Breaking bad habits

May 8th, 2008

I can't stop biting my nails.

It's not a habit I've always had. In fact, it's something that started fairly recently. Probably when I got my first full-time job. Or when I started repaying my student loans. In any case, I'm a nail-biter and I hate it.

Breaking bad habits isn't easy. Ask anyone who's tried to quit smoking or drinking caffeine. Even though my fingernails don't contain any highly addictive substance — like nicotine — the act of doing it is addictive in itself.

I'm no stranger to bad habits. When I was growing up, I used to wrinkle my nose — always had sniffles, thanks to allergies — and, at one point, couldn't stop doing it. It was like a compulsion.

A story in yesterday's New York Times said old habits are "worn into the hippocampus" where "they're there to stay."

But there's hope!

Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try — the more we step outside our comfort zone — the more inherently creative we become, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

So instead of biting my nails when I'm stressed — or bored — maybe I should come up with a new habit that satisfies that need. Something more productive, more helpful. I mean, biting nails does nothing but make my hands look terrible. (No hope for a hand modeling contact for me!) So looking for a substitute sounds like a good plan. At least it's a plan.

So I'm going to try, for the next two weeks, to NOT bite my nails. Wish me luck!

Anyone got habits they want to break? Anyone successful at breaking a bad habit? Or anyone got plans to start a new habit?

35 Responses to “Breaking bad habits”

  1. islandgirl in nc:

    I don't smoke, drink or bite my nails. My worst habit is drinking coffee. Honestly, I did not start drinking coffee until I was around 23 or so. One of my coworkers encouraged me to take that first drink and I was hooked. The habit I most hate about myself is saying things like "ah" or "uhm" when I talk in front of a meeting. I cannot figure out how to break that one no matter how much I try. Any ideas?

  2. anklebiters:

    The funny thing is, I only drink a cup of coffee at work....I don't drink it at home or when eating out. My nail biting is due to my stress level I think..I can go weeks on end without even thinking about biting my nails, then all of a sudden, one is gnawed on, then two, three...currently 4 out of 10 is OK...I must be stressing out !!

  3. Ron:

    I never developed the habit of drinking coffee. I see too many people tied to the coffee pot. I've given up all forms of beverages and just drink tap water, sometimes with ice. If I go to a Chinese restaurant, I'll drink tea.

    I recently looked at the nutritional information for an item I was eating at McDonalds, and found that it had 34% of the daily fat intake. I've sharply curtailed my intake of "fast foods". For breakfast, I make it intentional to eat oatmeal, as it absorbs and eliminates cholesterol. So, it is possible to eliminate old, unproductive habits and replace them with more useful habits.

    Soon on the list is leaving the car home and walking to work.....again.

  4. eMH:

    I have a bad habit of fidgeting when conducting important business talks. Guess its more because I'm nervous but even when I'm not I still catch myself doing extra movements when I should just be sitting still. As a kid I used to have bad habits involving snot and my clothes, which I won't get into. Hope I grow out of my bad habits now as I did then.

  5. 4TUN8:

    Breaking a habit is more of a choice... you have to really want to do it otherwise it won't work... i remeber back int '79 the cigarettes were $1.35 a pack and rising... i use to get my cigs from a bensonand hedges dealer guy... he used to give me those sample carton of cigs... he changed jobs so i was out of a source... didn't want to pay the price (military was paying $1.80 a carton.. needless to say, i chose to cold turkey so new years 1980 , i haven't touched a cig. i love to smoke but won't pay the price..

  6. Manoa:

    drinking starbucks.......everyday. and everday i tell myself that this is going to be my last cup. liquid crack in a cup i tell ya!
    also talking with my hands. i think thats with me for life though.......too podagee for me to stop.

  7. franksabunch:

    Voting democrat!

  8. JuSaMee:

    i bite my nails...but besides that the badder of my bad habits i wanna break is snacking. i often find that i snack even when i'm not hungry. i just i'm working on asking myself before i actually grab something to eat, "are you really hungry, or do you just want to munch on something?" last night i was successful and as i thought about it, i realized i wasn't hungry, but bored. i find it so funny how many of us just recently started our bad i never really drank soda, but then about 3 years ago ordered a diet pepsi and was hooked!! i felt like i needed it to get through the day. i thought it was the caffeine, but i've since switched to caffeine free and while i don't drink one EVERYDAY, i still drink it pretty often. i think its my brain...not functioning right! LoL!!

  9. PaNiNi:

    It supposedly takes 21 days to break a habit...addiction is a different story.

  10. M:

    I quit smoking and drinking coffee many years ago. I use to drink soda everyday and I stop doing that long time ago too. Now as I grow old, I have white hairs popping up and I find myself trying to plink them out which is endless so I need to just accept it.

  11. MoOgooGuypAN:

    My habit is beer drinking and recently smoking cigars. I don't think I ready to stop them yet. I used to chew tobacco for a number of years and quit over a year ago. It was extremely hard. The secret is to have a mind set to quit. Once you put your mind to it, you just have to stick to the plan and find other things to break the habit. I chewed a whole lot of gum, ate lollipops and excerised to keep me busy. It worked.

  12. Coconut Willy:

    Take a look at the World Wide Ed blog the other day. He has a picture of his nails. Ugh! That should make you stop.

  13. Chicken Grease:

    Cat -- just pretend there is dudu underneath your fingernails, heh. You'll stop. Just a suggestion.

    The only bad habit I can think of, for I, is indulgence while eating. Leaving the fat on steak. Overflowing the sour cream on the potato (which I don't eat often).

    I figure, if you're living your life: 1) doing well at work and 2) not p*ssing off family and friends, why get rid of any habits. We all have our little quirks and idiosyncrasies.

    I think when ladies (well, not old ladies) bite their fingernails, it's cute. Chicken Grease's GF # 2 used to do that.

  14. Chicken Grease:

    Oh, by the way, franksabunch, there's another alternative for the presidential election if you don't wish to vote for McCain. Apparently, Cobra Commander's running for office, too:

    TV ad:

    Yes, we shall!

  15. HawaiianKiko:

    in response to:


    May 8th, 2008 at 4:46 am
    I never developed the habit of drinking coffee. I see too many people tied to the coffee pot. I’ve given up all forms of beverages and just drink tap water, sometimes with ice. If I go to a Chinese restaurant, I’ll drink tea.

    I recently looked at the nutritional information for an item I was eating at McDonalds, and found that it had 34% of the daily fat intake.

    go to the public library and check out this book...."FAST FOOD NATION by Eric Schlosser" will find some interesting facts that will surprise you.....

  16. KPD:

    To eMH,
    Your fidgeting ("extra movements") may not be such a bad habit ... BURNS MORE CALORIES- fo' real! - it all adds up over time!

  17. Matt the Cat:

    If it makes you happy, just do it. Its not illegal and it doesnt hurt anyone.

  18. snow:

    My bad habits that I'd Iike to break: late night snacking and going to sleep late! They go hand in hand and it would make life a little easier if I went to sleep earlier (would wake up earlier, not be as tired). But, I know you have to be committed and willing to change for it to happen - guess I'm not at that point yet!! Actually, maybe what I need to do is break my addiction to late night TV first!!

  19. opso:

    I watch toooo much K-Dramas. :shock:

  20. King Katonk:

    Here’s one for you. Since I play fingerstyle jazz guitar I bite my nails on my left hand and grow them out on my right. I’ve been doing this since I was fifteen. If I place my hands side by side you would think they were from two different people. Yeah, I’ve gotten my share of weird looks from folks, especially ex-girlfriends as well as the current wife. They all tell me to do one or the other, either keep my nails short or grow them out. Either way it would totally screw up the way I play guitar. And music is much sweeter than nagging.

  21. kako mochi:

    i work w/money all day, and one of my ex-co-workers bit his nails all the time - in between custormers, in our morning meetings, etc . . . it's pretty gross, considering that money is like one of the dirtiest things people handle on a daily basis.

    i think my only bad habit is the drinking . . . but i don't drink every day/night and i never drink by myself!! oh, and maybe the swearing!


  22. myama99:

    Good luck Cat!!

    I'm a big nail bitter. I stopped for a while when I started chewing on my pens whenever I nervous (ok that didn't solve the problem but at least my nails looked better). If you find something that works pass it along

  23. Annie:

    I go back to speaking with a pidgin accent when really nervous ...

  24. Rodney:

    Try googling: stop biting nails

    There's a whole slew of information on it.

  25. Stos:

    It takes 21 days to break a habit and 21 days to start one. Just get through the first 3 weeks and you're there. Mark Twain said: "It's easy to quit smoking; I've done it a thousand times."

    Most smokers, drinkers, and overeaters can identify with that.

    Regarding fingernails, I only bite at work or thinking about work. Unfortunately, that is a huge chunk of time, but I always come back from vacations with a great set of nails - usually lasts 'til about 11am that first Monday back.

    I once heard and have found to be true that the most certain indicator of the current state of the U.S. economy is the condition of the fingernails of the average office worker.

  26. hemajang:

    Bad habit? I slouch. I'm like jelly when sitting on a chair or sofa. I end up practically lying down on a seat. I try to sit up straight but unconsciously will slide after a while. My position while watching a dvd is almost prone on the sofa with feet on the coffee table. Sometimes remote don't work because feet is in the way.

  27. Ray:

    In response to:

    # islandgirl in nc:
    May 8th, 2008 at 3:05 am
    "The habit I most hate about myself is saying things like “ah” or “uhm” when I talk in front of a meeting. I cannot figure out how to break that one no matter how much I try. Any ideas?"

    Toastmasters helped me take care of the "ah or "uhm" habit pretty quickly!
    My worst habit is watching too much TV!

  28. kimodakine:

    I quit smoking 4 packs of Winstons a day when my financee nicely asked me to quit the habit. Her influence was stronger than the addiction, fortunately.

    My habit of downloading nekked pictures from the Internet was broken by Uncle Sam, who threw me into federal prison.

    There you go. I don't recommend resorting to the prison method of busting a bad habit, but it works.

  29. Ed:

    This worked for daughter and grandau when they stopped biting nails. Both had artificial nails applied...guess the taste is different.

  30. anklebiters:

    # islandgirl in nc:
    May 8th, 2008 at 3:05 am
    “The habit I most hate about myself is saying things like “ah” or “uhm” when I talk in front of a meeting. I cannot figure out how to break that one no matter how much I try. Any ideas?”

    You know, continuing to that know, it really irks me, you know, when every sentence spoken by someone, you know, is peppered with 'you know'. I cringed when listening to any of Michelle Wie's interviews. How do you break someone of that habit??

  31. wicked:

    Me? It's nail biting. But recently I've discovered the pleasures of getting a pretty pedicure. I might be tempted to get a matching manicure. That appeal might put a stop to this 30 or so year habit.

    Other than that, I don't drink coffee or smoke, or shop too much either. Perhaps watching too much TV is my other vice. As someone else mentioned, I probably do this because I'm just bored and not because there is something I want to see on the tube.


  32. RT:

    Cat there's a paint you can buy, like nail polish for stopping to bite. It must taste bad i don't know what's in it but it's definitely worth a try. That or hynosis. do a seach on the health impacts of nail biting, it's pretty shocking, bacteria, viruses, even parasites like intestinal worms. and common cold viruses also that's why they say to wash your hands several times a day. You can do it!!

  33. TwoFish:

    How bad do you want to stop biting?

    Figure out what it is that triggers you to bite. Boredom, anxiety, etc. If you really want to try to stop it by putting a bandage on it, instead of going to the source, then try acrylics, since they are applied over your nails, and adhere. The cost of maintenance, plus the hard shell, I suspect, would be some deterrent.

    Hoof makes the Stop Bite product, which is painted on like Sally Hansen's Hard As Nails. However, it is peeled off easily like nailpolish. I tried this for my kid, and now I'm dealing with a figety habit (which was already there), nail biting after peeling the Stop Bite by Hoof off, which then occasionally proceeds to peeling the nails when they start to grow. All this Stop Bite did was teach him that there are ways around the obstacles, and if tenacious enough, one can get to the item they want (fingernails, in this case).

  34. Francesco Sinibaldi:

    I'm lazy.

    When the night
    comes back
    telling a story, I'm
    lazy: beautiful
    sounds of a primitive
    faith appear in
    my mind, and even
    that arrow describes,
    in a moment, the
    slippery darkness
    of a tender caprice,
    there, where a
    light fades away......

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  35. Eric:

    fingerstyle guitar