I was a nail biter. A BAD one.
I started when I was REALLY young- my earliest nail-biting memory I think is around 2nd grade but I am sure I started long before that. I know from looking back I bit them out of boredom and anxiety but at the time I didn’t really care about the “why” of it. It was just a comforting practice.
Thankfully I never chewed on the cuticles or any of the skin but my nails always looked disgusting. I can’t imagine what my piano teachers thought staring at them 30 minutes a week. I constantly had my fingers in my mouth (as if little kids don’t do that enough anyway) digesting all the dirt and germs I picked up at the play ground, gym class and just being a kid.
It never occurred to me that anyone else even thought anything about it. I mean, it was MY habit and they were MY hands. Surely no one sat around thinking about my hands (besides my mother who swatted my hands out of my mouth a million times when I was a kid). My best friends bit their nails like I did and they never bothered me.
The first time someone said something to me that stuck was one day when I was in 7th grade. I was doing my first show and my dad had stepped in to watch the last ten minutes or so of rehearsal before he drove me home. Since I was BORED waiting while the director spoke with the lead actors I was naturally biting my nails. On the way to the truck my dad made a comment about how disgusting it looked and had I ever thought about what others saw when they watched me do it.
I really had not. I was a 7th grade girl so I worried about my hair, my make up, my clothes and my weight but for some reason my nails weren’t high on my list. I began to mull.
As I continued through middle and high school I still bit my nails but I tried to be VERY aware of it. I made a valiant attempt to do this nasty habit in private as much as possible. While others could see the results I didn’t want them to see the process. I used nail polish to cover them up and said I kept them cut short for piano.
Then came college. I received numerous scholarships to a great Christian school in SC but a good portion of that money was relying on my ability to perform. In fact if I didn’t make one of the teams I tried out for I would have had to come home and go to a cheaper school. As a singer I am in the unique position that my body is my instrument. In the same way an athlete can’t play with an injury, I can’t sing if I’m sick all the time. And my voice teacher knew that having my fingers in my mouth all day when I already lived, ate, worked and played with hundreds of other students was a recipe for disaster. There were germs everywhere.
The problem was so common among the voice majors (STRESS anyone?) that for our first Voice Seminar in college my teacher invited in the head of the Psychology department to speak to us. Her command: all of us had to quit biting our nails. In my case it could actually affect my ability to get the education I wanted. I paid attention to what the Department Head said.
And it worked. I quit biting my nails in a month. I couldn’t believe it. Sometimes I still don’t believe it. And occasionally when I run into childhood friends they comment on how great my nails look. People WERE watching when I was a kid.
Here was what he said to do (and How I Quit Biting My Nails):
Week #1: Paint your pinky nail on your left hand. A color- something you will see. For those seven days you can bite every nail EXCEPT that one. All other 9 are available.
Week #2: Paint the pinkys on your left hand AND your right hand. Maybe pick new colors for fun. For the next seven days you can bite every nail EXCEPT those two.
Week #3: Paint your pinkys and your left thumb. For the next seven days you can bite every nail EXCEPT those three.
Week #4: Paint both pinkys and both thumbs. For the next seven days you can bite every nail EXCEPT those four.
At this point I didn’t need to continue (although the pattern should be pretty obvious if you need to). They say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit but for me it was 28.
If you look at that picture up top those are my nails tonight, clicking on the keyboard as I write this. They are probably a little too long for piano and typing all the time so I’ll cut them down in the next day or two. It took them a while to get strong (they were super flimsy when I first let them grow) but I used nail strengthener and drank extra water and before long they were beautiful.
Now I like to wear rings and show them off. When I get a manicure there is something to work with. Those new nail stickers looks GREAT. And I have the satisfaction of knowing when I look down at my hands I was able to accomplish something I didn’t think I could do. It’s given me the confidence to try some other things I didn’t think I could do as well!