Wearing gloves 24/7 didn’t stop me. Nor did weekly manicures. Nor did the daily application of a nasty-tasting liquid. Having tried everything else to cure my nail-biting habit, I came to hypnosis and the office of Traci Stein, PhD. She was hopeful that despite my lifelong history, I could break my habit by targeting emotional triggers through mindfulness practice, good stress management (like sleeping well and exercising regularly), and, most important, her prompts to my unconscious.

To induce a hypnotic state, Stein had me look up and close my eyes while she led me through a guided imagery meditation. I felt my breathing slow, my muscles relax, and my body become heavy. I drifted, landing at a kind of desert of my mind—not awake, but not sleeping either. When I returned, I remembered hearing certain phrases, like “manicured hands” and “smooth edges,” but the rest? A mystery.

After the hypnosis, Stein told me she believed one reason I bit my nails was to keep myself focused. That made sense; I often do it when I’m writing an article, reading a book, or watching a movie. So during the hypnosis, she said she’d made several suggestions to my unconscious: to become more aware of my hands and fingers; to notice any impulses to move my hand to my mouth and then make a different choice (something either neutral, like rubbing my fingertips against a beaded bracelet, or healthy, like taking a sip of water); and to notice boredom, anxiety, or other triggering emotions from a place of pleasant detachment.

By the time I returned for the second session, something had shifted. While the urge to bite hadn’t disappeared, there was a split second when for the first time I could remember, I made a choice about my nails. I’ve now seen Stein five times, and while I’ve had a couple of slipups, it’s been more than a month and my nails are the longest they’ve ever been. Because that feels like an achievement, I’m giving myself a (beautifully manicured) hand.

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