Billions of people deal with a nail-bitinghabit at some point in their lives. Many will go to great lengthsto try to stop, employing strategies like rubbingchili peppers on their cuticles, wearing gloves all day,dipping their hands in salt, and envisioning bacteria crawlingon their fingers. And while not all of us are nail-biters, most of us do have a habitwe'd like to kick. So what's the best way to break one? Scientists define habits as behaviorsthat are performed regularly,.
And cued subconsciously in responseto certain environments, whether it be a location, time of day,or even an emotional state. They can include simple actionslike picking your hair when stressed, but also more complex practices ingrainedin daily routines, like staying up lateor brewing your coffee in the morning. If you do something frequently,without much deliberation, then it’s likely a habit. They form because at some point your brainlearns that the behavior is beneficial. Let's say after opening a stressful email,you bite your nails.
This is rewarding,as it’s enough to focus your attention, curbing your email fueled anxiety. Within your brain, positive experiencescan trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that mediatesfeelings of pleasure. Dopamine is also a driverof neuroplasticity, meaning it can changehow your neurons wire and fire. Your brain builds connectionsthat link the reward with the behavior, driving you to repeat it. It also starts associating the behaviorwith other cues, like your environment.
Eventually, all it takes is the contextof sitting at your desk to subconsciously triggera nail-biting habit— no stressful emailor sense of relief required. Once established,these cue-behavior-reward loops work fast, outpacing the decision-making process. You may find yourselfengaging in a habit before you have the chanceto notice and stop. But this can be a good thingbecause not all habits are bad. They’re stored memoriesof what’s worked in the past,.
Which allow you to take swiftaction in the present. One study estimated that on average, people spend more than 40% of their daysperforming regularly repeated behaviors while their minds are occupiedwith other thoughts. A seemingly automated morning routine,for example, saves you both timeand precious mental energy. Still, many people have habitsthat no longer serve them. Yet research shows that intentions aloneoften fail to lead to long-term behavior change.
This isn’t to say you can’t break a habit. Rather, by understandingthe basis of habits, you can create better plansfor changing them. For example, we know habits are oftencued by environments and routines. Lying in bed may cause you to endlesslyscroll through your phone, or watching TV on the couch may leadyou to grab a sugary snack. One of the most effective waysto manage behavior is to identify these locationsor times of day. Then try to modify themby changing your routine.
Or creating obstacles that makeit more difficult to perform the habit in that space. Moving, switching jobs,or even starting a new schedule, are particularly great timesto break a habit or build a new one. One 2005 study tracked universitystudents’ exercising, reading, and TV watching habitsbefore and after they transferred schools. When students were no longer aroundold environments and routines, their habits, even the strong ones,significantly changed. For behaviors like nail-biting or hair-pulling,.
A practice called habit reversal trainingcan be helpful. Developed by psychologists in the 1970s, the aim is to change a habitby replacing it with another one that’s less detrimental. The training requires you to analyzeand understand your habit cues, so you can effectively interveneat the right times. For example, if you tend to biteyour nails at work, preemptively keep a fidget toyat your desk. Then, if a stressful email comes in,.
Use the toy when you feelthe urge to bite your nails. Breaking a habit takes time, so remember to give yourself graceand have patience through the process. And while many focus on their bad habits, it’s also worth celebrating the good ones that help us move swiftly and successfullythrough our daily routines.