Nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble.
Before she knew it, she had nibbled them down to nubbins.
from The Berenstain Bears and the Bad Habit
by Stan and Jan Berenstain
My mom worked as a hand model after she graduated high school. She worked for the local newspaper advertisers. She wore rings and bracelets and held handbags. Yes, that was a real job.
Mom may not have noticed other people’s nails, but she was pretty tuned in to mine. Sitting on my hands didn’t work to stop my nail biting. Neither did the bad tasting stuff that she painted on like nail polish. Neither did the raised eyebrows, winks or finger-pointing. That’s how habits work. They happen without thinking about it.
Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that if you do something for three weeks, it will become a habit. I tried it by making my bed. It worked! Now I make my bed every morning. I brush my teeth. I clean the cat boxes. I don’t need to plan to do those things or set aside a particular time. They just get done.
I don’t know why I don’t bite my nails any more. Some years ago I noticed my nails were not nubby or ragged. I bought nail polish!
My habits serve me well. I can save my brain cells for thinking up new ideas for my blog, discovering recipes to try, working on my picture book manuscripts and solving the word jumble in the newspaper.
But sometimes I go through my whole day on auto-pilot and get to evening asking myself, “What did I do all day?”
Walt Whitman, one of my favorite writers only wrote one book, Leaves of Grass. But he revised it and edited it and re-published it for the rest of his life. He explains his philosophy in a group of loosely related poems. One of my favorite quotations from “Song of Myself” goes like this:
“You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.”
So while I enjoy my habits, I also pay attention to the minutia of my life. I look for details in news stories. I have been known to count the spots on the ladybugs in my garden. I know how many miles it is from my house to each of my daughters’ houses and which exits have the best coffee.
And I know that real life is searching for the balance between being on auto-pilot and being absorbed in the details. I'm always looking for that sweet, middle ground.