Today’s an odd one and, perhaps, a gross one, so let me apologize in advance.
Anyone who’s ever roomed with me or shared a train compartment with me or sat next to me when we were watching television knows that I’m not only a hard-core nail chewer, I’m a particularly noisy one as well and have a repertoire of slurps, smacks and squeaks that, oddly, do more to annoy than to entertain. One friend reportedly kept telling herself “He doesn’t know he’s doing it. He doesn’t know he’s doing it. He doesn’t know he’s doing it.” during a long train ride to keep from, well, she never actually said what she’d have done if I’d known I was doing it. (Which is not a very comforting thought now that I think about it.)
At least I was that way until December 3rd of last year.
Along with establishing what I hope is a good habit–posting here every day–I’ve also been working on getting rid of a couple bad habits (partly to give myself something to write about). Inspired by the stories of a couple students of Leo Babauta of the often useful and interesting, occasionally annoying and pompous website ZenHabits, I decided to focus on curing one of my longest running bad habits, gnawing my fingernails bloody.
This was not my first attempt. I’d tried everything from slapping my fingers when I caught myself chewing, to slathering bitter chemicals all over them to slowly poison myself and stop once and for all forever. Nothing worked–especially, thank goodness, the slow poisoning.
However, on December 3rd, for reasons I still can’t fully explain, I managed to make the new habit stick. I started practicing deliberate breaths whenever I caught myself engaging in autocannibalism. I’d inhale for five seconds, hold the breath for five, exhale all the air in five seconds (or so) and hold for five seconds; and then do that two more times.
Somehow it worked. It also let me be more aware of when I got that urge to gnaw, so to speak. (Not surprisingly, the internet, boredom and time-wasting were usually involved as much as stress.) I’ve slipped a couple times but not more than that. As near as I can tell, the deliberate breaths act as a kind of pause. Once I’ve got my own attention, so to speak, I can get back to work, or get back to being lazy without snacking on my eponychium. (Yeah, I looked it up. So what?)
I’m now approaching three months and want to move on to attempting to cure other bad habits. Next is, well, I’ll put that off for now and tell you about it another time, if I ever get around to it.