fall asleep, to help me when I was in nerve-wracking social situations…any time, any place. The problem with having nail biting as a habit is that your mouth and nails are always with you. Of course, my nail biting didn’t bother me for the first eighteen or so years of my life, and I thought I would go to my grave a nail biter.
Then again, things change. Two years ago I started getting tonsil stones, and my mom’s off-handed comment that maybe it had something to do with my nail biting was enough to make me stop cold turkey. Well, almost cold turkey. I had quit once or twice before, with limited success. The idea of putting foul-tasting substances on my nails didn’t appeal to me, and so I decided that instead, I would pamper my nails. I bought a six-sided nail buffer, that made my nails glossy and so lovely that biting them no longer held any appeal. I bought nail polishes in all colors, and even used base coats and top coats and cuticle scrubs to keep them pristine. Quitting my bad habit meant, in some ways, replacing a bad habit with a less-bad habit. My nails started taking quite a long time to take care of on a weekly basis, and while I enjoyed the final product, the process was tedious.
Quitting a bad habit sometimes means finding a new habit that will prevent you from engaging in the previous habit. That’s what worked for me. But quitting bad habits is an intensely personal process, and it can’t necessarily be forced through external means. Sure, my tonsil stones were a wake-up call for me to change, but it also had a lot to do with the place I was at in my life. As a young professional, I didn’t want to be biting my nails in front of my boss or when meeting a client or going to job interviews. I wanted my nails to convey maturity.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve totally stopped biting my nails. If I’m out in public and I chip a nail, all bets are off. I can’t handle ragged edges, and I haven’t quite reached a stage where I carry a nail file, so I do resort to biting. Sometimes, in times of particularly high stress, my nails are the first casualty. But beating a bad habit means that you simply get rid of it as a habit, not necessarily as something that you never, ever do.
What’s your best advice for someone looking to break a bad habit?