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What I’ve Learned in 100 Days of Flossing

This morning I flossed my teeth for the 100th day in a row.

Surely this shouldn’t impress you at all as we’ve been lectured since the first visit to the dentist about the importance of flossing. However, I never really did it until recently, and I’m kind of curious as to why.

Clearly flossing isn’t a hard task. It’s not particularly painful. Really it’s not time consuming at all. A flossing habit is probably the cheapest way to protect your health too. So why didn’t I do it? Any rational human, a group to which I apparently don’t belong, would have started flossing immediately upon doing a quick cost-benefit analysis:

Benefits: limits plaque buildup, leaves you with better breath, reduces the potential for cavities, prevents gingivitis, …

Costs: Umm… about 1 minute per day, maybe a few dollars per year for the floss, and a bit of pain for the first few days as your gums adjust.

Clearly any economist would laugh at the mortal human irrational enough to not floss daily. Still, for whatever reason, I didn’t. And I guarantee you I’m not the only one.

So, psychosocial health behavioral models aside (I’m looking at you Theory of Reasoned Action), I’ll retrospect on this change back in January and why I’ve continued to floss daily since then.

Start Small

I decided in early january that I’d start really flossing. Every day. It wasn’t on January 1st, but it might as well have been a new years resolution. I heard a saying around that time that reminded us to “floss only the teeth you want to keep.” Point taken. However, I told myself that I only had to floss one tooth per day.

That’s it. Just one tooth.

Now I really had zero reasons to not floss. If I overslept and was running late for class, I sure as hell could still make the time to floss one measly tooth. So what happened? Did I only floss one tooth? Yep. But only once or twice. There were lots of days in the beginning when I thought to myself, “self, surely you can floss one tooth today.” But it felt silly once I started to not just finish. In P90X, a fantastically tough workout program I attempted a few years ago, Tony Horton reminded us to “just press play.” You had to at least do the warm-up, and then you could stop. Most days though, I’d just go ahead and finish the workout since I’d already started. This is really similar, though admittedly involves much less aerobic effort. I guess flossing just one tooth was like the world’s weakest warm-up.

Do it Daily

In the past I’ve tried to force myself to floss at least 3 days every week, but usually stopped after a week or so. Though it seems counter-intuitive, I think that committing to a daily habit is actually easier than doing something a few times per week. If I’m trying to form a habit 3 times per week, it’s much easier to put off until tomorrow. Enough of this and the habit just doesn’t happen. With a daily habit, you can’t put it off until tomorrow. Captain obvious over here, but I think this distinction really did make a difference.

Track Progress Publicly

I use the Lift iPhone app for tracking my habit progress, but I don’t think it really matters what you use. Tracking my flossing was pivotal in making it a habit. This was especially true once I got a fairly big streak going. Sure, one day without flossing wouldn’t hurt my health at all, but why would I do that when I’d be breaking my 15 day streak? My 37 day streak? 85 days? How did I get to 100 days in a row already? Perhaps I’m more competitive than the average person (though I doubt it), but I think this was the strongest factor in my success.

And Now?

Sure, flossing was a pretty easy habit to start and I probably could have done it without any of the above tactics, but I think they can be applied to other habits too. How do I know?

Today was also my 100th day in a row of making my bed, meditating, working out, and doing yoga. I’ve practiced Spanish 65 days in a row. Eaten breakfast 70 days in a row. January 1st of this year, my inflexible body could only reach about 5 inches from my toes. Today I can touch the floor. Crazy, right? I’m really not meaning to brag, I just wanted to share some tools I’ve learned that have really helped improve my life. This shit really works. I can’t recommend Lift enough and plan to continue forming new habits with it as long as I can.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

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