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24 Mar 2017

So I read this book about The Power of Habits, and something just clicked. I’ve always understood how important habits are to me, but recently haven’t really put enough effort into breaking the bad ones. For example biting my nails, the high of receiving notifications (breaking my focus), and not getting into the rhythm of exercising.

All these are really import to me so I’ll try and make a list of good and bad habits I’m trying to install and trying to break.

Biting my nails I’ve always been a bit fidgety. I still remember starting to bit my nails. I watched my father do the same thing, and didn’t really understand the appeal. So I tried biting my nails and it slowly became a habit. I have always been quite stubborn, and that lead me to believed I could easily break the habit quite easily through sheer power of will. I would for example never sleep in a car or stop a movie midway, and because I said so I did just that. Unfortunately, with nail biting, saying I would quit would sometimes entail semantics. Like chewing the skin around the nails instead of the nails themselves. When my father tried to stop biting his nails he used the bad tasting nail polish, and so he’d put it on me too. That would only make things worse for me since I took that as a challenge which meant that I was proud of making it through the nail polish without breaking the habit. Once I heard that the nail polish was only to work as a reminder I quit in an instance because the feel of accomplishment had shifted toward breaking the habit. The point is I didn’t really need the nail polish for breaking the habit because the real stimulus was overcoming a challenge. That’s what really motivates me. The clearest example was when my father would tell me that I couldn’t possibly stop biting my nails, so I did just that to prove him wrong.

When I quit I would always fall back into the state of starting again when I got a hang nail or was playing the piano. Playing the piano meant that I had to keep my nails short, and when I didn’t have access to nail clippers I would sometimes bit them. This would trigger the habit all over again. Since the nails wouldn’t be smooth after biting them, stroking the uneven top of them with my other fingers would trigger the crave biting them again. This was also a vicious circle of repetition since the more you bite your nails -> the weaker they become -> the more likely it would be for an uneven top -> the more likely you were to trigger the craving. I didn’t really understand this until I saw a picture of how biting your nails and using clippers left the top of the nails.

Even though I understood the problem I didn’t really have a solution to fixing it, and didn’t really see it as a problem I was focused on solving. Recently though I worked at a job where a coworker urged me to stop it and even brought the bad tasting nail polish back. The major difference was not the nail polish though because that, by itself, does not kill the craving. What killed the craving was that I had access to his nail clippers. That resulted in being able to smooth off the tops of my nails even after biting my nail a little. Because the habit is so ingrained that it’s hard to stop yourself from doing it, so you sometimes don’t notice. When that person quite, I started biting my nails all over again like clockwork. The habit just gets stuck in your head and as soon as you can’t kill the craving you start again.

After reading The Power of Habit I understand that habits are stored away in your head and don’t really go away. They have a “cue” (uneven surface), a “craving” (for an even surface), a “routine” (biting your nails), and a “reward” (more even surface/sometimes you don’t reap the benefits though so you feel you have to bite more creating a vicious circle). Even though it may be hard to break a habit since it can always be triggered again, especially under stressful situations, you can instead alter the routine while keeping the same “cue” and “reward”.

In my case the solution is simple. Switch the routine of biting out for a routine of using nail clippers. This results in a smoother surface, and won’t trigger your craving as often. I also have positive feedback when I can show people that my nails are in good shape. This improves my motivation similar to how support groups and team spirit on sports teams work as a motivating factor.

Now we’ll just have to see whether I can keep strong.