First off, who is Hilary Flinn?
Hilary is a successful lifestyle blogger that suffered with chronic nail biting for 16 years of her life. She managed to break her nail biting habit on the 14th of April 2015, despite a few failed attempts that could easily have thrown her off track.
Interestingly, Hilary relied on 2 simple smartphone apps to keep her honest, accountable and highly aware of her nail biting habit. It was her use of these 2 apps (together with dedication, consistency and willpower) that allowed her to break her nail biting habit, permanently. And yes, we will reveal the 2 apps that Hilary used to bury this bad habit.
Before we get to the apps, let’s discuss what didn’t work for Hilary
The pure willpower approach – On paper, giving up a bad habit like nail biting should be easy. You know it’s bad for you. It causes both physical and psychological pain. It generates feelings of shame and regret that can last for years (if not decades). And yet… when you set the simple goal of stopping, you soon discover the true force of an automated behavior.
Here are Hilary’s thoughts on the willpower approach: “Like most people, the first thing I tried was straight willpower. It was just a habit, right? All I needed to do was not bite my nails. Simple enough – but not easy. I could last about a week or two this way (and only when I was really trying). But when it came time to clip my nails shorter so they wouldn’t break or tear, I’d just bite them off and start all over again. The second one of my nails had a jagged edge, I knew I was screwed.”
The lesson here is that relying on willpower alone can be futile. You need to recognize that we spend a large part of our lives running on autopilot. The moment you step into ‘automode’, willpower becomes meaningless. It’s no longer a decision that you consciously make, but a predefined set of behaviors that you have trained your brain to follow.
This is why the first step in habit recovery is to record all the trigger moments that bring about nail biting sessions. You need to develop an awareness of when you slip into automode in order to learn how to snap out of it.
Nail Filing – Hilary admits to using a nail file, but also reveals that it didn’t really work for her because she kept forgetting it. Even though nail filing didn’t work for Hilary, it needs to be said that using a nail file can help chronic nail biters nullify one of the most dangerous triggers, namely jagged edges.
This is possibly the single most powerful trigger that nail biters have to contend with. The moment you feel one of those edges, it’s almost impossible to resist the urge to nibble. Fortunately, a nail file can reduce the number of jagged edges that you have to resist, which can make the process of giving up slightly easier.
Nail Polish (Painting) – If you google ‘how to stop biting your nails’, you are bound to come across the nail polish approach. The idea here is to put awful tasting nail polish on, so that when you find your nails in your mouth, the hideous taste encourages you to stop.
But here’s the thing. For most nail biters, the awful taste pales in comparison to the pleasure they receive after biting their nails. It might make the experience less pleasant, but it doesn’t prevent the pleasure release that your brain is desperately searching for.
Gloves and bandages – This is another popular approach, that was of no help to Hilary. “Then there were the drastic measures: bandages on my fingertips, gloves everywhere all the time, that gross-tasting polish stuff. They all failed; none were consistent enough to actually make a lasting difference.”
One more thing to be aware of – The Domino Effect
As a chronic nail biter, you’ve probably experienced this a thousand times. You spend the morning trying desperately to avoid biting your nails. Then all of a sudden this irresistible urge starts gnawing at you. You slowly bring a single finger nail to your mouth, then quickly devour it.
That is the first domino. It puts in motion a sequence of events that is almost impossible to reverse. That one bite inevitably leads to more. In fact, most nail biters will work through each and every available nail after that first slip-up.
What’s worse, the domino effect isn’t limited to a single day. In reality, you are reinforcing future behavior as well. By knocking over that first domino today, you are actually more likely to knock over the same domino tomorrow. This spiral can continue, until you end up with infected nail beds that can cause your entire nail to fall off.
Ultimately, when you tell yourself that you will just bite one nail, you are lying to yourself. Humans are actually remarkably good at creating lies that allows us to get away with bad behavior, and if you struggle with compulsive nail biting, you almost certainly tell yourself this lie, all the time. You need to stop telling this lie, and you need to recognize just how destructive the domino effect can be, not just today, but for all days going forward.
So what exactly did Hilary do to break her nail biting habit?
She became super excited about smartphone apps, and start wondering if an app might help her break this habit. This ultimately lead to her downloading the following 2 apps.
App 1 – Nail Biting (created by Saso Korotaj) – This app is super simple to use. All you need to do is download it, and then tap the ‘I did it’ button every time you bite your nails. The goal is to figure out how many times you bite your nails during a given day, and to help you build an awareness of where and when you bite your nails.
The app also records your nail biting stats, instantly. This can help you identify trends that might otherwise be difficult to spot. For instance, you might find that because Monday’s are incredibly stressful, you have a tendency to bite your nails more frequently on Mondays.
Another great feature of this app is that it starts counting the time since your last bite, from the moment you press the ‘I did it button’. It can be super motivating when you see that it’s been 3 days since your last bite. Having concrete evidence of your progress can help you stay the course. It will unlock bonus reservoirs of determination.
Ultimately, the main benefit of this app is that it is ultra convenient, and it encourages accountability. If all you do is download this app and start using it religiously, you could lay the foundation to put your nail biting habit to bed, in a matter of weeks.
App 2 – HabitBull (free version) – The whole point of the HabitBull app is is to record habit streaks. In Hilary’s case, she used HabitBull to record how many days she could string together without biting her nails. She also added comments to all the days when she needed to trim or file her nails, because these were often the most challenging days.
Amazingly, using this approach, Hilary was able to destroy her nail biting habit in less than 30 days. It is a remarkable success story, and it demonstrates that smartphone apps can be your greatest ally when going into battle with your nail biting habit.
Why did this approach work?
In Hilary’s own words ‘it was the combination of mindfulness and accountability that made the difference’.
Mindfulness – To understand mindfulness, just think of it as enhanced awareness. The apps that Hilary used greatly enhanced her awareness of her nail biting behavior, be it good or bad. Becoming more mindful allows you to consciously recognize when you are slipping into a default behavior, like biting your nails when you are bored or stressed. This lays the mental foundation you need to start changing that default behavior.
Accountability – It’s very easy to ignore how bad your nail biting habit has become, and pretend that it’s ok to take ‘just one nibble’. We already know that this is a lie that nail biters tell themselves which perpetuates the habit for days, years and even decades.
The apps that Hilary used forced her to become accountable. Every slip up was recorded. No more internal lies. No more ‘getting away with it’.