Stop Biting Your Nails

Onychophagia, the practice of biting your nails, is an easy habit to form but a tough one to stop. For many adults, nail-biting is so well-established that they barely realize they are doing it.

The problem? A nail-biting look is bad to others. In this germ-conscious world, no one wants to shake hands with a guy who’s just put his fingers in his mouth.

Still, biting your nails? Here’s the SharpGrooming scoop on breaking the habit:

Why Do You Do It?

If you want to stop biting, it helps to figure out why you do it in the first place. Common reasons include:

Old habit. Many SharpMen can trace their nail-chomping back to their shy and self-conscious teenage years. Now the process has become second nature and they do it without thinking.

Stress. Tension is one of the leading reasons people begin — and continue — to bite their nails. Biting and picking become an automatic reaction to the stress of a challenging job or a worrisome problem.

Nervousness. It is not uncommon for a SharpMan to resort to nail-biting when he is feeling nervous before that big meeting or on the way to that hot date. It can have the same psychologically soothing effect as smoking or overeating.

Post-smoking habit. Those who give up smoking often replace that habit with nail-biting — it’s something to do with the hands that would have been occupied by a cigarette.

Habit triggered by another activity. Often nail-biting will be associated with an activity such as talking on the phone or watching TV. Some people bite their nails when bored or unoccupied, e.g. sitting on the train or in the doctor’s office.

Break the Habit

By isolating why you are biting your nails — and then briefly monitoring yourself under the same conditions — you will be able to stop your hands from automatically going to your mouth at certain times. If willpower isn’t enough, consider some of the following remedies and aids:

Put a formula on your nails. There are several foul-tasting formulas on the market aimed at making your nails taste awful enough to turn you off of biting them — or at least alert you to when you do it unconsciously. Try CONTROL-IT! from MAVALA Stop. Be sure to apply the product regularly, so that the taste remains strong.

Keep your hands busy. Idle hands will only serve to fuel your habit, so keep them busy. If you’ve found that you bite your nails when you are on the telephone, keep a pad of paper by the phone and doodle with a pen instead. Or get a desktop basketball game to keep your hands busy.

If you bite your nails when you’re tense, consider adding a “stress ball” that you squeeze to your collection of desk toys and play with that instead. Or try Process Putty®, available from QPC Inc. The key is to do anything that keeps your hands busy and out of your mouth.

Chew gum or mints. If you are already chewing something else, you’ll be less likely to chew your nails (nail bits and chewing gum — eeew, bad combo). Keep gum or mints with you at all times, and when you find your hands going to your mouth, pop in a stick of gum or a mint instead.

Use nail clippers. Nail biters are always tempted to bite off a sharp edge on a nail or a nail that is a little longer than the others. Keep nail clippers with you and use those instead.

Try meditative cassettes. If all else fails, there are several meditative cassette tapes on the market that claim a high success rate in combating nail-biting habits. Try Overcoming Fingernail Biting from Mind Over Matter or Stop Biting Nails from Talk Unlimited.

Keep It Away

Address the cause. Once you discover what triggers your nail-biting, make a point of addressing that cause. If the stress in your life is the culprit, then work on reducing the stress with relaxation techniques, exercise, more sleep, a smaller workload, etc. If nervousness generally drives you to bite your nails, make a point of learning other ways to deal with nerves. Many guys use a quick (and easy and free) breathing exercise to calm themselves down throughout the day.

Form new habits. The best way to prevent a bad habit from reoccurring is to replace it with a good habit. Get into the habit of using nail clippers before your nails grow to a length that tempts you to bite. Develop the habit of linking your hands together when they are idle instead of bringing them up to your mouth.

Make nail care a priority. Now that you have stopped biting your nails, learn to take care of them. By taking pride in the look of your hands, you’ll be less likely to “fall off the wagon” and return to nail-biting. See Nail Care for Guys for more details on making your hands and nails look good enough for a handshake.

The Appeal of the “Bad Boy”

More than a few “nice” SharpMen have written in lately, complaining that the women they know only like dating losers. What’s their reasoning for this phenomenon? They believe that women can’t control their attraction to morally bankrupt jerks over good, kindhearted guys like themselves.

Is it true that women prefer jerks? If not, why does it seem like the “nice guys” always end up trapped in the “just friends” zone? Check out the SharpDating analysis:

Why Do “Nice Guys” Finish Last?

Many SharpMen have written that despite their efforts to be as kind, considerate and available as possible, women often opt for other guys who don’t treat them as well. Why is that? Let’s consider what it would be like if you met a woman who made it clear to you — from the beginning — that she was yours for the taking.

Why look a gift horse in the mouth, right?

So you proceed to date her, during which time she drops all her friends to be available to you, caters to your every whim and bends over backwards to ensure that she does and says only those things with which you agree. Sounds kind of good, right? Well, it probably is…at first. But as the weeks go by, the constant phone calls, failure to express any kind of preference not in line with your own, and her ever-presence get kinda, well, boring. You may start wondering whether she just sits around in the dark when you’re not around.

The fact is, it’s kind of nice to look forward to seeing someone. It’s interesting when women have other things going on in their lives. On the other hand, it’s starting to wear on you when they constantly call you, and it’s annoying — and boring — when a partner doesn’t contribute her own opinions — rather than what she thinks you want to hear — to a conversation.

So why do women do this? Insecurity. These women are simply not confident enough to believe that being themselves around you will keep your interest. Of course, the truth is just the opposite. Insecurity often ends up sabotaging what could have been a great relationship.

By the same token, guys who go out of their way to be too nice — call too much, make themselves too available, say only those things they know their women want to hear — are just as boring and just as lacking in confidence. Their insecurity ends up driving women away.

And, for similar reasons, “nice guys” who spend an entire evening talking about how “nice” they were to their last girlfriend (“so why did she leave me?”) are also boring. Imagine if you took a woman out and she spent the entire evening “pitching” herself? “Bob, you’ll see, I’m a really great girlfriend. You know what I did for my last boyfriend?” Enough already, I asked you out, didn’t I?? Again, insecurity, mixed with a “passive” way of complaining (couched as “what did I do wrong?”) is just boring.

The key is, both men and women want to spend time with people who are confident, have stuff going on and have opinions to express. No one likes a doormat.

That’s where the so-called “jerks” gain points. “Jerky” guys exude confidence and independence. Sure, he may not agree with everything she says, but it’s opposites that attract, remember? And, yeah, she may be bummed that he went out with the guys, but it’s attractive to her that he has a life beyond the time he spends with her. Absence — even short term — makes the heart grow fonder.

So it’s independence and confidence — not bad treatment — that attracts women to these men.

Here are some real-life examples of how self-professed “nice guys” seemed to finish last:

Example One. One “nice guy” I now can’t comprehend why his wife left him. He goes on and on talking about himself as a selfless martyr who treated her like a queen and was spitefully rejected by an evil hag. He is, after all, very gentlemanly: he opens doors, pays for dinner, calls when he’ll be late, and so on. But even my “friends-only” nights hanging out with him seem to drag on forever. He’s never once cracked a joke, showed any spontaneity or joie de vivre, or even spoken much above a monotone. And we always do the same thing every time. Snooze.

Example Two. Once after a movie first date (bad idea, by the way; check out The Case Against Dinner and a Movie), my very “nice” companion mentioned that he hated the main actor’s unusual hairstyle. I said offhandedly, “Oh, did you? I kind of liked it.” He hesitated, and quickly added, “Uh…what I meant to say is that I liked his hair.” I was immediately turned off. Was he actually afraid to express a different opinion? All you can do with a doormat like that is roll your eyes and be thankful for caller I.D. (but check out SharpDating’s Getting Around Caller ID).

Are you starting to get it? It’s not that women don’t appreciate being treated well, and it’s not that women prefer to hang around inconsiderate guys. Women, like men, prefer a partner who is confident, who doesn’t feel bad for himself, has a life, and who doesn’t give them the sense that they are being conned by a date who agrees with their every word. And of course, there’s the confidence thing — very attractive. If jerky guys exude it, well, then they’ve got an advantage over “nice” guys who behave passively — and evidence insecurity — in their attempts to be nice (which translates to booooring).

Are You “Too Nice?”

How can you tell if you’re being too nice? These are some signs:

  • You have a hard time getting beyond “just friends” with women.
  • You willingly offer to sacrifice your friends, hobbies, and personal life for her.
  • You give much more to the relationship than she does.
  • You avoid conflict by agreeing with everything she says and never offering an opinion of your own.
  • You obsess about her or idolize her (but you think you’re just “showing interest”).
  • You come on too strong, too soon (i.e. on the third date you talk about what your children with her would look like; you present her with diamond earrings after a week).

Consequences of Being “Too Nice”

The most obvious consequence of being “too nice” is losing a woman’s interest, but a less obvious risk is the chance of attracting the few women who are unscrupulous users. If you act like a doormat and a victim, you’ll eventually attract someone who’s more than willing to victimize you. Women (and also plenty of men) of this type search out easy targets: insecure people who are willing to give anything for a relationship. The result could be a destructive relationship which may only further your low feelings of self-worth. So watch it.

How To Be a “Bad Boy” Without Really Being Bad

Women don’t view their need to be independent, modern women as incompatible with their need for a strong mate. Everyone wants to be with a winner — and winners exude confidence. Plus, then there’s that whole modern caveman thing. Just as modern guys still want “soft” women, women still kind of dig “protectors” who make them feel safe, provided for, and who will keep the sabre-toothed tigers away from the cave.

Are you starting to get it? Women (at least, stable women) aren’t really attracted to jerks over nice guys. No one wants a mate who’s really a bad person. What they are attracted to is a man with confidence and strength; someone who’ll treat them well but have a little bit of a fun, wild side — things that “nice guys” don’t always demonstrate because they may be too fearful to step out of “character.”

What does this mean for you?

Live it, dude. Be that sensitive-new-age-postmodern-caveman. Exude confidence and strength. Have an opinion and a life of your own. Don’t follow; lead with her.

Realize that respecting your SharpWoman doesn’t mean that you have to be a doormat. Realize that your attempts to be “nice” may make you look insecure and wishy-washy. Break out of that mold before you find yourself forever doomed to “the friend zone” (for advice on how to break out of it, see the SharpDating Guide to Getting Past “Just Friends”).

Check out our Dos and Don’ts to learn how to benefit from the “bad boy” stereotype, without actually becoming “bad:”