How I Finally Quit Biting My Nails

A very happy Friday to everyone. Basketball tournaments are in full swing, offering up a sweet dose of March Insanity as the NCAA tournament approaches. I highly recommend that you check out the Nevada Wolf Pack 🏀

From Nevada Sports Net

Well, the point of today’s article is of sole purpose – to talk about how I have (nearly) kicked the nastiest habit I have had for 95% of my life.

I am a person of habit, structure, “a plan,” and the associated things that come with such items – calendars, organization, bla bla bla.  That said, I have many healthy or positive habits, but of course, as with everyone, I’ve had one or two terrible ones that have stuck with me over the years…

As with all habits, consistency and repetition around activities, behaviors, and routines are typically a good thing. I swim Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, I run Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, on Tuesday we eat tacos (and at least two other days of the week), and on Sunday we catch up on board games or movies. I like structure and anticipating what is coming up for the week. I keep a pretty solid mental calendar, and attempt to put a framework about what the future may look like. Plans, excursions, training time, vacation, social adventures, and dates with my wife all make their way onto the map.

I have attempted to stop biting my nails on a number of occasions. Using nasty tasting nail coatings, tying a string around a finger, writing Post-Its to myself, carrying nail clippers EVERYWHERE I GO… the list goes on and on. It’s hard to replace a bad habit for a few reasons. One, it’s hard to kick habits that are strongly associated with the need to do something. For example, nail biting was my go to under stress, when I was deep in thought, during mindless movie or gaming session with friends, and especially dealing with anxiety such as test taking, big life decisions, or just boredom. Second, habits like that are hard to crack because creating a new habit involves two pieces – replacing the original habit, and then creating a new habit to take its place (and repeat it for 66 days to cement it in your list of habits). Note: it’s not the 21 days that everyone incorrectly assumes.

I had failed at habit replacement until one fateful day in 2019…

I was chewing on my thumbnail for no particular reason, when I felt a slight snkttt, and then discovered that a sizable piece of my tooth was now missing. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to experience in the middle of church. Anyways, I was mid job change, so of course I was in the “insurance black hole” for three more weeks, and had to bide my time waiting to be seen by the dentist. I spent the next 21 days avoiding getting my teeth anywhere near my nails (not a bad thing), and kept a nail clipper in my pocket, all while being acutely aware of my desire to bite my nails while forcing myself to avoid such a thing. This time, it was real. I was going to kick the habit this go round!

I finally made it to the dentist, at which point they assured me it was the most extremely minor tooth chip they had ever seen, mostly since I am great about taking care of my teeth (other than not flossing enough), and that they fix chips from nail biting all the time – who freaking knew???

$104 and 17 minutes later I was out of there, feeling like a new man with a fresh lease on a nail biting-less life!  It has since been five weeks since I have last bitten my nails. Thirty-five days of being “accident free,” if you will, and I’ll tell you, it’s been great! :-)

That’s all fine and dandy, you might add, but what are the takeaways? Well, great question. For me, the drastic change in habits boiled down to two things:

  1. There was a very tangible outcome from a terrible habit. I had to live with my tongue toying with the nagging chip in my tooth for three weeks. That crap will drive anyone crazy, and was a constant reminder of what I need to stop doing. This speaks back to the consistency theme I mentioned earlier. Be consistent with good habits, and regularly examine your life to remove and replace the bad habits.
  2. Second, it didn’t hurt that there was some cost involved. For decades, my habit had cost me nothing other than being gross and sometimes biting them at inopportune moments (super quiet pauses during a colleague’s presentation!), especially in the work place. Ick! What was I thinking!? So there is definitely an element of shame as well. The cost-benefit aspect of ceasing to bite my nails was very appealing. Low cost – huge benefit!

When I think of the reasons behind triathlon training and racing, they’re very similar. Consistency and keeping to a schedule (albeit not too strict) helps ingrain those habits, and allows you to build a lifestyle around pushing yourself just close enough to the edge. Also, the cost-benefit piece definitely comes into play. There’s a certain upfront investment that it takes – you need a bike, some swim gear, and running shoes (as well as a billion other nice-to-haves), but you also have to consider the opportunity cost – nights early to bed, reduced social outings, etc. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s definitely no such thing as free triathlon fitness.

These elements can also be seen very clearly in the business world, if not doubly so. Be the team member who consistently makes good on their promises, delivers kick-ass work products, is genuinely invested in the people around you, and who is there to make the team, rather than themselves, look good, and you’ve got a winner. Yeah, doing the right thing or producing work done correctly the first time takes longer, requires you to admit when you’re wrong, and isn’t easy, but the cost-benefit is a no-brainer. I’m a big fan of doing things for the right reason – because it’s the right thing to do – not because it benefits me in some way.

So I leave you with this thought as you start the weekend… think about the crummy habits in your life and how you could swap them for something that is healthy or helpful. Also consider the great habits that you have, and continue to nurture and develop those – your teeth will thank you.

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Picture credit. Picture credit 2.

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