Friday, July 22, 2011

A New Habit

"Habits are first cobwebs, then cables." - Swedish proverb

I have retrained myself into some good habits lately (well, in the past three years or so), and am working on one of my New Year's resolutions: floss your teeth.  Yes, I know I should already be a flosser.  Many people I know floss their teeth.  My dentist has repeatedly exhorted me to floss.  And I know that I'm not getting any younger: wouldn't flossing help my teeth and gums stay healthy longer, and thus keep me out of the denture brigade?

So, what have I learned about starting new habits that will help me here?

1 - Tie the new habit to something you already do well (and do regularly).  I'm good at lots of things; I bet you are, too.  I'm even good at some of the repetitive, maintenance-y things in life: laundry, for example.  I am the Laundry Fairy in my household.  If I wanted to start a new habit (or just get better at something I don't do as frequently as I should, like watering my houseplants), I could somehow tie it in with doing the laundry.  Leave a reminder note in the laundry room, or leave the watering can on the washing machine.  Then, right after I started a new load of laundry, I would go water those plants.

I still use this method to keep my car free of trash: whenever I fill the tank with gas, I drop off a handful of garbage in the gas station bins.
 And, of course, since I already brush my teeth daily, the floss habit needs to be tied to that.  Duh.

2 - Have the right equipment at hand.  I cannot overemphasize this idea, as "the right equipment" turned out to be the key to finally becoming a sometime-flosser.  I tried waxed floss, unwaxed floss, mint-y fresh floss, ribbon floss, ugh, ugh, ugh...
The key equipment for my flossing thing is a Reach Access flosser.  My Daughter uses individual floss picks, which I initially dismissed as being environmentally unfriendly.  But it got me thinking...

The right equipment makes any job easier.  And easier jobs tend to get done.  If you are trying to jump-start a habit, do whatever it takes to make the "easier" part happen:

 * the proper shoes for walking
 * the proper bra (or other clothing) for working out
 * sharp knives for chopping those fresh veggies
 * a vitamin pill that you will want to take daily (try the Gummy ones!)
 * file folders and labels for getting that paperwork under control
 * a trash can in every room
 * a well-lit crafting area, so you can see what you are doing

3 - Do less, but do it more frequently.  I learned this one from FlyLady (Baby steps!)  When I first started plucking my eyebrows (not so very long ago), I plucked a few hairs every day until I had finally achieved the desired shape.  Then, to maintain, I plucked 8 hairs daily.  Now mind you, some days it didn't look like there were even 8 hairs there to pluck (how many eyebrow hairs grow in overnight anyway?)  But I was busy establishing a habit: I found 8 little feathery blond hairs and plucked them.  Every day.

This concept applies in more areas of your life than you would initially think.  Take cleaning the house.  I am currently decluttering, in one-hour bursts.  When I don't have a whole hour (like today), I set a timer for 15 minutes.  Maybe I will have another 15-minute chunk of time later today, and maybe not, but I didn't let the fact that today was very busy deter me from my decluttering habit.  I can also dust, or vacuum, or tidy up, in smaller chunks.  Every little bit that I do is more than would have gotten done otherwise.

Back to the dental hygiene: I started out by flossing only 1/4 of my mouth at a time.  Worked my way up to the whole mouth eventually, but it awhile to establish the idea of "flossing".


4 - Reward yourself.  You deserve it.  It's hard to begin a new habit, and maybe it will take a few tries before something clicks.  Look at those things you do well, and use them as motivation.

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