Breaking Bad Habits

I believe that we all have bad habits that we’d like to break—knuckle cracking, overspending, excessive use of “ummm” and “like” to name a few. I’m not sure if it’s my wedding on the horizon or forthcoming year’s end, but I’ve decided to kick my life-long bad habit of biting my nails. At the risk of excessive self-disclosure, I’ve had the unpleasant habit of nail biting since I was a little girl. I imagine that this problem originally resulted from stress and anxiety, but over the years has remained habitual for no other reason than habit.

As a therapist, I know about habits, or hard to give up tendencies or practices. Some habits can be simply unpleasant or distracting, such as swearing or hair-twirling, while others such as smoking and overeating can be destructive. Nail biting might not be the most damaging habit out there, but it does have physical and emotional consequences, and I’m ready to kick it!

Most studies suggest that it takes 21 days to break a habit and I’m starting my quest right now! While it may be self-indulgent, I’m using the TK forum to share what I’ve learned about how to break my bad habit, and hoping that you can use these tips to break yours!

  • Research shows that the first step to breaking a bad habit is recognizing it in the first place. All habits happen for a reason—it is important to ask yourself “why” you engage in the habit. Bad habits are most often caused by stress and boredom—therefore understanding the underlying cause will help you to address the “need” being met by your habit.
  • Once you’ve started to answer the why, it is suggested that you find a replacement for your bad habit—find a new and healthy substitute for your habit and cut out triggers whenever possible.
  • Experts say that surrounding yourself with people who live the way you want to live will inspire and motivate you for positive change. So, join forces with somebody—hold each other accountable and celebrate in your successes.
  • Once you’re on your way, visualize yourself succeeding. Use positive self-talk, affirmations and acknowledge milestones. And more importantly, don’t give up on yourself if you fail—plan for failure. We’re humans. We make mistakes. But, it is how we respond to these mistakes that determines our course for the future. And if you fall down, give yourself a bit of time to regroup and challenge yourself to start over!

There are many studies and a lot research out there that offer suggestions and guidance. While the Social Worker in me appreciates the scholarly articles and empirical data, I also enjoy the lifestyle links that offer a more “human” perspective. Here are a few that stand out to me:

As I shared earlier, my childhood bad habit started with stress and anxiety. I will spare you all the details, but I’ve spent significant time understanding the “why’s” over the years. In preparation for my big day next Spring, I’ve been testing out “wedding nails” with each manicure. I’m often told by the manicurist that biting my nails is “not good for the health of my nails.” To be honest, this moment is bit embarrassing for me.

Manicures (and pedicures for that matter!) are a desirable activity for me—it is a time of leisure and I’m always pleased with the pretty and polished outcome! Manicures (both at a nail salon and at home) will be my replacement behavior—a much healthier alternative to nail biting. While a weekly manicure may add an extra line to my monthly budget, it’s an overall small investment to kick a bad habit.

My fiancé has been a big supporter of me kicking my habit—he provides me with encouragement and positive reinforcement, furthering my desire for success. Having a cheering squad to help you through your bad habit detox can help extremely helpful. I recognize that there will be times when the bad habit I’ve maintained for nearly 30 years will sneak up, but I also know that my motivation for breaking it is stronger.

We’ve all heard the sayings, “Old habits are hard to break” and “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But, it isn’t impossible to change behaviors. Breaking habits can be extremely difficult, but certainly not impossible. So, here’s to me, and you, and all those out there who are ready to kick bad habits! We hope you’ll share your stories with us!


6 thoughts on “Breaking Bad Habits

  1. Pauline

    I had the same habit and to combat it, I did what you outlined and started treating myself the luxury of getting manicures every other week! But, I will add that I’m on a hiatus because, while biting is bad for your nails so is the constant painting with chemicals in the polish. Mine start getting brittle and breaking after awhile. Time to start the manicures again cause my nails are stronger and I’m biting more. Constant struggle! Haha, first world problems

    1. Kristi

      I agree with you Pauline! For a while I was on a role with constant painting, but between the polish and the remover, my nails were also starting to break down. I try to let them go natural every other week (or at the least for a few days) to give them some breathing room. So far, it’s really helped me keep them in tact!


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