Stop biting your nails with these 8 ways based on the latest psychological research on habit change.
The bad habit of biting your nails is much more common than you might think.
Some studies have found about one-quarter of children bite their nails habitually (Ghanizadeh & Shekoohi, 2011), others say it may peak at almost 45 percent in adolescence (Peterson et al., 1994).
More surprisingly, the prevalence of biting nails amongst adults may be just as high, with some estimates at 50 percent (Hansen et al., 1990).
Here’s my 8-step guide on how to stop biting your nails based on the psychological research:
1. Motivation to stop biting nails
It might seem redundant to say, but any change, including to stop biting your nails has to be desired, really desired.
And for such a simple behaviour, biting your nails is surprisingly hard to quit, perhaps partly because it doesn’t seem that big a deal and our hands are always with us.
This is especially a problem if you are trying to change someone else’s behaviour.
One method for boosting motivation to stop biting nails is to think carefully about the positive aspects of changing the habit, for example attractive looking nails and a sense of accomplishment.
Also, make the negative aspects of nail-biting as dramatic as possible in your mind.
If you tend to think it’s no big deal then you’re unlikely to make the change.
In addition, you can try mental contrasting, which has been backed by psychological research on habit change.
2. Suppressing nail biting does not work
It doesn’t matter if it’s you or your child that you’re trying to change, suppression does not work.
Punishing a child for nail biting is a bad move.
They will know it’s a way to attract attention and they will use it.
The same is true when changing your own habit of nail biting.
Trying to tell your unconscious to stop doing something is like trying to tell a child.
It reacts childishly by doing the complete opposite.
Here’s the technical explanation for why thought suppression is counter-productive.
3. Replace nail biting with another habit
One of the keys to habit change is developing a new, good (or at least neutral) response that can compete with the old, bad habit.
The best types are ones that are incompatible with your old habit.
So, for biting your nails you could try:
- chewing gum,
- putting your hands in your pockets,
- twiddling your thumbs,
- playing with a ball or an elastic band,
- clasping your hands together,
- eating a carrot,
- or clipping or filing them instead.
4. Visual reminders to stop nail biting
If you keep your nails clipped short then there is less temptation to bite them.
Some people recommend having a manicure because the money spent, along with how much better your nails look, will deter you from biting them.
You could also paint your nails a bright colour as a reminder, although most men seem to find this look difficult to pull off—I can’t imagine why.
Another method is to wear something around your wrist, like a bracelet or elastic band, to remind you of your goal.
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