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I have a terrible habit, Whenever I am deeply concentrating on something I chew my fingers, Not just a slight munch, but enough that i am splitting the skin.

The Damage

The issue is that I am so focused on what I am doing that I don't notice me chewing my fingers, yet if I try to focus on not chewing my fingers then I do not focus on the task, hence I avoid chewing my fingers.

I have tried wrapping them in plasters, or bad tasting products, and whilst it works in the interim the moment they are removed (even after a month) I revert back to the habit, I imagine this is because I notice they are there so don't fully concentrate, hence avail the habit.

So, my question is, how can I remain productive whilst actively trying to break this habit?

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I'm sorry for your poor fingers, but maybe this really two questions - healthy concentration habits, and overcoming your finger chewing compulsion. This forum can probably best handle the former. – Kristina Lopez Sep 26 '12 at 3:20
I had never thought about it quite this way, you hit the nail on the head on why I do this as well. No pun intended. Thanks! – Vic Goldfeld Sep 27 '12 at 23:30
up vote 6 down vote accepted

A partial solution is always better than no solution. If you want to change yourself, focus on congratulating yourself for partial success instead of punishing yourself for incomplete success; then the success will grow. Let me re-frame it this way: You already have a solution that works (wrapping your fingers), and that's great! Honestly; it's an improvement over the time where you didn't have even that solution. Many people are still there; but you are not. You just want even better solution.

Now the same approach on the micro level: If you happen to find yourself biting your finger (wrapped or not), should you be angry at yourself? No. You should congratulate yourself for noticing. Of course you should immediately stop doing it. And you should congratulate yourself for stopping.

The idea is that you get more of what you reward; which is why you want to reward noticing and stopping, because you want more noticing and stopping. -- Punishing yourself for doing something wrong seems to make sense... until you realize that you are effectively punishing yourself for noticing that you are doing something wrong (because when you didn't notice it, there was no punishment, was it?). So you definitely want to reward noticing.

(What is a "reward" in this context? Whatever works for you. Give yourself a mental high five; think "I am great" or "I am improving, and that's great". Just make yourself a bit happy. Sometimes even a fake smile is enough to improve your mood.)

If you happen to catch yourself before you bite your finger (but already moving it towards your mouth, or somehow preparing to do it), congratulate yourself for noticing that, and put the hand down, and congratulate yourself for putting your hand down, because this is what you want to achieve. Never happens spontaneously? Then make it happen!

Do this exercise: just sit (like you usually do when it happens), raise your hand halfways to your mouth, now stop and realize that at this moment you have two options. (You can imagine two colored arrows from your finger; one towards your mouth, the other one towards the desk.) Choose the better option and put your hand down. Congratulate yourself for making the right choice, and feel happy for a moment. Now do this again. And again. And again. You are now building a habit that can increase the probability of catching yourself in the real situation.

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+1 for "... should you be angry at yourself? No. You should congratulate yourself for noticing." – BenCole Sep 26 '12 at 13:52
Awesome answer as far as I searched for. I have a similar problem. Only that I bite nails. This is good! – dhilipsiva Sep 27 '13 at 5:21

If you are being productive when concentrating you may find your simplest option is just to replace biting with another less annoying activity.

So as before, use a temporary solution such as a bad testing product - not just for a month, but for a good length of time, like three months. During this time deliberately carry out some other activity - I doodle extensively, for example - and you should find it takes over from the old habit.

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I too had this habit until I was 34 years old. I used to chew my little finger so bad that it had a permanent crack and callous on top. I became self-conscious about people seeing the finger so decided to do something about it. I realised that the pleasure I got was from the actual chewing motion so I started to chew my jaw instead (as though I had chewing gum in my mouth). That habit is worse than the original one because I still do it to this day (I'm 60 now!)

Your idea of putting on a plaster is a good one - I can't put a plaster on my tongue! I read on another site that you can mix alum powder into a paste with a little water and soak fingers in it to stop nail biting, so perhaps you could paint some on top of your finger. I understand that the taste is extremely bitter.

I think that Viliam Bur has made some very good suggestions and will try that myself when I notice my jaw clenching in readiness for another chewing session.

Good luck to you.

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