About a quarter of college students and 15% of adults bite their nails. While you might make light of the habit, it has serious implications. You’re routinely exposing yourself to germs, you can end up with embarrassing and unsightly fingernails, and you risk permanently damaging your nail beds.
And if you’re a current nail-biter, you might be interested in stopping, but part of what makes this habit hard to beat is its availability – your nails are always within reach!
It’s not like smoking where you need to go to a store and buy a pack of cigarettes, or drinking where you need a glass, instead it’s available all the time — literally at arm’s length. The possibility of a relapse is constantly at your fingertips, and you might not even realize you are biting until you’ve reduced your nail bed to a cuticle stub. So even if you have willpower of steel, it’s hard to stay strong if you don’t even know when you need to be.
Why You Bite Your Nails
Nail biting often comes from stress, anxiety or even boredom. And as you start biting your nails more often, your brain learns to react with it in more situations — this is why you can find yourself biting your nails across all situations, from waiting for a job interview to watching television.
Even the experts don’t have an exact reason for why people make and keep this habit. Across individuals’ reasons for biting their nails, there’s a common theme: it gives you something to do. It can be a manifestation of stress, an exertion of nervous energy, or just a way to occupy yourself. Think of how your hands shake when you’re anxious or the way you tap your foot when you’re restless — biting your nails can be seen as an alternate way of expressing this energy.
So while it might seem easy enough to stop, you’ve basically trained your brain to believe that this is a good way to get rid of excess energy. And, as mentioned before, its availability means your brain has all-access to its habit without your conscious consent.
And this is where the benefits of aversion sessions come in. Aversion sessions involve adding a negative association to a routine your brain finds rewarding, essentially reversing the habit its made.
You might have heard of (or even tried) painting your nails with a product designed to make your nails taste bad to discourage you from biting.
It works in a similar way, but the smelly polish needs to be re-applied several times a day, and is recommended to be used over a period of months.
Mild Pavlovian Stimulus Helped 65% of Nail-biters Quit in 4 Days
In a clinical study conducted by UCLA, self-administered, mild Pavlovian stimulus helped the majority of participants stop biting their nails — 45% percent on the first day alone. By day 4, 65% quit. The subjects were given a personal Pavlovian device and were responsible for zapping themselves.
We’ve known the efficiency of aversive conditioning for decades, and yet it couldn’t be taken advantage of. The device used was limited to medical professionals, and was never available to the average consumer.
But Pavlok changes that! Pavlok is a simple wristband with an embedded “one-button” zap system. An app on your phone acts like its remote control — you can adjust the intensity to a level you’re comfortable with.
How to Quit Biting Your Nails in 5 Days with Pavlok
- Try it on and try it out. Don’t worry about starting the aversion therapy as soon as you get the wristband. Spend the first day getting acquainted with the device so you’re comfortable using it. Track when and where you bite your nails for the rest of the day — this will help you start being more mindful about your habit and to incorporate Pavlok into the routine later.
- Conduct an aversion session. When you first notice yourself biting your nails, give yourself zaps every few seconds for as long as you keep going (which may not be long!). Afterward, continue observing your nail biting habits without zapping, but keep recording when and where it happens. Try to resist these urges as they come.
- Start using Pavlok every time you bite your nails. By this point, you’ll probably find that the time you spend biting your nails has been reduced drastically, or that you’re able to resist the temptation altogether.
- Track your progress and adjust as needed. If you’ve stopped biting completely, you can choose to zap yourself when you notice an urge. If you slip up, don’t worry — just keep logging your progress to improve mindfulness and remind yourself how far you’ve come!
It can be hard to stop a habit like nail-biting because of how easy it is to do at any moment. And it’s an unconscious habit for most people, which is a reflection of how good your brain is at learning and associating behaviors — use this system to your advantage!
That’s what Nagina did. She had been biting her nails for her entire life, and noticed an immediate improvement after using Pavlok for 2 days.
Pavlovian stimulus aversion sessions help almost everyone quit. It works because it tackles your habit from the inside out, and Pavlok gives you this effective technology in a simple and safe wristband.