The Manicure Principle

Pride ~ Identity ~ Habits

Can’t stop biting your fingernails?

Try getting a manicure!

The reason why getting a manicure can help you stop biting your nails is because of the relationship between pride, identity, and habits.

As James Clear explains:

Your identity emerges out of your habits. You are not born with preset beliefs. Every belief, including those about yourself, is learned and conditioned through experience. Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity. This is one reason why meaningful change does not require radical change. Small habits can make a meaningful difference by providing evidence of a new identity. And if a change is meaningful, it actually is big. That’s the paradox of making small improvements.

Now, back to manicures:

“The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it.”

This gets at the core of what I dub “The Manicure Principle:”

Pride is motivational fuel to help you stick with good habits or break bad habits

As an example of the manicure principle in practice, here is the full story of how Brian Clark once and for all stopped biting his nails (from Atomic Habits):


Practical Application

Brian’s story taught me that the “manicure principle” can be applied to anything.

Now, whenever I think about something I’d like to change (ie start a good habit or break a bad habit, in the pursuit of some goal), the manicure principle reminds me to ask myself: “is there a way I can create a sense of pride to help me reach my goal?”

A recent example for me is with push-ups.

I recently hit a new personal record when doing hand-release pushups (52 in 2 min) and something about passing the arbitrary number of 50 created a sense of pride! Now, not only do I want to keep training to hit 60 (and then 70…) but also, I don’t want to drop below 50.

This sense of pride is motivational fuel – on the days when I don’t feel like doing pushups, I will be even more motivated to hit the floor and start to cranking out push-ups because I have a new identity of “someone who can do 50 pushups in 2 min” and I not only want to reinforce that but I also don’t want to lose that!

So now the last thing to do is wait… let’s see if I’m at 70 pushups in a few months đź’Ş

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