Friday, February 8, 2019

Bad Habits and how to (attempt) to kick them

When my mother went in to have her diagnostic laparotomy for metastatic disease, my father said that he knew everything was going to be okay because the surgeon had "beautiful, clean, well-kept hands."

Since that day 10 years ago, I have started to take more notice of hands.  As a doctor, the state of a patient's hands, and feet, can suggest underlying disease, hygiene, social situation. Manicured fingers, dirt under nails, dry skin, scabies rashes, diabetic ulcers, clubbed nails of hypoxia.

As I look down at my own hands, though, I'm constantly ashamed.

I bite my nails. Not my nails, exactly, and not biting, technically. I pick my cuticles. It's gross, I know. Disgusting, I get it. It's an infection risk, a way for patients' MRSA, fungus, and ESBL infections to get inside. A risk for herpetic whitlow, paronychia. There is an official medical name: Onychophagia.  It looks unkempt. I KNOW.

I've tried getting regular manicures, but that gets a) expensive and b) time consuming. I tried moisturizing, creams, potions, and lotions and gels and ointments. I've read blogs. (link below). This repetitive behavior is SO HARD TO KICK.

Over time, we as individuals develop so many different habits and routines. The way we brush our teeth, which side of the bed we sleep on, which shoe or pant leg goes on first. What we eat for breakfast, which coffee we order, what we reach for when in need of comfort. Take a minute to pay attention to the things that make up your daily routine. We are creatures of habit.

Diet and lifestyle habits and routines are hard to change as well. With all the focus on "new year new you," the explosion of health and fitness "influencers" on Instagram, and the renewed energy that comes with a dedication to a new diet, eating plan, workout regimen, or health motivation, it should be easy. We have so many cheerleaders; however, ingrained habits require a lot of mental energy to change.

So I definitely have a little more compassion for patients when they tell me it is hard to take a new medication, change their eating habits, work out more. I can't seem to do it myself, honestly. (My 15 lbs- 4 years post baby- prove that) The constant reminder of my raw hands is the sign of a continuous struggle.

How do you motivate change? Have you found success with breaking a habit or changing your diet or lifestyle? What resources do you use, or guide your patients to?

Blogs I referenced:


  1. I've been pretty successful at making reasonable changes in my flossing routine (aka, starting one) because my dental hygienist told me that she'd be assessing my gums at my next checkup. I mean, now I floss about once a day. I'd like it to be twice. But before, it was maybe once a month...

    So maybe some sort of goal or threat to work toward/under?

    1. It actually drives my husband insane- so the "threat" doesn't work for me. But I'm definitely going to try the "treat" say, no picking = manicure. Happy flossing! (should be my next goal, honestly)

  2. I have been overdue for a manicure for MONTHS :-( And add dry-winter-skin to the mix and you have the perfect storm.

    I am best when I schedule my regular maintenance, but once I get off schedule - there is no way of knowing when I will pick it back up. Usually - like @Maya Resnikoff shares - it is some looming date. For example, I will probably rush to get a manicure and pedicure when the weather changes and it's sandal-weather.

    I wonder if they have classes to teach lay-people how to really do a good manicure/pedicure on our own at home. I'd be interested in that!

    1. I looked up a bunch of different videos on Youtube after you suggested that. I am going to trial/error; if any work particularly well, I'll comment back!

    2. Nice! I completely forgot about the wealth of information Youtube is!

  3. I pick at/bite my cuticles and pick at hairs on my face. I've been able to drastically reduce both by getting regular gel manicures. It's expensive and time-consuming, yes. I like the way my hands look and I and I am relieved to know I'm not absently picking at my face during meetings, so it's worth it. For me, the key to making a successful change is to focus on the benefit of the new behavior. I recently reorganized my drawers a la Marie Kondo; before that I never folded anything, just dumped it all in a big pile. I LOVE being able to see everything that's in the drawer and easily grab the piece I want. When I bring the laundry upstairs and I'm tired and I don't want to take the time to fold things, I think about getting dressed the next morning, being able to find exactly the shirt I want, and I keep folding.

    1. I LOVE MARIE KONDO. I "kondo'ed" my workout clothing drawer and actually have worked out more often this month because my clothing was so nicely presented and ready to go!


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