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Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Breaking habits

By Jeremy D. Wells

Carter County Times

Breaking bad habits isn’t easy. That’s why they’re bad habits. If we could give them up easily it would just be that thing we tried, decided wasn’t healthy, and didn’t do anymore.

I don’t know why we get in the habit of doing anything, much less things that aren’t good for us. That’s for someone with more education and wisdom than me to explain.

I do know it took me until after the age of 30 to stop biting my fingernails. I was finally able to do it by replacing the urge to bite them with something else. I carried a pair of nail clippers with a file on it and – whenever the compulsion to bite my nails struck – I’d file them instead. One of the things that drove me to bite my nails was probably anxiety. (I’d bite them during tense moments in a movie, while thinking over a problem, etc.) But the thing that drew my attention to my nails as that focus for my anxiety (or boredom, or whatever the trigger might be) was always something about the nail.

I’d chipped it on something, and it was uneven or jagged. It had caught on a shirt and picked a thread. I had a hangnail that I was inevitably going to make worse. They were never able to get long enough for length to be the issue, though. Because I was constantly chewing at them. It’s pretty disgusting, thinking back on it.

But the urge to fix the nail wasn’t the problem. It was just my approach. So, instead of biting, I started filing. If I had a hangnail, I’d clip it. If it was jagged, I’d smooth it. Uneven, I’d correct the shape.

Now, I don’t carry a nail file in my pocket anymore. I keep a pair at home, and in the car in case I need them. (They’re handy tools for a lot of purposes.)

By changing the habits, from biting to filing, I was finally able to address the issue with fixation.

Sort of. If I’m out somewhere and I notice an issue with a jagged nail, I’ll still worry it with a fingertip sometimes. I’ll also fix it when I get home, and back to my nail file and clippers. But I don’t need to immediately scratch that metaphorical itch anymore.

It was important I be able to initially, to build a new and healthier habit. Your teeth, after all, are always there.

Once you build that new habit, though, you’re less likely to slide back into old ones, even if you don’t have everything you need to get through at that exact moment. Or, at least, that’s how it worked for me.

There are other areas of my life I could, and probably should, apply this redirection strategy to. For instance, I’m considering opening an e-book every time I feel the urge to open social media without a specific reason for doing so. Or, if I’m at home, picking up an unread or unfinished volume from the bookcase.

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, so I’m not resolving to do that in the coming year, but I’m still going to try it.

If you’re trying to break a bad habit this year, I’m not telling you to follow my example. I’m just telling you that finding another, healthier way to scratch my itch worked for me and biting my nails.

There are some things you might need to just expunge from your life for your health, but if you have bad habits related to food, fitness, grooming, or other things that you have to do – nails continue to grow and people have to eat, after all – maybe consider finding a way to redirect.

Whatever strategy you use, I wish you success, and a healthy and happy 2023 to you all.

Contact the writer at editor@cartercountytimes.com



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