You’re at your desk and staring at the computer screen. No one else in the office notices you’re biting your fingernails. You chewed on your nails in high school, through college and still can’t seem to stop yourself from chomping on your digits.
Well, you’re not alone. Nail biting is one of the most common bad habits in the United States. It’s in good company with smoking, sleeping with makeup on, late-night snacking and not getting enough sleep, other habits keeping many of us from our health goals.
How does a habit form?
If you’ve heard the phrase “we are creatures of habit,” you know how true it is; we prefer the familiar. It helps us to know what to expect and how to react to the stimuli we face on a daily basis. Most experts agree that a habit takes about 30 days of repetition to form. This repetitive behavior becomes a habit once we no longer have to think about doing it.
Habits can also be formed through chemical means. In this case, the habit is an addiction. Your body develops a chemical dependency, and you might find comfort in the action itself. Addictions, like smoking, are much harder to break for this reason. Harder addictions oftentimes require professional help.
Consult a professional if you struggle with drugs, eating disorders or other self-destructive behaviors.
How do you break a habit?
Depending on the habit, the process you’ll follow to break a habit will vary, but we’ve compiled a basic list to help you get started on changing your life and freeing yourself from the habits that are hurting your health.
- Acknowledge your habits. Knowing exactly what you need to change is the first step in figuring out how to approach the problems. For example, a smoking habit requires a different strategy than a finger-biting habit because there are more factors to consider, like a nicotine addiction.
- Find someone to hold you accountable. If you really want to stop doing something, enlist a friend to be your drill sergeant. If you’re tempted to give in to your nervous habit, your friend can point it out (in a constructive manner) and help you to think twice about what you’re doing. Habits are unconscious behaviors, so by making you aware of when you start chomping on your nails or twirling your hair, you’re able to stop doing it. Effort produces results over time.
- Reward yourself. If you go a whole day without giving in, treat yourself to something healthy and enjoyable. You’ll train the reward center in your brain to recognize how good it is to not do that particular habit.
- Seek professional help. If you realize that you can’t break a habit on your own, look for a counseling center or a psychologist for help. Perhaps there’s a mental health reason for your habits.
- Replace a bad habit with a good one. Every time you want to eat a late-night snack, grab a book and a vitamin water instead. You’ll hydrate your body and increase your knowledge. If you’re tempted to sleep with your makeup on, have a box of face towelettes next to your bed. You’ll clean the makeup off your face and save your skin. Then, make sure to properly wash in the morning.
Breaking a bad habit takes time, so don’t stress if you aren’t able to stop doing it right away. Keep a daily calendar or journal of your successes and failures. One day, your habit will be gone and you’ll be able to say “I did it!”
Keep looking forward and assume that you’ll eventually succeed.
This is a post from the Feather archives. We lost all of our old content, so we’ll be reposting some of our favorite stories.