How to stop picking your skin (or biting your nails)

John Wood, Founder of Rageheart

by John Wood

I never got into the habit of biting my nails… but I did get into the habit of picking the skin on my fingers until they bled 😩

Sometimes it was calluses from the gym.

Medellín, Colombia, 2015. Deadlifts always gave me the worst calluses.

Other times it was those little strips of skin that sometimes hang off the side of the nail or finger.

Or if I’d been eating a lot of sugar or bread, the skin on my hands would start to crack and peel and even bubble and I’d pick at that (some sort of eczema).

However it began, it often ended with blood (and a little pain) 😰

Not a lot… but enough that I felt pretty ashamed and embarrassed about it.

But despite the shame and embarrassment… I couldn’t stop (and I had no idea why).

I now know that the reason I couldn’t stop is because it distracted me from how I was feeling (a necessary thing at the time).

As long as I was picking the skin on my fingers, I didn’t have to feel the activation in my nervous system. The clenching in my stomach. The butterflies. The clammy hands. The nervousness and anxiety and fear and doubt. The imposter syndrome. The negativity. The racing mind.

I might’ve been embarrassed about it… but on some level, perhaps subconsciously, I preferred that embarrassment to the pain and discomfort and nervous system activation that I’d feel if I didn’t pick the skin on my fingers.

Maybe for you it’s something else.

Maybe you don’t pick the skin on your fingers but you bite your nails 💅

Or maybe you shake your leg against the floor incessantly…

…or fidget…

…or fiddle…

…watch porn…

…eat unhealthy food…

…drink too much alcohol…

…smoke cigarettes…

…or buy shit you don’t need.

Whatever your particular “coping mechanisms”, just know that the underlying mechanism or goal is the same: Manage the activation in your nervous system

This is good news because it means that if you can find healthier ways to manage the activation in your nervous system, you won’t need the unhealthy coping mechanisms anymore.

I’m not saying I never pick the skin on my fingers these days because old habits die hard… but it’s a fraction of what it used to be. Why? Because I’ve found far more effective ways to manage the activation in my nervous system.

Along the way, plenty of other “coping mechanisms” have dissolved as well:

From an almost daily porn habit to almost never (a couple times a year, if that).

From drinking alcohol every weekend to almost never.

From smoking weed every weekend to never again.

From thinking obsessively to thinking far less (I’m not going to say almost never but it’s a hell of a lot better than it used to be) 🎉

The best part is, it didn’t take much willpower or discipline to change these habits or “coping mechanisms” 😌

They simply fell away because they were no longer needed.

Interesting, right?

Solve the root problem (the activation in your nervous system) and the symptoms resolve themselves on their own (nail biting, skin picking, porn watching, etc).

If you want to stop picking the skin on your fingers until they bleed… or biting your nails… or any other unhealthy coping mechanisms that drive you nuts… you need better techniques for managing the activation in your nervous system.

Here are the techniques that worked (and still work) for me:



John Wood

P.S. If you know someone with a bunch of unhealthy coping mechanisms and you’d like to help them to dissolve them like I’ve discussed here, refer them to this daily email newsletter.

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