I have a hard time making myself floss my teeth. I want to be an A+ flosser. I really do. But until recently I have failed miserably. It is a little bit pathetic, and, let's face it, slightly hypocritical considering I make my living lecturing people on adopting healthy habits.
My dentist made me very aware of this hypocrisy during my last check-up when she lectured me (for the millionth time) on the importance of flossing. I felt like the recipient of one of the speeches I give to my clients.
Another confession: my internal reaction was that of a five-year-old who was being scolded. I love my dentist, but I felt like stamping my foot, crossing my arms over my chest and pouting. In my head I was saying "shut up. I know I have to floss, but leave me ALONE." I am sure that is the way many of my clients feel when I pester them about their diet and exercise routine. Totally understandable!
At first the whole experience made me feel frustrated and guilty because flossing is not that hard, or that time consuming, so why don't I JUST DO IT? To talk myself down off the "ledge" I gave myself the strict (but caring) talking to that I would have given to one of my clients. I told myself to stop feeling guilty because guilt would just made me want to pout, or worse, continue to be a negligent flosser just to "show" my dentist who is boss. I told myself to ditch the guilt and self pity and instead to implement a plan of action.
I am competitive with myself (and stubborn) so I knew my best chance of success would be to make flossing a personal challenge, a way to prove to myself that I could do what I lecture my clients to do on a daily basis -- make a change.
So -- game on! I am nothing if not a woman who loves a challenge.
This was a perfect opportunity to take my own advice. I tell my clients to establish both long and short-term goals and then to plan how they will make those goals materialize. So -- that is what I did.
My long-term goal: improve the health of my gums by making flossing a regular part of my daily routine.
My short-term goal: floss every day for one month.
Side note -- I like to make myself monthly goals. A month is a short enough time frame that the goal is not overwhelming, but long enough that I can feel the impact of the changed habit.
Brainstorming past and future roadblocks is something I encourage my clients to do, so I decided to brainstorm about why my past tries at flossing had failed. I decided I had failed at flossing in large part because I always planned to floss when I brush my teeth, but that is unrealistic because I am too rushed in the morning and too tired at night.
So, I decided I would incorporate flossing into an already established mid-day routine. Since I exercise and shower daily I decided that I would floss after exercise and before I shower. I left floss at work and in my backpack so it was always available.
I have flossed daily for 16 days. Go me!
So why this public confession? I wanted to talk about my 20-year struggle to floss because part of my mantra as a trainer is "Stop thinking you have to be perfect. No one is perfect so banish 'perfection' from your vocabulary." We are often too paralyzed to make health changes because we think there is no way we can succeed. We will fail at perfection, so why even try.
This type of thinking is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stop thinking you have to be perfect. Everyone has habits they find hard to make stick. People who are successful at making long-term lifestyle changes aren't always successful the first time. They don't succeed by being perfect, they succeed because they persevere. They know that health is a process -- a non-linear one at that -- that takes daily dedication.
I am proud of myself for flossing, but I also know that part of being successful is taking setbacks in stride. If I do fall off the flossing wagon, which I probably will once or twice, I will assess why and then get right back on track. The same goes for exercise. If you make a goal that you don't stick to, don't worry. Assess why you did not succeed and then create new goals based on your new-found knowledge.
Part of being successful at goal setting is figuring out what works through trial and error. Being competitive with myself works for me, that does not mean it will work for you. You don't have to set goals the way that I do. I know I have a type A personality and that what works for me will not work for everyone.
For some people, even just the goal of "setting goals" can be a good place to start. Play around, figure out what works for you. Just take the time to become aware of your current and past habits and become mindful of how you spend your time and energy.
Follow Kathleen Trotter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KTrotterFitness