Nail Biting: Or how I quit a 30+ year habit by accident

Willpower becomes a habit by choosing a behavior ahead of time and then following the routine when the inflection point arrives. -Charles Duhhig-


Hand modelling agents- hold your horses. No, you can’t all book me. I don’t sell these gorgeous hands for just anything….

Accepted: the fact that my hands are totally not my best feature. My feet however? Totally cute and normal.

Moving on.

I’ve worked in retail since the age of 15. I’ve always had my hands in the public and I have, for the most part, always been ashamed of them. You know it’s bad when someone, upon seeing your mangled fingers, asks “What happened?” . As if only a terrible accident or birth defect could cause such atrocities. “Um, I’m an anxious person?” was the only simple answer I could come up with.   “Well you should stop, that looks really bad!! “. Yes, thank you so much for that valuable insight sir!  I thought it was really amazing to have open sores that burn whenever I squeeze a lemon, I call it my gangrene. Sign here and here please, enjoy your stay!

I went through better phases over the last 5 years, realizing that if my hands were perfectly manicured, I would less likely disfigure them. But then something (life) would happen and I forgot to get the manicure and just fall into the bad habit again.

When I decided to expand my morning routine into an evening routine, I couldn’t figure out what action to implement. And I looked at my night table and decided to apply my all time favorite vitamin e gel to my cuticles every night. I didn’t have the intention to fix my cuticle issues, but I knew if I wanted my nigh time routine to stick I had to chose something that was familiar to me. This gel is what my dad uses to fix his finger cracks and it’s essentially bottled gold in my mind. It can fix any scar in like 2 days and it’s my go-to remedy when the kids cut themselves or scab knees. I use it was lip balm, and on my finger wounds to speed up the healing.

So every night for the last 3 weeks, I’ve put on my mumu, brushed my teeth, sprayed my face with night time spray and applied my vitamin e gel. The results? Brand new cuticles. NO MORE GANGRENE. And since I look at my hands and they are impeccable, I don’t even feel the urge to pick at my cuticles.  SUCCESS!

I took a bad habit and instead of trying to quit it, I removed it by installing a new good habit. And that my friends, is the entire argument made in this sucker:


I stole this book from my mother in law’s bookcase a few weeks back and polished it off on the plane ride to Edmonton. It was a fascinating and easy read, a great addition to your non-fiction summer reading list. Incidentally, it also explores the habit of a chronic nail biter, and you know I cried a little when I read that part.

Habits (good and bad) work on the following cycle:

power of habitThere is a CUE

There is a ROUTINE

There is a REWARD

So for me, THE CUE  for my nail chewing was usually sitting still (watching tv, sitting in the car, sitting during one of our epic family meetings).

THE ROUTINE was running my index along the sides of my fingers to find hang nails and stubby fleshy bits.

THE REWARD was the inflection of pain and the removal of that hanging bit (sounds psychopathic, I know).

Anyways, the book confirmed EVERYTHING that I was either struggling with in my morning routine (the difficulty in doing both meditation AND exercise)  and consequently why my evening routine was so successful.

My next project is to eliminate the thoughtless eating that happens between 4-7pm, that time of the day where you will likely find me eating cold quesadillas, or chicken fingers off the cookie sheet. The cue is simple: HUNGER from not having proper lunches when I’m on the road. The routine is SHOVE FOOD IN MOUTH QUICKLY WHILE STANDING AT THE COUNTER, the reward is YUM!

I’ll keep you updated!



3 thoughts on “Nail Biting: Or how I quit a 30+ year habit by accident

  1. I love that book! I really liked the idea of keystone habits. Loving your posts Emmeline, had strawberries in my salad yesterday…was going to attempt grilling peaches but not ripe enough. Hope you had a great trip!

    1. I loved loved loved it- I think everyone should read it!
      Thanks Danielle! I feel like the posts are extensions of some of our conversations post school! Hope the family is going well 🙂
      And I totally need evening meal inspirations! Got anything?

      1. I know I miss seeing you outside the school!
        I listened to a few of the Lively podcasts and enjoyed them. I love the idea of the miracle morning. Although I may need to reign in my affirmations as I planned to accomplish so much with them…then the children woke up…..and you know what happened to all my grandiose plans! My evening meal creativity is at an all time low. I have been enjoying Zaatar and Sumac (from Akhavan) spices on everything – hummus, tomato/cucumber salad etc. I also am going to make up a batch of veggie pate today.
        Hope to see you sometime this summer!

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