A month and a half ago, I stumbled across this link on changing habits, specifically with respect to nail-biting. I figured I'd give it a try, since I've been a lifelong nail-biter and absolutely nothing has gotten me to stop for more than a week or two at a time. I didn't bite my nails at all the week that Kit was born, so I knew it wasn't a stress response; it was something I could be distracted from, or too busy to do. Habit reversal training seemed like a good match for that.
I identified my nail-biting trigger: rough skin, corners, bits that stick out or catch or feel not-neat. I dug back in my brain for the self-observation techniques I learned from Headspace and practiced observing myself as I noticed the roughness and felt the urge to gnaw it smooth. I redirected the urge into filing or moisturizing, or just sat there with it and experienced the feeling without judgment. I treated it the way I treat Kit trying to punch themself in the eye: "I see that you want to do that. I'm not going to let you do that. I will hold your hands as gently as I can while not letting you use them that way."
Within a month I'd entirely stopped biting my nails. Entirely. I wasn't even using my thumbnails as sacrifice nails. The urge itself is gone. Now I can put my fingers in my mouth or fidget with my nails and not want to bite them.
Two weeks ago I got a manicure, with beautiful iridescent beetle-wing-green nail polish. A week ago I got another one because I use my hands all the time and no nail polish is going to last for long--but I didn't gnaw any of it off. As I type this entry, my nails click on the keys. This is a very annoying feeling, so I'm going to get another manicure either tomorrow or Friday and get them filed a little shorter this time. I can see a near future in which I become one of those people with a fancy nail polish collection, though I will always prefer having someone else do my nails to doing them myself. emilytheslayer has promised to put nail wraps on me at Readercon, and I might try making my own nail wraps with nail polish or origami paper, as it seems easier than painting directly onto my nails (which I am spectacularly bad at).
I'm very lucky that my nails grow very fast and are thick and strong and healthy. If my nail beds weren't so short, you'd never know that I used to bite them. I hope that if I leave them just a little longer than I actually want them, over time the nail beds will regrow--though it's hard to know whether that can even happen after 30 years of biting.
Meanwhile, on the front of forming a new habit rather than breaking an old one, I've flossed my teeth every single night for almost 28 weeks, with the exception of the night X was in labor. That one I did by keeping a tally in dry erase marker on the bathroom wall--dry erase markers write very well on shiny white tile--and telling myself that if I missed a night I'd have to erase my entire progress and start over. My goal was absolute compliance. (I feel entirely justified in giving myself a pass on the single exception; it was an exceptional night.) This is a pretty hard-line approach, but I'd previously tried simply tracking my progress as a positive incentive and it wasn't quite effective enough; it had worked for getting me into a twice-a-day brushing habit, but flossing eluded me. Obviously, the longer my streak went, the less I wanted to break it, and the combination of increased practice and increased incentive was very powerful. After meeting my initial goal of 26 weeks I stopped keeping the tally, but the habit appears to have stayed. It's now just a thing I do.
It feels really good to be the sort of person who works on self-improvement at age 37, and is successful. I'm glad I didn't give up on myself. And I'm really looking forward to bragging at my dental check-up on Friday. :)