You become what you routinely practice. In this project I will try as hard as possible to NOT bite my nails for 30 days in a row and then reward myself at the end of it. This is a documentation of how I quit nailbiting and what I learned along the way.


1. Set specific goals in terms that can be measured.

The specificity criterion stresses the need for a specific goal rather than a more general one. This means the goal is clear and unambiguous; without vagaries and platitudes. To make goals specific, they must tell a team exactly what’s expected, why it’s important, who’s involved, where it’s going to happen and which attributes are important.

A specific goal will usually answer the five ‘W’ questions:

– What: What do I want to accomplish?
Do NOT bite nails for 30 Days

– Why?
Specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing the goal.

– Who: Who is involved?

– Where: Identify a location (where you might engage in the negative behavior)

– Which: Identify requirements and constraints.

The second criterion stresses the need for making the goal quantifiable. If a goal is not measurable it is not possible to know whether you’re making progress toward successful completion. Measuring progress is supposed to help you stay on track, reach your target dates and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs it on to continued effort required to reach the ultimate goal.

Indicators should be quantifiable. A measurable goal will usually answer questions such as:

– How much?

– How many?

– How will I know when it is accomplished?

Specific Goal: Do NOT bite nails for 30 Days

2. Express bad habit goals in both positive AND negative terms.

It’s important to set goals positively e.g. Let your nails grow for 30 days but it is equally important to set them negatively as well  (e.g., Don’t bite your nails for 30 days ). Positive goal-setting helps you focus on success instead of failure. But being oblivious to the behavior that led to failure is a mistake.

– To turn a positive goal into a negative one, ask yourself a question: “What needs to be avoided?”

– To turn a negative goal into a positive one, ask yourself the question: “What needs to be done instead?”

For more on the Via Negativa approach:

3. Accountability, Investing Time and some Money can go a long way.

To make the process of breaking my nail-biting habit “easier” I decided to get a manicure.

I thought, If I’m going to invest time to go to a manicurist, pay 10Euros to sit down for 20minutes while a Vietnamese lady digs, picks and pulls on the skin in and around my fingernails..I must be serious about my 30 day project. And that’s how the project begun.

I take my longboard, short ride to the metro, took the ubahn for 2 stations, got out, roamed around for 15 minutes looking for the place. There it is. I’m wearing sweatpants,beatup skateshoes, a loose jimmy hendrix shirt, a huge north face jacket, a beanie, a scruffy beard and rayban glasses… I look like a hipster-bum.

I walk in. In front of me, 2 asian ladies practicing their craft on fake rubber hands. To my left, an asian lady working on the hand of a middle aged german woman. All eyes on me. Awkward? A little bit.

Maybe I should have made an appointment.

“Was kann ich fur Sie tun?” asks the lady to the left. She must be the chef. “Manicure?” I ask.

The two girls infront of me look at each other for a moment before the chef-lady to my left shouted something in what sounded like vietnamese. “Mai mangoy ma nai kol gar ning-ki loy ma” She then turns to me and tells me to take a seat and wait until the girl prepares everything. Cool. Mission Drop-in Manicure: Accomplished.  I#m in.

I sit on the chair infront of Mai. Mai takes a look at my fingers, furrows her brow and yells something in vietnamese. “Nah kan loy ko ma!!” The other girl comes over and leans over Mai’s shoulder, and as soon as she looks at my fingers also furrows her brow. One of two things might be happening here:
1) Mai is a novice, and doesnt know what she’s doing and she wants advice on how to proceed

2) She can’t believe how disgustingly short and damaged my fingernails are and she wants to share her repugnance with her colleague.

I chose to assume the latter was happening. Because of this, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. She looks at me and asks: ‘Du machst manikure alleine?’

”Nein.” I say, ” I esse meine fingernageln”

She gasps.. an expression of horror and disgust can clearly be seen on her face. “Neeein,,,, nicht beissen. Nie beissen!! Nachstes mal wenn du hier kommst deine nageln werden langer und wir machen sie noch schoener. ok?”

”Alles klar…” I answer.
One of two things might be happening here:
1) She’s trying to get me to book the next appointment. She’s selling me something.

2) She’s genuinely concerned about the condition of my nails and she want’s to see my fingers healthy again.

I chose the latter. I now have an accountability buddy for my Bad Habit Nail Project. I want to make Mai proud. The better I take care of my nails, the better she can do her job. The better she does her job, the more I like my nails, the more likely I’ll book another appointment, the less likely I am to bite them..
You see what’s going on here? A positive upward spiral.
Positive assumptions and selected blind spots work if they’re supported by actions.
4.  When it comes to building new positive habits, sharing your progress on social media platforms may not be effective (Look up: Symbolic self completion) BUT when trying to break a bad habit it might be exactly what you have to do.

Because a lot of people want to know your faults so that they can feel superior to you and better about themselves, sharing your plans to break a bad habit on social platforms such as facebook draws peoples attention to your bad habit. This may in turn make you paranoid that other people are trying to catch you off guard. That may not really be the case. Probably they don’t care about your silly little projects. But regardless of what other people actually thinking of you, I’ve found that the following 2 assumptions have helped me to stay motivated:
(1) P
eople that don’t care about you feel intense joy when they see you fail (Schadenfreude)
(These assholes should motivate you to prove them wrong.)
eople that do care about you (like friends and relatives) are positively concerned about whether or not you achieve your goal and they serve as a social support mechanism.
(These are the people you don’t want to let down.)

5. Bad Habit Breaking Goals should be “set in stone”

You must define your own goals, and once you do,  you need to act as if they are “set in stone”. I agree that goals should be made to be revised, and they should be used as a guide but if you’re after useful change you really must make yourself conform to the goal for a fixed period of time no matter what, rather than make the goal conform to your self and that self’s petty needs. There’s only one rule to this game.. Don’t do behavior X for 1 month. A month is long enough to weaken the negative behavior pattern and short enough to maintain motivation.


3 Weeks In

6. The project should be treated as a game (with rules and consequences for violating the rules)

This is a 30day game. During this period you can only lose if you quit the game. Remember.. A game is a voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. You chose to commit to playing the game because you want to play the game.
If you’re forced to play a game then you’re not really “playing”.
In Bad Habit Games there is ONE simple rule:
Don’t perform the bad habit behavior for 30 days in a row.
That simple.

The penalty for breaking the rule is not losing the game.

Instead, it’s administering yourself a mix of positive and negative punishment.

– A punishment that hurts the player but moves the player closer to his/her goal.

– In the case of nail biting, the positive punishment will be ridicule and humiliation.
Every nail I bite will be stored in a container I’ll be carrying with me for the the 30 days.
Whenever anyone asked me what is the container I would let them know exactly what It was for.


Still EMPTY muthafuckaaa!!

– A negative punishment involves taking something desirable away to reduce the occurrence of a particular behavior. Money is desirable. What’s more desirable than money? Time!. Every time I bite my nails I must have a manicure regardless of whether or not I need it… which means another hour and 10 euros down the drain.

The below picture has been taken last week, 4 weeks after my manicure.


7. And lastly.. the most important point of all… Become aware of what drives your nailbiting behavior.

Throughout the entire month I thought what drove me to bite my nails was anxiety and boredom.
And even though the combination of those two together play a major role, they were not the main cause of my nailbiting.
Funnily enough, I figured out what the source of my habit was after the project ended. After my manicure, not biting my nails was relatively easy. Four weeks and 0.5mm of nail later, my urge to bite my nails started to creep up on me again. My nails were getting too long, I thought. So I trimmed them down and everything was fine.. for a while. And then I realized what was causing my relapse. The cuticles and skin around my nails was dry and peeling. This led to picking the skin or rubbing my fingertips on my lips. This behavior made it more likely that I start nibbling at my cuticles and skin and eventually my nails. And then it hit me.. I need to take care of the skin around my nails. If I do that, then the rest will become easy again. That means I need a manicure again. The manicure got rid of the main issue which made breaking the habit so much easier.

So in other words, be aware of the precursor behaviors that are causing the bad habit to form.

After 17 years of fingernail-biting I am finally glad to have figured out how to stop this disgusting habit and if you also happen to have a problem with biting your nails, I hope this article will help you rid yourself of it as well.

Till next time!

Eat, Move, PLAY!!